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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Spectacle Fibula
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Spiral Brooch spiral brooch or fibula
Work Type
pin, fibula
9th-8th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Etruria
Geometric period
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Leaded bronze
Cast and hammered
13.2 x 6.3 x 2.3 cm (5 3/16 x 2 1/2 x 7/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Artax 1
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: iron, silver, arsenic

K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina is light and dark green with areas of brown accretion. Some pitting corrosion has damaged the surface, but many areas are well preserved. The pin has broken off and is lost, but the fine catchplate is intact.

The single, long wire from which the coils were formed varies in diameter from 1 mm at the coil centers to 3 mm at the outer parts of the coil. This transition is not perfectly uniform but varies along the wire’s length. J. Wolfe has examined microstructures in similar fibulae and determined that wire for such fibulae was cast in rods and cold worked to its final shape with numerous annealings (1). According to Wolfe, light longitudinal facets in the wire surface are not from forming the wire but from abrasively finishing its surface.


1. See J. Wolfe, Analysis of Iron Age Bronze Fibulae from Southern Italy in the Collection of the Harvard University Art Museums (Thesis in Conservation, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, 1998).

Henry Lie (submitted 2012)

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Mrs. Edward Jackson Holmes
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This spectacle fibula consists of two large, slightly conical, spiral discs attached to a catchplate and pin. The catchplate is a long thin bar (11 cm x 7.5 cm) that is rectangular in section. A rivet through the center of each spiral connects to the catchplate, which tapers toward each end. On one end, the catchplate curves upward to form the pin, which is currently missing, while on the other, it tapers into a raised, hooked wire to hold the pin (1). The spirals (each 6.1 cm in diameter) are formed from a single piece of circular-sectioned wire that tapers in diameter from the center of the wire to the ends. The brooch would be formed by beginning in the center of one spiral and working outward, then creating the figure-8 that separates the two sides, then forming the second spiral from the outside in.

These fibulae (1952.15, 1952.112, and 1986.516) represent the miniature and monumental ends of the scale of this type of symmetrical fibula, which was commonly termed a “spectacle fibula.” Each was fashioned from a single thin bronze wire, square in section, which was annealed and turned in order to create the symmetrical spiral patterns and the springy elasticity needed to close them. One sharpened end of this wire, forming the pin proper, fits into the other end, which turns up to form a catchplate. Spectacle fibulae were widely distributed throughout the Balkans and northern Greece during the eighth century BCE (2). Excavations of rich burials in the Iron Age tumuli of Vergina and elsewhere have shown that these fibulae occur in pairs, placed over the shoulders of skeletons (3). They also served as dedications in sanctuaries throughout northern and central Greece and the Peloponnesus (4). Thus, they seem to have served to connect the front and back halves of garments at the shoulders of the wearers. It would be interesting to discover whether the presence of pairs of spectacle fibulae in graves is an indicator of female burials, or if both sexes wore two. They also served as dedications.


1. Compare M. Kunze, Meisterwerke antiker Bronzen und Metallarbeiten aus der Sammlung Borowski 1: Griechische und römische Bronzen (Ruhpolding and Mainz, 2007) 35-38, nos. G 27-32 (inv. nos. GR 037A-F); and H. Donder, Die Fibeln, Katalog der Sammlung antiker Kleinkunst des Archäologischen Instituts der Universität Heidelberg 3.2 (Mainz, 1994) 76-79, no. 41, pl. 9.

2. J. Alexander, “The Spectacle Fibulae of Southern Europe,” American Journal of Archaeology 69 (1965): 7-23; K. Kilian, Fibeln in Thessalien von der mykenischen bis zur archaischen Zeit, Prähistorische Bronzefunde 14.2 (Munich, 1975) 132-48 and 234 (examples found at the sanctuary at Pherae in southern Thessaly), nos. 1567-710 (see esp. nos. 1567, 1574, 1576, 1627-28, and 1710), pls. 56-58; I. Kilian-Dirlmeier, “Bemerkungen zu den Fingerringen mit Spiralenden,” Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums, Mainz 27 (1980): 249-69; and ead., Kleinfunde aus dem Athena Itonia-Heiligtum bei Philia (Thessalien) (Mainz, 2002) 42 n.176, nos. 580-86, pl. 40.

3. M. Andronikos, Βεργίνα 1: Το νεκροταφείον των τύμβων = Vergina 1: To nekrotapheion tōn tymvōn, Vivliothēkē tēs en Athēnais Archaiologikēs Hetaireias 62 (Athens, 1969) 227-30, figs. 67-68 [in Greek].

4. For examples at Olympia, see H. Philipp, Bronzeschmuck aus Olympia, Olympische Forschungen 13 (Berlin, 1981) 295-301, esp. 299 nn.503-504, no. 1070, pl. 65.

Lisa M. Anderson and David G. Mitten

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

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