Roman Bronze Brooches Revisited: Zoomorphic Types

Roman brooch fibula

In a blog post dated August 20 of last year we reviewed some examples of Roman bronze fibulae (brooches), a ubiquitous find both in controlled excavations and by metal detectorists. In this post we’d like to elaborate on the topic, focusing on zoomorphic brooch types.

The example pictured above, a horse brooch dating to the 1st to 3rd Centuries AD, while not unknown, is a very uncommon type. It has been modeled in the round rather than as a flat plate with pin on the reverse. For more details, it may be viewed here:

Roman brooch fibula

Far more typical of Roman brooches depicting mammals is the example above of a so-called “horse and rider” brooch. As is frequently the case, the schematically rendered rider has broken away but the Celtic style horse is well defined and shows a strong sense of movement. This type, dating to the 3rd or 4th Century, may have been closely associated with the Roman army. The bronze has been tinned to resemble silver. For more details on this example, go here:

Roman brooch fibula

In addition to mammals (rabbits or hares, dogs, horses, etc.), birds were a popular source of inspiration for Roman craftsmen involved in making brooches. The superb example above, depicting a duck in resting posture with wings folded back, illustrates the use of enamel decoration on Roman brooches. In this case, the wings have a piriform cell containing blue enamel surrounded by red with another stretch of blue enamel around that. In addition, the animal itself is depicted in a highly naturalistic way; even the duck’s eye has been indicated with a tiny point of incision. For more on this example, go here:

Roman bird brooch

An uncommon type of bird brooch, dating to the 2nd or 3rd Century AD, is illustrated above. This example appears to depict a dove or small water bird. Unusually for zoomorphic brooches, it’s original pin and coil are intact. Unlike many zoomorphic types that were also popular on the European continent, this specific type appears to be unique to Roman Britain. More about this example here:

For many more examples of brooches, mainly Roman, of many different types, visit the “Ancient Jewelry and Personal Adornment” section of our website at:

All the brooches presented above are individual UK metal detector finds, declared not treasure and legally exported.

For further study, we recommend the following sources:

Roman Brooches in Britain, a Technological and Typological Study Based on the Richborough Collection, The Society of Antiquaries of London, 2004


A Visual Catalogue of Richard Hattat’s Ancient Brooches, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2007

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