Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The wire is square in section except at the springs, where it is round. The fibula is broken in two fragments with the break close to the outer spring. Adhesive and burial accretions cover the break edges. The surface has green corrosion and thick burial accretions overall.
The serpentine fibula has an elegant form that consists of a single length of wire formed into a crescent-shaped fastener for clothing. One end of the wire has been sharpened into a point to puncture the cloth, while the opposite end has been shaped into a catchplate to hold the tip of the pin. Two single springs incorporated into the wire apply tension between the catchplate and pin. The section between the springs, called the bow, curves in harmony with the arch of the pin. There are nineteen serpentine fibulae in the Harvard Art Museums’ collection, and these fibulae have minor stylistic variations in form and decoration. They have no known provenience; however, serpentine fibulae were common during the Iron Age, and they are found distributed throughout Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, and France (1).
The serpentine type of fibula is considered to have descended from the Late Bronze Age violin-bow type, which has a straight pin and a single spring. Replacing the violin-bow, the serpentine fibulae came into general use during the Early Iron Age, and the type continued to be used throughout the next half century. During this time, communities created their own types of fibulae, and discrete variations in the form developed. Trade in Italy during the eighth century BCE contributed to the spread of provincial styles; as a result, the traceability of their origins has been complicated. Serpentine fibulae were common in Sicily during Greek colonization, hence the type has also been termed “Sicilian” (2). Changes in the form have been used to date serpentine fibulae, the earliest of which have a flattened spiral catchplate. As the Iron Age progressed, the catchplate developed into a simple, folded channel, which became longer over time (3). 1987.135.53 and 1987.135.40 have the longest catchplates in the collection and probably date to the Late Iron Age, while the remaining fibulae with shorter catchplates are most likely from the Early Iron Age. Some of the fibulae in the Harvard collection have incised decorations, including 1987.135.38, which bears a herringbone pattern partially obscured by corrosion (4). Inscribed, consecutive parallel line patterns, similar to the ones on 1987.135.51, have been found on serpentine fibulae in central Italy (5).
1. Compare serpentine fibulae in J. Sundwall, Die älteren italischen Fibeln (Berlin, 1943) DII-ßb (Apulia, Bologna, and Tarquinia); C. Giardino, Il Mediterraneo Occidentale fra XIV ed VIII secolo a.C.: Cerchie minerarie e metallurgiche = The West Mediterranean between the 14th and 8th centuries B.C.: Mining and Metallurgical Spheres, BAR Int. Ser. 612 (Oxford, 1995) 243, 247, 291, and 330 (Sicily, Sardinia, and France); 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. 391, 393, 400, 405, 408, 412, and 414 (Torano Castello); O. C. Colburn, “Torre del Mordillo (Cosenza): Scavi negli anni 1963, 1966 e 1967,” Notizie degli scavi di antichità 31 (1977): 423-526, esp. 519 (Torre del Mordillo); R. M. A. Procelli, “Calascibetta (Enna): La necropoli di Cozzo S. Giuseppe in Contrada Realmese,” Notizie degli scavi di antichità 36 (1982): 425-632, esp. 486, 539, and 553 (Calascibetta, Sicily); G. C. Pescatori, “Cairano (Avellino): Tombe dell’età del Ferro,” Notizie degli scavi di antichità 25 (1971): 481-537, esp. 485, fig. 4 (Cairano); P. Righetti, “Veio (Isola Farnese): Ricerche sul terreno prima degli scavi della necropoli in località ‘Quattro Fontanili,’” Notizie degli scavi di antichità 30 (1976): 185-220, esp. 198, fig. 5 (Veio); and F. Lo Shiavo, “Francavilla Marittima, Necropoli di Macchiabate: Le fibule di bronzo,” Atti e memorie della Società Magna Grecia, 2.18-20 (1977-79): 93-109, esp. 95, no. 5, fig. 37 (Francavilla Marittima).
2. This type of fibula is also termed “bent-bow” by R. R. Holloway, The Archaeology of Early Rome and Latium (London, 1994) 39, fig. 3.4.
3. Holloway 1994 (supra 2) 40; Giardino 1995 (supra 1); N. Hartmann, “Society and Technology in the Villanovan Iron Industry,” in The Bronze Age-Iron Age Transition in Europe 1, eds. M. L. Stig Sorensen and R. Thomas, BAR Int. Ser. 483 (Oxford, 1989) 93-99.
4. Compare 1987.135.38 with fibulae in H. Müller-Karpe, Beiträge zu italienischen und griechischen Bronzefunden, Prähistorische Bronzefunde 20.1 (Munich, 1974) pl. 10.A.6 (Torre Galli, grave 149); with alternating ribbed and herringbone patterns in H. Henken, Tarquinia, Villanovans and Early Etruscans (Cambridge, MA, 1968) fig. 24.b (Selciatello cemetery at Tarquinia); Giardino 1995 (supra 1) 243 (Pantilica, Sicily); de la Genière 1977 (supra 1) 391 (Torano Castello, Calabria); and Sundwall 1943 (supra 1) 150, DII-ßb (Sicily, Cuma, Torre Galli, Torre Mordillo, and Vetulonia).
5. Compare 1987.135.36.A-B and 1987.135.51 with fibulae at Quattro Fontanili published in Italy Before the Romans: The Iron Age, Orientalizing and Etruscan Periods, eds. D. Ridgeway and F. R. Ridgeway (London, 1979) fig. 2; Hartmann 1989 (supra 3) fig. 11.e; and A. Guidi, La necropoli veiente dei Quattro Fontanili nel quadro della fase recente della prima età del ferro italiana, Biblioteca di “Studi etruschi” 26 (Florence, 1993) fig. 20.5. See also 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; and A. M. Bietti Sestieri, The Iron Age Community of Osteria dell’Osa (Cambridge, 1992) 97.