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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Plate Fibula with Incised Catchplate
Work Type
pin, fibula
second half 8th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Thessaly
Geometric period, Late
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Cast, lost-wax process
4.5 x 6 cm (1 3/4 x 2 3/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Bronze:
Cu, 85.67; Sn, 13.8; Pb, 0.14; Zn, 0.02; Fe, 0.04; Ni, 0.04; Ag, 0.07; Sb, 0.06; As, 0.16; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, less than 0.005; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: All of the Geometric fibulae and fibula fragments have a green patina. 1985.35, 1985.36, and 1985.158 also show large areas of black, brown, and some red corrosion products. 1986.655 has been cleaned more than the others have. It is mostly black and brown, with small areas of green, exposed red, and bright metal. The fragmentary catchplates (1986.579, 1986.580, 1986.581, 1986.582, 1986.583, 1986.584, 1986.585, 1986.587, 1986.588, and 1986.589) are significantly mineralized and very fragile. The more complete fibulae are generally less mineralized and even retain flexibility in their pin elements.

Examining the Geometric fibulae and fragments as a group, it appears that the method of manufacture was to cast the more three-dimensional bow section with appendages that could subsequently be hammered into the flat catchplates and elongated pin sections. With designs such as 1978.62 and 1985.158, cast sections lie at two opposite sides of the flat catchplate, indicating that the hammering of the plate occurred in the middle of the casting. Some incised decoration may have been added to the cast sections (see the detail of arm of 1978.62), but most decoration is limited to the flat catchplates.

Joins between the cast element and the pins of 1985.158 and 1952.110 are visible in x-radiographs and under magnification. None of the other more complete examples, which were x-radiographed and examined with a stereomicroscope, were found to have joins at these or any other locations. The joins in these two examples may be repairs made after the pins were broken during fabrication. Presumably, the work hardening of the plates and the pins during forming would have been desirable, since it would help them to hold their shape better and would provide elasticity to the pin section. The method of production might have made the spring coil prone to breakage, hence the need for a repair join.

The main portion of the catchplate section is in most cases relatively even, usually varying by no more than 0.2 mm. The average thickness ranges from 0.5 to 0.7 mm in the group. The back of 1986.579 is not decorated and shows hammer marks related to its fabrication. It and 1977.216.3416 were the only examples not decorated on both sides.

Incised lines are mostly confined to the catchplates, but are also present on some of the arms and cast sections. They were made with a variety of pointed and flat tool shapes. All but two of the catchplates, 1986.579 and 1977.216.3416, are decorated on both the front and back sides. Incised shapes include dots, lines, circles, semicircles, arcs, and tremolo decoration. The more prominent incised lines measure about 0.3 mm in width. Many of these are curves, but even the straight lines show irregularities indicating they were drawn freehand, without the use of a straight edge. Under magnification (see the detail of 1978.62), one can see a trough that was made by drawing flat and rounded tool points across the surface, with borders of raised metal pushed up at both sides. The height of the raised borders probably varies with the hardness of the metal and the pressure applied with the tool. None of the lines appears to have been engraved or made using any other process that involved cutting and removing a line of metal from the surface.

Circular shapes were made with a double-pointed tool, with one point used to mark and hold the circle’s center and the other to inscribe the circular shape. Border designs are frequently a combination of large and small concentric semicircles. Each semicircle of the pair appears to have been made as a separate step. The inner circle of the borders on 1986.583 is faceted from drawing the line in steps, while the outer circle is smoothly drawn. Many of the circular lines vary in width through their arcs, and this effect in shorter arcs can be used to form a row of comma shapes (see the detail of 1978.62). In spite of the facets visible in some circles, their small radii, which range from 1.2 to 2.0 mm in length, make it unlikely that the tool was forced across the surface with the aid of a hammer.

Tremolo decoration (a fine zigzag pattern made by rocking a curved chisel point back and forth over the surface) was used as a border pattern (see the detail of 1986.384 belt), as a fill pattern (see the detail of 1986.655), and as a general drawing element. In 1986.655, animals were drawn with the tool used to make the tremolo pattern, giving them a soft, fuzzy appearance. The tremolo pattern appears to have been created by the rocking from side to side of a flat-tipped tool while it is simultaneously pushed forward across the surface. It may be that if the tip was slightly concave at the center, the marks appeared as two distinct rows with a gap in the middle, as in the border of 1986.384. The pattern width, and therefore the tool width, varies from 1 to 2 mm. Raised lines, longitudinal to the patterns, appear to have been caused by imperfections in the front edge of the tool. As it is pushed forward during side-to-side rocking, small, raised lines are formed, perpendicular to the zigzag incisions (see the detail of 1986.582).

The fingerprint-like pattern of the fine, longitudinal lines in some tremoli and in some of the other incised line decorations is distinct enough to match objects to a single workshop. Unfortunately, no matches were found for the objects in this group. However, the consistency in the way various tools were used to make decorations on many of the catchplates indicates that they could have originated in the same workshop or in workshops that were very familiar with each other’s working methods.

Henry Lie (submitted 2001)

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin L. Weisl, Jr.
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 with incised catchplate is very similar to others found at Pherai, Thessaly (1). The body arches gently and is made up of three ovoid beads; the larger, central faceted one is flanked by two smaller, unfaceted beads, separated by two raised, sharp-edged rings. After the last bead, the bow becomes rhomboid in section, marked by parallel incisions, dropping sharply down and tapering into what appears to have been a double-looped spring and pin, most of which is missing. The bottom edge, corners, and parts of the lower left and right edges of the catchplate are broken away. Countering the upward arc of the body, the upper edge of the rectangular catchplate dips down and then dips up to a projecting corner, which is surmounted by a bead with a short stem at the top.

Both sides of the catchplate display abstract incised designs. Side A has multiple borders. Inside the second border, rows of arched lines run along the top and sides. Dotted, concentric semicircles, facing inward, are added to a border at the bottom, and the innermost frame is filled by a hatched double meander. Side B shows similar repeated framing elements, but with concentric semicircles at the bottom, which are facing outward and overlapping. Cross-hatching fills the entire innermost frame.


1. See K. Kilian, Fibeln in Thessalien von der mykenischen bis zur archaischen Zeit, Prähistorische Bronzefunde 14.2 (Munich, 1975) 134, no. 1530 (plate fibula type EV1b), pl. 55; and I. Kilian-Dirlmeier, Kleinfunde aus dem Athena Itonia-Heiligtum bei Philia (Thessalien) (Mainz, 2002) no. 574, pl. 39. Compare Chr. Blinkenberg, Lindiaka 5: Fibules grecques et orientales, Historisk-filologiske meddelelser 13.1 (Copenhagen, 1926) type VII 8-11. Compare also Harvard’s 1965.27, and D. G. Mitten and S. F. Doeringer, Master Bronzes from the Classical World, exh. cat., The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums; City Art Museum of St. Louis; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Mainz, 1967) 42, no. 26.

Michael Bennett

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

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