Sunday, March 29, 2009


Maurizio Buora, Massimo Lavarone, Stefan Seidel, Habitus. Identità e integrazione nel mondo antico attraverso lo studio delle fibule. Castello, Udine: Comune di Udine - Musei Civici, 2007. Pp. 47, DVD (pb). ISBN 9788895752013.

Maurizio Buora, Stefan Seidel (edd.), Fibule antiche del Friuli. Cataloghi e Monografie Archeologiche dei Musei Civici di Udine 9. Castello, Udine / Roma: Comune di Udine - Musei Civici; L'Erma di Bretschneider, 2008. Pp. 237, CD-ROM. ISBN 9788882654641. €150.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Jean MacIntosh Turfa, University of Pennsylvania Museum (

The common safety-pin, under the technical title of fibula, is a mainstay of Classical archaeologists, especially those working in Italy: its ubiquitous usefulness in antiquity makes it perfect today for gauging chronology and even the movement of ethnic groups, for although pots do not equate to peoples, clothing really did announce identity. One book offers a popular introduction to the phenomenon, geared to the region of Udine, and the other is a formal, scholarly catalogue of the museum's permanent collection.

Habitus is a beautiful booklet (with text in artsy red and tan ink) created to accompany an exhibition at the Castello di Udine, Musei Civici (January-May 2008) of ancient dress and identity in Friuli, associated with predominantly local fibulae; it comes with a didactic DVD, and offers a crash course in fibulae of the Iron Age through medieval periods, slanted, of course, to the interests of the museum in the Friuli/Upper Adriatic region. It would be of use--and interest--to students of Etruscan/Italic and Roman (including Romano-British) archaeology and art history, and also historians of the early medieval period, though I fear that scholars will find it very difficult to obtain these products of micro-publishers from outside Italy.

The humble fibula has been of interest in the history of costume and the study of chronology ever since scholars of the Renaissance took note of its varied forms and uses. Research into its typology and cultural significance was put on a scientific basis by such 19th-century experts as Oscar Almgren, who saw the ethno-cultural implications of costume, as then popularized through Scottish tartans and Native American beadwork. In ancient Italy textiles--read clothing--of which only the hardware survives, were indispensable features of both funerary and votive ritual.

The Udine collection began in the 18th c. with objects acquired from Roman Aquileia by the Accademia di Udine; the Musei Civici opened in 1866, growing from donations and local purchases, and adding finds from regional excavations at sites such as Sevegliano, Planis, Cervignano del Friuli and Pavia di Udine. The catalogue and booklet begin with examples from the Iron Age Venetic culture (8th-6th c. BC) found in burials and the sanctuary of the goddess Reithia at Este. Other fibula types featured are the Certosa (5th-4th c. Bologna) and several indigenous types manufactured in the Adriatic and Alpine regions during the period of Romanization (the Almgren, Alesia, Aucissa, and Celtic versions). The collection extends into the medieval period, with distinctive Zwiebelknopffibeln with knobs on the end of the bow and crosspieces: fig. 42 illustrates an ivory diptych depicting Stilicho and his son ostentatiously wearing this fibula on their cloaks, ca. AD 390. (See figs. 52-53 for Aldo Canussio's drawings of the complex manufacture of such fibulae.) Gothic, Longobard, enameled, and other medieval fibulae are also presented. All the Iron Age and Roman-period types are plotted on up-to-date distribution maps, and these, with the fine illustrations of types and terminology, should prove of use to scholars attempting to identify museum pieces and excavation finds. All items illustrated here may be found in the formal museum catalogue (below).

A section on textiles and techniques of manufacture is rather brief. The amount of handwork necessary to create the working spring of a cast-bronze fibula is non-trivial, such that the extra time spent on ornamentation (inlay, filigree, enamel, etc.) seems a reasonable labor-increment in comparison. Until the 1st c. AD, most fibulae were made in bronze in one piece, and few appeared in silver before the 3rd c. AD, though the practice was more common beyond the Alps. Enameling in vivid colors begins in the 2nd c. AD, and probably was a specialty of workshops in Gaul.

Reference is made to the spectacular finds from 7th-century BC burials at Verucchio, as examples of Iron Age Etruscan or Etruscan-related costumes and ornate, amber-beaded fibulae from a neighboring region of the Adriatic. These finds may be unfamiliar to non-Etruscologists, but although this booklet lacks bibliography, ample sources are listed in the full catalogue (see especially P. von Eles Masi [ed.], Guerriero e sacerdote... La Tomba del Trono, Florence, 2002.) For the full range of textile use and manufacture in pre-Roman Italy, see now M. Gleba, Textile Production in Pre-Roman Italy (Oxford, Oxbow, 2008), and be amazed at how much information is available for the Neolithic to Late Republican periods.

A "didactic DVD" (20 mins.) begins with a cavalcade of fibulae morphing from one type into the next, with color close-ups of several types, illustrating terminology and major types: Certosa, Alesia, "Aucissa," a ginocchio, Hrusica, enameled, animal-bow, and medieval varieties, ending with a mannequin in early medieval costume.


Fibule antiche del Friuli is the scholarly catalogue of the over 900 fibulae in the Musei Civici of Udine, with a technical catalogue by Seidel and Lavarone preceded by a series of short essays by experts on the different types represented in the collection.

The volume is introduced by Pier Giovanni Guzzo and Werner Jobst (6-7) who emphasize the archaeological significance and ubiquitous character of these artifacts. Jobst has published extensively on Roman-period fibulae and metalwork, especially from excavations that include Roman military uniform (see bibliography). Guzzo's 1972 Le fibule in Etruria dal VI al I secolo was the first major typology for 1st-millennium Etruria to appear since J. Sundwall's landmark (and still cited) 1943 Die älteren italischen Fibeln (Berlin). These are supplemented by regional and museum studies such as P. von Eles, Le fibule dell'Italia settentrionale, Prähistorische Bronzefunde 14.5, Munich, 1986 (cited here). Add to the bibliography J. Toms (2001) "The arch fibula in Early Iron Age Italy," in Ancient Italy in Its Mediterranean Setting. Studies in Honor of Ellen Macnamara, eds. D. Ridgway, F. R. Serra Ridgway, M. Pearce, E. Herring, R. D. Whitehouse, and J. B. Wilkins, pp. 91-116 (London, Accordia Specialist Studies on the Mediterranean 4).

See now also Anna Maria Bietti Sestieri and Ellen Macnamara, with Duncan Hook (2007) Prehistoric metal artefacts from Italy (3500-720 BC) in the British Museum (British Museum Research Publication 159, London), which includes fibulae. A study of Iron Age animal-bow fibulae in the Italian archipelago and their social implications is in progress by Tamar Hodos (University of Bristol).

Brief essays in chronological order pinpoint the historical significance and important examples of each type in the catalogue, beginning with Buora's overview of Roman types ("romane" was omitted from his title in the table of contents). Seidel comments on the Iron Age, Italic and related pieces, of which there are relatively few (49 examples); many have appeared in other publications (e.g. von Eles Masi 1986). Most items are of the Roman Imperial and medieval periods, and will be of interest to excavators of Roman military and other sites, including Roman Britain. Some citations in essays and catalogue neglect to pinpoint references, whether Buora 1992a or 1992b, etc.

While it does encompass some excavation finds, this is a museum collection, so the varieties presented here may not reflect quantitatively the actual historical frequency of dress and identity for a given period. All the pieces featured in the exhibition booklet are catalogued in full here, mostly in the same order. Unlike some catalogues, this does not offer pat dates within catalogue entries: one must read the relevant typological discussions to determine cultural and chronological information. Many items catalogued are extremely fragmentary, but will be of interest either typologically or for historically significant provenance: too often museums neglect such pieces.

Maurizio BUORA, "Lo studio delle fibule romane nell'Italia nordorientale" 10-13
Stefan SEIDEL, "Le fibule dell'età del ferro" 14-18
Dragan BOZIC, "Fibule del tipo Nova vas" 19-21
Thomas SCHIERL, "Le forme tardo La Tène, fibule del tipo Nauheim e 'Schüssel-Fibeln'" 22-26
Stefan DEMETZ, "Fibule di tipo Almgren 65" 27-29
Maurizio BUORA, "Diffusione delle fibule di tipo Aucissa nell 'area alto adriatica" 30-32
Christian GUGL, "Le 'kräftig profilierten Fibeln' dal Friuli. Uno sguardo di insieme" 33-41
Salvatore ORTISI, "Fibule del periodo medio e tardoimperiale. Fibule a ginocchio, con testa a forma di pelta, 'Scharnierarmfibeln' e 'Bügelknopffibeln'" 42-45
Maurizio BUORA, "Fibule ad arco liscio ('Fibeln mit glattem Bügel') o 'einfache gallische Fibeln'" 46
Maurizio BUORA, "Fibule romboidali" 47-48
Maurizio BUORA, "Fibula con arco a chiave di basso" 49
Maurizio BUORA, "Fibule con decorazione a smalto" 50
Maurizio BUORA, "Fibule a forma di animali" 51
Maurizio BUORA, "Fibule a pinzetta o 'Zangenfibeln'" 54
Anton HÖCK, "Fibule del tipo Hrusica" 55-61
Thomas SCHIERL, "Le 'Zwiebelknopffibeln'" 62-72
Ulrike TRENKMANN, "Fibule di età altomedievale" 73-78
Jan BEMMANN, "Fibula ovale di tipo Seidel" 79-80
S. Seidel and M. Lavarone, "Catalogue" 81-214
Bibliography, concordance, list of provenances with detailed map 216-237

It seems greedy to ask for more than the beautifully illustrated and carefully documented catalogue and expert typological discussions, but for full comparison to other collections and for technological history, the next step should be to furnish analyses of the metal composition of the better preserved pieces, and especially those with clear archaeological contexts, as has been done, for example, by the British Museum. See P.T. Craddock (1985) "The metallurgy and compositions of Etruscan bronze," Studi Etruschi 52: 211-71; and D. Hook, "The Composition and Technology of Selected Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Copper Alloy Artefacts from Italy," in Bietti Sestieri and Macnamara 2007:308-323. (For basics on metallurgy in Italy, see Claudio Giardino, I metalli nel mondo antico. Introduzione all'archeometallurgia, Roma-Bari, 3rd. ed. 2002.)

Another valuable addition would be a description of the fossil-like pseudomorphs of textiles often preserved in the corrosion products on metal ornaments. It is occasionally possible to combine evidence from multiple fibulae found in burials to reconstruct the layers of garments and their draping on bodies, based on the evidence of pseudomorphs. See A. Rast-Eicher, "Die eisenzeitlichen Gewebe im Tessin," in R.C. de Marinis and S. Biagio Simona (eds.), I Leponti tra mito e realtà. Raccolta di saggi in occasione della mostra, (Locarno, 2000) 415-419; and Gleba 2008:86.

It may be that our impression of an Adriatic cultural "koine" in the 1st millennia BC and AD is more in the minds of beholders: the selection here, pointed up by the commentators, shows perennial diversity of costume and symbolism, in part due to the unique geographic position and access to trade routes enjoyed by the Friuli and environs. A survey of the objects impressed me with the degree of European influence and interchange that has always applied in this area of the Upper Adriatic, and how different it can be from nearby, once-Etruscan, Felsina-Bologna.

For scholars who do not excavate, there is still considerable value in fibula research, one major effect being to track the invasion of Gauls into Italy at the beginning of the 4th c. BC and their subsequent roaming in the peninsula (their final defeat at Talamone in 225 of course left Celtic settlements still in the peninsula). While some fibulae of the European Hallstatt culture did reach peninsular Italy, the first appearance of La Tène ornaments is usually read as a type-fossil of Celtic invaders. Those inventoried here (cat. nos. 39-49) are not the earliest, but reflect important sites such as Gradisca di Sedegliano and Pavia di Udine (3rd-2nd c. BC). For cautionary treatment of Celtic ethnics residing in Italy, see J.H.C. Williams, "Celtic ethnicity in northern Italy: problems ancient and modern," in Gender and Ethnicity in Ancient Italy, eds. T. Cornell and K. Lomas (London, Accordia Specialist Studies on the Mediterranean 6, 1997) 69-81.

An interesting variety of the Roman period is the popular "AUCISSA" fibula (30-32, cat. nos. 163-210), many examples of which were cast with the maker's name across the end of the bow near the spring (nos. 182-185). Originally made in Italy (Aquileia?) in the Augustan period, they traveled to the transalpine castra with soldiers, and were picked up by native warriors in Slovenia. By the Flavian era, however, military chic had transferred to women, and many female burials have such pins. A few imitation makers' names are known also (e.g., Cartilia, a Dalmatian? at Este); over 1000 examples have been documented. One piece (no. 174) was donated to the museum in 1928 and said to have come from Tharros in Sardinia: if the provenance can be trusted, this would be interesting historical data on the movement of early imperial troops (especially in view of the spectacular underwater finds made in 1999 at Olbia, in the north of the island, of a later Roman naval fleet).

Another large category (228 pieces) are the 4th-5th c. AD Zweibelknopffibeln (62-72, cat. nos. 557-785), which began as a military accessory, but soon became widely diffused as a status symbol (as on the imperial portrait) and linked to the Baltic amber route.

The catalogue comes with a CD with four useful files: a German translation of all the discussion chapters; 13 distribution maps (some appear in the Habitus booklet; some have slightly different labels from chapter titles); 7 lists of specific fibula types with provenances; and a set of copies in pdf-format of 16 of Buora's articles, as cited in the bibliography. These are beautifully reproduced, and while some are in readily accessible journals, several are from local publications which outsiders would never have been able to find--a real boon to readers!

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