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Wing Brooch, c. 2nd century AD, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Detail of the Irish pseudo-penannular Londesborough Brooch, British Museum

A brooch /ˈbr/ is a decorative jewelry item designed to be attached to garments, often to hold them closed. It is usually made of metal, often silver or gold but sometimes bronze or some other material. Brooches are frequently decorated with enamel or with gemstones and may be solely for ornament (as in the stomacher) or sometimes serve a practical function as a fastening, perhaps for a cloak.

The earliest known brooches are from the Bronze Age. As fashions in brooches changed rather quickly, they are important chronological indicators. Many of the ancient European brooches found in archaeology are usually referred to by the Latin term fibula.

Ancient brooches

Braganza Brooch, Hellenistic art, 250–200 BC, British Museum

The fibula (plural fibulae) is an ornamental clasp used by many people throughout history. Fibulae were shaped somewhat like a large safety pin and were used to hold clothing together. They came in many varieties and held prominent significance for the identity of the wearer, indicating ethnicity (until local costume became Romanized) and class. Elaborately designed fibulae were an important part of Late Antique dress, and simpler ones were part of Roman military equipment.

Ancient fibulae are prized items for collectors since they are well preserved in many cases and are not difficult to obtain; divorced from their cultural context, they still present a variety of shapes and decoration.

Medieval brooches

Migration period

The distinctive metalwork that was created by the Germanic peoples from the 4th through the 8th centuries belong to the art movement known as Migration period art. During the 5th and 6th centuries, five Germanic tribes migrated to and occupied four different areas of Europe and England after the collapse of the Roman Empire. The tribes were the Visigoths who settled in Spain, the Ostrogoths in Eastern Germany and Austria, the Franks in West Germany, the Lombards in Northern Italy and the Anglo-Saxons in England. Because the tribes were closely linked by their origins, and their jewellery techniques were strikingly similar, the work of these people was first referred to as Barbarian art. This art style is now called Migration period art.[1]

Brooches dating from this period were developed from a combination of Late Roman and new Germanic art forms, designs and technology.[1] Metalworkers throughout western Europe created some of the most colorful, lively and technically superior jewellery ever seen.[2] The brooches of this era display techniques from Roman art: repoussé, filigree, granulation, enamelling, openwork and inlay, but it is inlay that the Migration period artists are famous for. Their passion for colour makes their jewellery stand out. Colour is the primary feature of Migration period jewellery. The precious stone most often used in brooches was the almandine, a burgundy variety of garnet, found in Europe and India.[3] According to J. Anderson Black, "designers would cover the entire surface of an object with the tiny geometric shapes of precious stones or enamel which were then polished flat until they were flush with the cloisonné settings, giving the appearance of a tiny stained glass window."[4]

Brooch designs were many and varied: geometric decoration, intricate patterns, abstract designs from nature, bird motifs and running scrolls.[4] Zoomorphic ornamentation was a common element during this period, in Anglo-Saxon England as well as in Europe. Intertwined beasts were a signature feature of these lively, intricately decorated brooches.[5] Bow shaped, S-shaped, radiate-headed and decorated disc brooches were the most common brooch styles during the Migration period, which spanned the 5th through the 7th centuries.[6]


The majority of brooches found in early Anglo-Saxon England were Continental styles that had migrated from Europe and Scandinavia. The long brooch style was most commonly found in 5th- and 6th-century England. Circular brooches first appeared in England in the middle of the 5th century.[7] During the 6th century, craftsmen from Kent began manufacturing brooches using their own distinctive styles and techniques.[8] The circular form was the preferred brooch type by the end of the 6th century.[9] During the 7th century, all brooches in England were in decline.[10] They reappeared in the 8th century and continued to be fashionable through the end of the Anglo-Saxon era.[11]

Brooch styles were predominantly circular by the middle to late Anglo-Saxon era. During this time period, the preferred styles were the annular and jewelled (Kentish) disc brooch styles. The circular forms can be divided generally into enamelled and non-enamelled styles.[11] A few non-circular style were fashionable during the 8th to 11th centuries. The ansate, the safety-pin, the strip and a few other styles can be included in this group. Ansate brooches were traditional brooches from Europe migrated to England and became fashionable in the late Anglo-Saxon period. Safety- pin brooches, more abundant in the early Anglo-Saxon period became more uncommon by the 7th century and by the 8th century, evolve into the strip brooch. Miscellaneous brooches during this time period include the bird, the ottonian, the rectangle and the cross motif. [12][13]


Celtic brooches represent a distinct tradition of elaborately decorated pennanular and pseudo-pennanular brooch types developed in Early Medieval Ireland and Scotland. Techniques, styles and materials used by the Celts were different from Anglo-Saxon craftsmen. Certain attributes of Celtic jewellery, such as inlaid millefiori glass and curvilinear styles have more in common with ancient brooches than contemporary Anglo-Saxon jewellery. The jewellery of Celtic artesans is renowned for its inventiveness, complexity of design and craftsmanship. The Tara Brooch is a well-known example of a Celtic brooch.[14][15]


Victorian brooches

19th century hair brooch, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

From the 18th century through the Victorian era it was fashionable to incorporate hair and portraiture into a brooch.[16] The practice began as an expression of mourning, then expanded to keepsakes of loved ones who were living.[16] Human hair was encased within the brooch or braided and woven into a band to which clasps were affixed.[16] It was not uncommon for miniature brooch portraits to incorporate ground human hair as pigment.[16] Two sided swivel brooches would display a portrait on one side and a lock of hair on the other; the latter could be crafted with semiprecious stones to resemble a bouquet.[16]


See also


  1. ^ a b Black 1988, p. 107.
  2. ^ Tait 1986, p. 101.
  3. ^ Gregorietti 1969, p. 146.
  4. ^ a b Black 1988, p. 109.
  5. ^ Tait 1986, p. 107.
  6. ^ Gregorietti 1969, p. 139.
  7. ^ Stoodley 1999, pp. 17—19.
  8. ^ Walton-Rogers 2007, p. 121.
  9. ^ Owen-Crocker 2004, p. 42.
  10. ^ Owen-Crocker 2004, p. 138.
  11. ^ a b Walton-Rogers 2007, p. 113.
  12. ^ Weetch, Rosie (2014). Brooches in Late Anglo-Saxon England with a North West European Context (PhD). University of Reading.
  13. ^ "Portable Antiquities brooches". Portable Antiquities Scheme. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  14. ^ Black 1988, pp. 101-103.
  15. ^ Tait 1986, pp. 112-114114.
  16. ^ a b c d e Tanenbaum, Carole; Rita Silvan (2006). Fabulous Fakes: A Passion for Vintage Costume Jewelry. Toronto: Madison Press. pp. 12, 18–19.


  • Owen Crocker, Gale (2011). "Chapter 7: Dress and Identity". In Hamerow, Helena; Hinton, David A.; Crawford, Sally (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology. Oxford University Press. pp. 91–116. ISBN 978-1-234-56789-7.
  • Stoodley, Nick (1999). The Spindle and the Spear: A Critical Enquiry into the Construction and Meaning of Gender in the Early Anglo-Saxon Burial Rite. British Archaeological Reports, British Series 288. ISBN 978-1841711171.
  • Walton-Rogers, Penelope (2007). Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-saxon England AD 450-700. Council for British Archaeology. ISBN 978-1902771540.
  • Black, J. Anderson (1988). A History of Jewellery: Five Thousand Years. Random House Publishing. ISBN 978-0517344378.
  • Gregorietti, Guido (1969). Jewelry Through the Ages. American Heritage;. ISBN 978-0828100076.
  • Tait, Hugh (1986). 7000 Years of Jewellery. British Museum. ISBN 978-1554073955.

External links