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. (November 2009)
Lombardic gilded silver brooch from Tuscany, c.600 AD, one of the largest of its kind (
A fibula (/ˈfɪbjʊlə/, plural fibulae /ˈfɪbjʊli/) is a brooch or pin for fastening garments. The fibula developed in a variety of shapes, but all were based on the
safety-pin principle. Technically, the Latin term,
fibulae, refers to
Roman brooches; however, the term is widely used to refer to brooches from the entire
early medieval world that continue Roman forms. Nevertheless, its use in English is more restricted than in other languages, and in particular post-Roman brooches from the
British Isles are just called brooches (for example, the
penannular brooches), where in German they would probably be fibulae.
Unlike most modern brooches, fibulae were not only decorative; they originally served a practical function: to fasten
clothing, such as
cloaks. Fibulae replaced straight
pins that were used to fasten clothing in the
Neolithic period and the
Bronze Age. In turn, fibulae were replaced as clothing fasteners by
buttons in the Middle Ages. Their descendant, the modern safety pin, remains in use today. In
ancient Rome and other places where Latin was used, the same word denoted both a brooch and the
fibula bone because a popular form for brooches and the shape of the bone were thought to resemble one another.
There are hundreds of different types of fibulae. They are usually divided into families that are based upon historical periods, geography, and/or cultures. Fibulae are also divided into classes that are based upon their general forms.
Lost fibulae, usually fragments, are frequently dug up by amateur coin and relic hunters using