Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
On the bow of this fibula are a series of ridged ribs that alternate in size. The final element, located just above the clasp, is in the form of rectangular cuff. These decorations might represent armlets and bracelets. The hand-shaped clasp, which is an attribute of Near Eastern fibulae dated no earlier than the seventh century BCE (Stronach’s Type IV), has clearly articulated fingers and a detached thumb (1). The accentuated apex, marked here by a vertical rib, is another indicator of this mature type, which became the standard form in the Achaemenid period (c. 539-331 BCE). This fibula bears a striking resemblance to an example in the Godard Collection that was acquired in Iran (2). It is also similar to a fibula excavated from an Iron Age III Luristan tomb at the site of Cham Sul (3).
Fibulae were worn at the chest or shoulder to fasten garments, similar to a safety pin. They sometimes also served to secure pendants suspended from chains (4). These devices first came into use in the Near East near the end of the second millennium BCE, when they were probably introduced by eastern Mediterranean merchants. The earliest fibulae excavated in Mesopotamia and Iran are dated to the eighth century BCE. Fibulae appear more frequently in Near Eastern contexts of the seventh century and later, when they surpassed the straight pin in popularity. Most Near Eastern fibulae have a triangular bow, as seen in the Harvard examples. Fibulae of this form, sometimes referred to as “elbow” -shaped, belong to Type XIII of Blinkenberg’s classification and to Types III and IV of Stronach’s typology (5).
Near Eastern elbow fibulae vary in size and detail, but in general, they are relatively plain and usually have bead-and-reel decoration. The arms of the bow are often of slightly unequal lengths, with the longer one terminating in a catchplate that sometimes takes the form of a human hand. The spring typically consists of a triple loop that extends into a round, tapered, and pointed pin. Fibulae were often produced from two pieces that were joined by inserting the pin into the bow.
The Harvard fibulae can be generally compared with Neo-Assyrian examples from the Mesopotamian sites of Nimrud, Nineveh, and Khorsabad, as well as with Iranian examples from Iron Age III levels at the Luristan sites of War Kabud, Sar Kabud, Cham Sul, Dam Chaft, and Tepe Nush-i Jan, among others (6). Although separate production centers probably existed, it appears Mesopotamia and Iran used similar fibula types, making it difficult to assign provenience to unexcavated pieces (7).
1. D. Stronach, “The Development of the Fibula in the Near East,” Iraq 21 (1959): 180-206, esp. 201-203.
2. E. de Waele, Bronzes du Luristan et d’Amlash, Publications d’historie de l’art et d’archeologie de l’Université Catholique de Louvain 34 (Louvain-La-Neuve, 1982) 158-59, no. 224.
3. L. Vanden Berghe, “Les fibules provenant des fouilles au Pusht-i Kuh, Luristan,” Iranica Antiqua 13 (1978): 35-74, esp. 50 and 53, no. 18, fig. 9, pl. 3.
4. Ibid., 41 and 51-52, nos. 1-2, fig. 4, pl. 2.
5. C. Blinkenberg, Lindiaka 5: Fibules grecques et orientales, Historisk-filologiske meddelelser 13.1 (Copenhagen, 1926) 244; and Stronach 1959 (supra 1) 193-203.
6. J. Curtis, Nush-i Jan 3: The Small Finds (London, 1984) 29-30, nos. 263-74, fig. 5; O. W. Muscarella, Bronze and Iron: Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1988) 209, no. 317; Stronach 1959 (supra 1) 200; and Vanden Berghe 1978 (supra 2).
7. For a fibula found at Nimrud that is nearly identical to one found in a tomb at the site of Gul Khanan Murdah on the western fringe of Luristan, see E. Haerinck and B. Overlaet, Djub-i Gauhar and Gul Khanan Murdah: Iron Age III Graveyards in the Aivan Plain, Luristan Excavation Documents 3, Acta Iranica 36 (Leuven, 1999) 171.