One of the most common discoveries at Roman sites in Britain are brooches. This is not surprising as the Romans used them to fasten their clothing. They come in many different types and are a very useful tool in helping date archaeological sites. The latin word for a brooch is fibula and this is a common term used in archaeology.
Fashion and Status
Various types of brooch were introduced into Britain when the Romans invaded in 43 AD. Their popularity continued for the next few hundred years. Like ours, the Romans fashions changed and this is why there are many different types. They were both a practical and a fashion item of their day. They also often represented status, and as such, the type of brooch you wore could indicate your position in society.
Most brooches are made of bronze (copper-alloy) or iron or a mixture of both. The majority, however are copper alloy as iron doesn't survive as well. Occasionally the copper-alloy would be 'tinned' which would give the brooch a silver appearance. Many are decorated with enamel, glass, and amongst other things, semi-precious stones. Some have even been found made from gold and silver. These are much rarer, however, as only the very rich would be able to afford such luxury brooches.
There are many different parts to a brooch. There is the body, which is often referred to as the bow or the plate depending on its type - a bow is usually long, narrow, and often arched, where as a plate is flat and wide. At one end is a spring or a hinge. This part is known as the 'head'. The 'foot' is where the pin closes. The pin is either part of the main body or a separate piece attached and closes by connecting it to a catch plate, or pin rest, at the foot of the brooch. This would be how the Romans fastened the brooch to their clothing, in much the same way we would use a safety-pin today.
Types of brooch
Archaeologists have divided Roman brooches up into different 'types'. This helps us to date the brooches and work out where they were made. One of the most common types of Roman brooch is known as the 'trumpet' brooch. It derives its name from its shape. The head of the brooch which contained and protected the spring looks like a trumpet.
Another type found throughout Roman Britain is known as the 'Dragonesque' brooch. Even though it appears in Britain after the Roman conquest, it draws its design from the native British 'Celtic' tastes. This brooch is particularly decorative and again gains its name from its shape - an 'S-shaped' serpent or dragon.
Romans liked to incorporate the use of animals, birds and fish into their brooches. Archaeologists refer to these designs as being 'zoomorphic'. At the Hull and East Riding Museum we have both a boar and a fish on display alongside many of the other different types and there are many more searchable online throughout our in-store collections.