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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Fibula with Bead-and-Reel Decoration
Work Type
pin, fibula
8th-4th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia, Luristan (Iran)
Iron Age
Near Eastern
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
10.5 x 4.7 x 1.4 cm (4 1/8 x 1 7/8 x 9/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 88.6; Sn, 6.97; Pb, 3.35; Zn, 0.162; Fe, 0.72; Ni, 0.03; Ag, 0.05; Sb, 0.09; As, less than 0.10; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.022; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin
Other Elements: lead, iron, silver, antimony, arsenic
K. Eremin, January 2014

XRF data from Artax 1
Alloy: Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin
Other Elements: lead, zinc, iron
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The corrosion products of this fibula appear to have been stripped electrolytically, leaving only a thin layer of brown oxide on the surface. Several small spots of green and underlying red can be found. After the surface was stripped, it was further scratched and scraped with sharp tools and probably a metal brush. It appears pitted.

The bow of the fibula was cast. The condition of the surface makes it difficult to know if the wax model was cast or formed directly. The catchplate was hammered out from one end of the cast bow. The wire for the pin and spring was formed by hammering and then inserted into a hole, which appears to have been drilled, in the end of the bow.

Henry Lie (submitted 2012)

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Jerome M. Eisenberg
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 fibula, the bow of which bears bead-and-reel embellishment, is unusually large, and its clasp is in the form of a schematic human hand with lightly incised fingers (1). On the portion of the bow leading to the catchplate is a pattern of double reels and single beads. On the portion of the bow leading to the spring, following a flanged element, are three collared beads, which may also be described as alternating single reels and beads. The single reels on this arm, however, may actually be unfinished blanks. Each reel could have been worked into two smaller ones, so that the pattern would have matched that on the other arm.

Two fibulae plundered from the northern Syrian cemetery site of Deve Hüyük near Carchemish, dating from the seventh to fourth centuries BCE, are notable for their similarity to this example (2). The Deve Hüyük fibulae are also of large scale and bear bead-and-reel designs on their bows. Another parallel may be drawn with fibulae dated from the seventh to fifth centuries BCE attributed to the site of Ugarit on the Syrian coast (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. Compare D. Stronach, “The Development of the Fibula in the Near East,” Iraq 21 (1959): 180-206, esp. 200.

2. P. R. S. Moorey, Cemeteries of the First Millennium B.C. at Deve Hüyük, BAR Int. Ser. 87 (Oxford, 1980) 88-90, nos. 340-41, fig. 14.

3. Bronzes iraniens, IIe et Ie millenaires avant J.C., Collections Jean-Paul Barbier, Hôtel Drouot (Paris), May 27, 1970, lot 68.

4. L. Vanden Berghe, “Les fibules provenant des fouilles au Pusht-i Kuh, Luristan,” Iranica Antiqua 13 (1978): 35-74, esp. 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 4).

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.

Amy Gansell

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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