reverse Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Bow Fibula with Incised Catchplate
Work Type
pin, fibula
late 8th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Boeotia
Geometric period, Late
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Cast, lost-wax process
h. 6.6 x w. (of bow) 2.4 x l. 10.8 cm (2 5/8 x 15/16 x 4 1/4 in.)
Technical Details

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

Technical Observations: The fibula was originally made from one piece of metal that was cast by the lost-wax process and then cold worked in different ways to produce the final product. The bow, with the two knobs at the ends, was modeled and formed with the ridges on the back in the wax. Extra masses of metal were cast on the ends. One end was hammered out into the lozenge-shaped catchplate. The original surface of the piece is very well preserved, albeit with some pitting from corrosion. The finish is very smooth and grayish green.

Much of the border of the flat catchplate component is cracked, distorted, or missing as a result of heavy mineralization. The spiral and pin are broken off from the other end of the crescent-shaped component. There is also a deep crack at the base of the bead that serves as a transition between the catchplate and bow. A few areas of the catchplate have suffered some serious corrosion and are deeply pitted. Around the corrosion pits, the patina is slightly lighter and greener. A tan, perhaps waxy, material is in the pitted corrosion areas. Parallel, linear abrasive marks cut through some of the corrosion pits around one of the edges of the catchplate, confirming post-excavation mechanical cleaning.

The hammered sheet is remarkably thin (with an average thickness of 0.6 mm) and tapers slightly from the side closest to the bow. A variety of tooling was used to decorate both sides of the catchplate, and the tool marks are remarkably crisp. The fine lines along the preserved edges of the bow are so smooth and continuous that they appear drawn in the wax. Closer examination reveals small, repetitive stepped marks in some of the recesses that represent the short strokes with which the graver or chisel was pushed along by hammer blows, perhaps enhancing lines that had been cast. The waxy appearance of the lines suggests that the catchplate was annealed during cold working, and certainly before the metal incisions were made, in order to soften the metal, which was made hard and brittle by hammering. The band of overlapping semicircles along the edges was fashioned by a tool with a slightly wider tip attached to a compass. The center point of the compass is set into the end of each semicircle. In a few areas where the center was repositioned one can see how the semicircular tracings are misaligned and discontinuous.

The outlines of the figures and patterns on the catchplate are also incised with slightly halting lines. Tremolo patterns (a fine zigzag pattern made by rocking a curved chisel point back and forth over the surface) are present in the bodies of the animals and in the background. The blade must have had a slight nick in it, as the inscribed line is interrupted at each recurrence in the same location, creating the impression of a line. The same tremolo tool was clearly used on both sides, as the fine arched lines have identical interruptions.

The two beads at the ends of the bow and the fine ridges that separate them from the larger part were also refined in the metal. The concave part of the bow has a slightly uneven surface with some chatter marks and two uneven incisions, which may have been test incisions. The surface was scraped, which might be the result of the original chasing, post-excavation restoration, or both. There are remains of dark brown surface accretion on the concave surface, either from burial or from the original coating. On the convex side of the bow, the ridges and lines already modeled in the wax were further refined in the metal. There are no chatter marks in the lines, suggesting either that a tip was drawn along the recesses, or that the recesses were scored repeatedly until smooth. Several fine dents across the ridges were probably formed in antiquity, whereas the nearby chips that exposed the mineralized metal are later damage.

Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2012)

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, David M. Robinson Fund
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
The arched bow and most of the catchplate are preserved. The bow, convex on top and concave underneath, meets the paper-thin, rectangular catchplate at two perpendicular planes. Ovoid beads, with raised rings above and below, mark the transitions between the bow and the catchplate on one side, and the pin, now missing, on the other. The top surface of the bow features a network of precisely cut lines, perhaps cast and then enhanced by incision. Double borders, with the outermost being more shallow, define its contours, and a spine of five lines, the two outermost being deeper than the interior three, run the length of the bow. Both sides of the catchplate bear figural decoration that was incised after casting. Although the fibula is said to be from Thessaly (1), the type has also been associated repeatedly with Boeotia (2). Attic examples seem to disappear c. 750 BCE.

Side A shows three stacked fish facing left within a border of three lines, overlapping semicircles, followed by double lines (3). A triangle in the upper left corner is filled with diagonal lines and crossed zigzags. Side B has a very similar border and filled triangle in the upper right corner. Inside, an animated, tethered horse is combined with two birds, one floating above facing right, and the other standing under the horse facing left. The horse is pictured with its hindquarters in profile and its head and front legs as from the front. The bird underneath the horse touches the animal’s belly with its beak, and the tether trailing from the horse’s muzzle is connected to a rectangular object (4).

The catchplate’s decoration appears to use the horse, bird, and fish to stand for basic elemental divisions. The opposing sides of the catchplate make possible a separation of the two primary temporal elements, land and water, symbolized by the horse and fish respectively. Birds represent air and the heavens, and they commune between land and water. The eighth-century BCE Boeotian epic poet Hesiod expressed an analogous tripartite partitioning in the Theogony; a complementary cosmography is presented on the shield of Achilles in Homer’s Iliad 18 and on the shield of Herakles in Hesiod’s Aspis Herakleous, where the circle of Okeanos defines the outer perimeter of the world. The fibula suggests that a parallel interest in sectioning the visible universe would have been shared by its maker and appreciated by its owner, since it was worn in life and either buried with the owner or dedicated to the deathless gods (5).


1. Compare I. Kilian-Dirlmeier, Kleinfunde aus dem Athena Itonia-Heiligtum bei Philia (Thessalien) (Mainz, 2002) 32, no. 426, pl. 29.

2. See K. DeVries, “Incised Fibulae from Boeotia,” Forschungen und Berichte, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin 14 (1972): 112-14. Compare Chr. Blinkenberg, Lindiaka 5: Fibules grecques et orientales, Historisk-filologiske meddelelser 13.1 (Copenhagen, 1926) type VIII.

3. Side A is the upright side when the catchplate is toward the right.

4. See M. Bennett, “Engraved Plate Fibula,” in From Pasture to Polis: Art in the Age of Homer, exh. cat., Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri-Columbia; University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley; Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, ed. S. Langdon (Columbia, MO, 1993) 78-80, no. 18.

5. Ibid., 79-80.

Michael Bennett

Publication History

"Acquisitions", Acquisitions (Fogg Art Museum), ed. John Coolidge, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, 1965), pp. 17-58, p. 58, 65, repr.

Hans-Volkmar Herrmann, "Geometrische Fibeln der Tubinger Universitats-Sammlung", Praestant Interna: Festschrift für Ulrich Hausmann, ed. Bettina von Freytag gen. Löringhoff, Dietrich Mannsperger, and Friedhelm Prayon, Verlag Ernst Wasmuth (Tübingen, 1982), 248-260, p. 248-60 n. 45.

Susan Langdon, ed., From Pasture to Polis: Art in the Age of Homer, exh. cat., University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO, 1993), p. 78-80, no. 18.

Henry Lie and Francesca Bewer, "Ex Aere Factum: Technical Notes on Ancient Bronzes", Ancient Bronzes through a Modern Lens: Introductory Essays on the Study of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes, ed. Susanne Ebbinghaus, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2014), 38-63, pp. 38 and 57, fig. 2.15.

Susanne Ebbinghaus, ed., Ancient Bronzes through a Modern Lens: Introductory Essays on the Study of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes, Harvard Art Museum/Yale University Press (Cambridge, MA, 2014), p. 57, fig. 2.15

Exhibition History

From Pasture to Polis: Art in the Age of Homer, Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri, Columbia, 10/09/1993 - 12/05/1993

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

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