Fibulae

A ncient Greeks fastened their clothes with fibulae. Fibulae, which resembled safety pins, secured the large panels of fabric that Greeks draped around their bodies. Although they began as a necessity for holding clothing in place, fibulae later became decorative fashion items.

The first fibulae were carved from the leg bones of birds, which some scholars believe to be the source of the pins' name since fibula is also the name used for a particular leg bone. The earliest metal fibulae date back to about 1000 b.c.e. These unadorned fibulae were made of bronze or gold and looked very similar to modern safety pins.

As Greek goldsmiths became more skilled in their craft from 480 to 336 b.c.e., they created more elaborate, decorative fibulae.

Ancient Greek Pins

A variety of silver fibulae, which were used to fasten robes and other clothing in ancient Greece.

Reproduced by permission of © Archivo Iconografico, S.AJ CORBIS.

Examples of fibulae from this time have beautifully wrought golden designs. By the fall of the Greek Empire around 146 b.c.e., fibulae were quite beautiful and worn with less-functional jewelry pieces to adorn Greek garments.

Later cultures continued to make and use fibulae. Etruscans, from the area now comprising central Italy, made glass beads to decorate fibulae between 750 b.c.e. and 200 b.c.e. Fibulae were one of the main types of jewelry worn by Roman men and were prized clasps for military cloaks between 509 b.c.e. and 476 c.e. Fibulae were also worn by Roman women. After the decline of the Roman Empire, the Byzantines ruled a rich and powerful empire in central Europe, Italy, and part of Asia from 330 to 1095 c.e. Byzantines considered jeweled fibulae fashionable clasps for men's cloaks. By the eleventh century, as the ancient empires declined, more primitive groups of nomadic tribes in central Europe wore simple metal fibulae.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume: From Ancient Mesopotamia Through the Twentieth Century. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

^During the high point of ancient Greek civilization, from about 600 b.c.e. to 146 b.c.e., Greek men and women set a precedent for the wearing of personal ornaments that has continued in the Western world up to the present day. The first pieces of jewelry in Greek society were not purely ornamental, but instead they had specific functions, such as a pin to secure a garment or a band to manage the hair. These functional pieces were later embellished to become decorative and pleasing to the wearer.

Although blacksmiths made objects out of gold, silver, and bronze before the third century b.c.e., Greek goldsmiths after this date became very skillful at creating intricately designed ornaments for both men and women to wear. The skills of the goldsmiths increased people's desire for jewelry made for purely decorative reasons.

Some of the earliest jewelry were thin metal plates embossed, or ornamented with raised work, with designs and trimmed with raised metal beads or twisted golden wire, as well as elaborate creations made of gold wire, sometimes featuring beads, that became known as filigree. From 336 to 323 b.c.e. Macedonian king Alexander the Great (356323 b.c.e.), ruler of the Greek people at the time, traveled extensively and brought back precious gemstones from Asia, including rubies, topazes, emeralds, opals, pearls, and diamonds. Soon jewelers incorporated these stones into jewelry.

Earrings appeared for the first time in Greece in 900 b.c.e. These first earrings were golden or bronze hoops, which soon became larger and more elaborate designs of hanging gold balls or nearly four-inch-long vase-shaped ornaments. By 600 b.c.e. multipieced earrings were worn. These included small coin-shaped pieces that hung on chains from a central larger disc and made a pleasant noise as the wearer moved. During the reign of Alexander the Great earrings became even more elaborate and included designs with dangling figurines and golden flower baskets. The earliest gems to be used in earrings in Greece were pearls. Pear-shaped pearls were especially popular. Two earrings were popular for adult women, but fashionable Greek youths often wore a single earring.

Necklaces and bracelets were also popular. Amber beads or pearls were often strung around the neck. Another popular necklace design featured chains with golden disc or ball ornaments with attached rings or short chains that dangled other ornaments. The bracelet style seen most often was of a gold, silver, or bronze wire twisted around the arm imitating a snake. Jewelry styles similar to those of the ancient Greeks continue to be worn by fashionable women around the world.

Ancient Egyptian Gold Jewelry Pictures
A pair of gold earrings from around 150 b.c.e. Usually only the wealthiest in Greek society could afford to wear gold jewelry.

ermission of © Christie's Images/CORBIS.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion, from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.

Norris, Herbert. Costume and Fashion: The Evolution of European Dress Through the Earlier Ages. London, England: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1924. Reprint, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1931.

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