Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Large Disc Fibula Fragment
Work Type
pin, fibula
mid 8th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, South Italy
Iron Age
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Cast and hammered
4 x 4.5 x 0.1 cm (1 9/16 x 1 3/4 x 1/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: EMP analysis from sample, Bronze:
Cu, 89.78; Sn, 8.93; Pb, 0.52; Zn, 0.00; Fe, 0.16; Ni, 0.07; Ag, 0.04; Sb, 0.06; As, 0.06

J. Wolfe, June 1998

Technical Observations: The disc fibulae are created out of one piece of metal that has been cast into a general form and continually shaped by cold working. None of the fragments show a complete spring and pin section; however, for 1987.135.22 and 1987.135.19.A-B the existing wire is round and smooth. The wire was most likely cast as part of the initial form and hammered to lengthen and coil a spring. For all of the fragments in the collection, the discs show a variation in sheet thickness. The back of the disc often displays ovoid-shaped hammer marks as seen in a detail of 1987.135.21. The hammering occurs behind the bands that run across the front side and was most likely done to give the disc a slightly concave shape.

The raised lines that decorate the front of the disc are wavy and imperfect. There are recesses on either side of each band with fine striations in the metal, indicating that the metal was chased by hand. The swastikas that occur on three disc fibulae were made using two different techniques. 1987.135.21 and 1987.135.24 have swastikas created by a tremolo line, where a crescent-shaped tool has been rocked back and forth over the metal surface. In slight contrast, 1987.135.19.A-B has a swastika created with a crescent-shaped tool to stamp lines in a regular array. The border of the disc on 1987.135.21 is also inscribed with a pointed tool to create a series of fine lines to make repeating triangles; in the detail images for that fibula, one can see the overall surface of the disc has fine striations running in the same direction as the bands, which is most likely from final sanding or polishing.

An x-radiograph of 1987.135.21 shows more radiodensity in the center of the disc, indicating that the metal is thicker there. The hammering marks can be seen closer to the edges where the metal is thinner. Overall, the metal appears homogeneous in the x-radiograph and does not reveal any unexpected fabrication techniques.

To gain more information about the metal-working techniques, in particular for the large disc section, a sample from one of the small disc fragments (1987.135.25) was taken for metallography. Under a reflected-light microscope, the as-polished section showed natural etching of the crystals by corrosion. The crystals are equiaxed, hexagonal grains showing signs by their distortion of having been worked. Twinning can be seen as double bands within the crystals, which indicates the repetition of cold working and annealing to hammer out the sheet of metal. The cross-section also shows gray, elongated inclusions that turn black under crossed polars. When analyzed with SEM-EDX, only sulfur, copper, and traces of iron were identified in these inclusions, indicating a sulfide impurity.

1987.135.21, 1987.135.22, and 1987.135.25 were tested for alloy composition using EMP analysis (1). Each sample was analyzed twice, first using a small beam to avoid inclusions, while the second test was done with a larger beam that incorporated more inclusions. The analysis identified the metal composition as a copper alloy with 6.5-9% tin. There are traces of arsenic, antimony, iron, sulfur, cobalt, nickel, lead, and silver. Most of the impurities increased in percent with the larger beam, as expected. This alloy composition has been found on other Italic fibulae from the Iron Age (2).


1. EMP analyses were carried out by David Lange at Harvard University using a Cameca MBX Electron Microprobe. A wavelength dispersive spectrometer (WDS) and a Sandia ZAF85 for matrix correction were used. The analyses were done at 15 KeV with a 45 nanoamperes beam current. The small beam (32 x 32 µm raster) included the inclusions. The same sample taken from 1987.135.25 for metallography was also used for the EMP testing. Standards were used for pure elements, with three exceptions where pyrite (FeS2) was used for S; GaAs for As; and galena (PbS) for Pb. X-radiograph lines used were: K-alpha S, Fe, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn; L-alpha As, Ag, Sn, Sb; M-alpha Pb. The analytical precision for the EMP data is less than 1% for values above 4%, 1-2% for values from 0.4 to 4%, and 2-10% for values from 0.1 to 0.4%.

2. Compare with the technical observations for Harvard’s serpentine fibulae (for example, 1987.135.48.A-B) and quatrefoil fibulae (for example, 1987.135.9).

Julie Wolfe

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Jerry Nagler
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
The Harvard Art Museums encourage the use of images found on this website for personal, noncommercial use, including educational and scholarly purposes. To request a higher resolution file of this image, please submit an online request.

Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The fragment comes from the bow of a disc fibula. There are four raised lines on one side that arc across the fragment in the same direction. A 1.5-cm crack extends along one of the line decorations. There is green corrosion overall and light burial accretions.

The Harvard collection of disc fibulae includes seven fragments of the same type of large disc fibula. The characteristics of this particular type include a large, round bow composed of a disc made from thin sheet metal, the largest of which has a diameter of 13 cm. One edge of the disc has a wire spring with a pin, while the opposite edge has a catchplate. The components of each fibula are all created from one piece of metal. In contrast to other disc fibulae, where the actual disc portion is part of the catchplate, the Harvard fibulae integrate the disc as part of the bow. The thin disc when viewed from the top is slightly concave, and the surface has five bands that arc across the sheet as if imitating the veins of a leaf. Other incised decorations common to these disc fragments are swastikas and border decorations.

The large size of the decorative disc fibulae suggests that they could not be used as purely utilitarian fasteners and indicates the main allure was their decorative style. Few complete examples of this type of fibula have been documented. Since the Harvard disc fibulae are all fragmented, it is difficult to suggest how the spring and pin were configured in relation to the bow. As a gift to the Harvard Art Museums, the fibulae have no known provenience, yet they are most likely from southern Italy (1). The site of Torano Castello in Calabria has an example of a disc fibula nearly identical in decoration and form to the Harvard fragments (2).


1. Compare fibulae in P. Orsi, “Le necropoli preelleniche calabresi di Torre Galli e di Canale, Inchina, Patariti,” Monumenti Antichi 31 (1926): 1-375, esp. 87, fig. 75 (Torre Galli); A. Pasqui, “Scavi della necropoli di Torre Mordillo nel comune di Spezzano Albanese,” Notizie degli scavi di antichità (1888): 462-80, esp. 465, fig. 3, pl. 19 (Torre Mordillo); and J. de la Genière, “The Iron Age in Southern Italy,” in Italy Before the Romans: The Iron Age, Orientalizing and Etruscan Periods, eds. D. Ridgeway and F. R. Ridgeway (London, 1979) 59-93, esp. 69 (Castiglione di Paludi, Bisignano and Torano; called “leaf fibulae”).

2. Compare the disc fibula from tomb B.I at Torano Castello (Calabria) with five bands of lines that arc across the disc, a swastika on either side of the central band, and repeating incised lines around the edge of the disc making triangles published in J. de la Genière, “Torano Castello (Cosenza): Scavi nella necropoli (1965) e saggi in contrada Cozzo la Torre (1967),” Notizie degli scavi di antichità 31 (1977): 389-422, esp. 397, fig. 12.

Julie Wolfe

Publication History

Julie Wolfe, "Analysis of Iron Age Bronze Fibulae from Southern Italy in the Collection of the Harvard University Art Museums" (thesis (certificate in conservation), Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, June 1998), Unpublished, p. 1-14 passim.

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at