Merovingian Pair of Zoomorphic Handled Fibulae
Culture: European, Euro-Migration-Period
Period: Merovingian period, 6th-7th century A.D.
Material: Gilded silver
Dimensions: L: 11.5 cm
Price: CHF 75'000
Bonham’s, Antiquities, London, September 22, 1998, lot 353.
This beautiful pair of zoomorphic handled fibulae is made of gilded silver, composed of an elongated element, of an arch and a semicircle part adorned with seven pawn-shaped knobs. The fibulae are covered with a S pattern obtained by hitting the silver sheet on a negative. A frieze of incised zigzags borders the half circle, the elongated part and crosses the center of the arch. This decorative ornament is highlighted by the gray of the silver which contrasts with the gold applied to the rest of the fibula. The extremity consists of a schematized head of an animal where the eyes are two carnelian beads.
Handled fibulae were worn by West Germanic women. This corresponds to the Alemannic, Frankish and Thuringian populations. The arrangement and choice of the geometric ornaments, the animal head and the pawn-shaped knobs more specifically suggest the Alemannic goldsmiths. This Germanic tribe lived in southern Germany, on the Swiss plateau and in Alsace. It has long been opposed to the Germanic tribe of the Franks who experienced a similar expansion mode. Defeated at the Battle of Tolbiac in 496, the Alemanni finally integrated the Merovingian kingdom founded by the Franks, but kept a particular status in the duchy of Alemannia that covered about all the territories they occupied. This distinction continued until 732, when Charles Martel chased Theudebald, the successor to the Duke of Alemannia, Lantfrid. He definitely annexed Alemannia to the Carolingian Frankish kingdom after his death.
Because of the juxtaposition of the Alemannic and Frankish people in frontier areas (Alsace, western Swiss border), it may be difficult to reliably attribute the jewelry production to one or another of these populations. Tombs reveal ornaments of greatly varied origin, which demonstrate the mix of culture and population.
The use of a similar pair of fibulae is attested by numerous funeral excavations. Women wore them as cloak or dress fasteners, or also as belt ornaments. This type of fibula would have been preferably placed at the waist, while a pair of smaller fibulae would have embellished the neck area. Except from their functional use, fibulae designated the social status of their wearer. They were a major adornment element of Germanic men and women.
Aillag on, J. J., Roberto, U., and Rivière, Y., Roma et i Barbari, La Nascita di un Nuovo Mondo, Exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Grassi, Venise, 2008,
Milan, 2008, pp. 356-357, Cat. IV.23.
Die Franken, Exhibition catalogue, Berlin, 1997.
Dannheimer, H., Prähistorische Staatsammlung München, Munich, 1976.