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Technically, the Latin term, fibulae, refers to Roman brooches; however, the term is widely used to refer to brooches from the entire ancient and early medieval world that continue Roman forms.

Nevertheless, its use in English is more restricted than in other languages, and in particular post-Roman brooches from the British Isles are just called brooches (for example, the penannular brooches), where in German they would probably be fibulae.

Some fibulae are made of precious metals such as silver or gold. Many fibulae are decorated with enamel, semi-precious stones, glass, coral or bone.

Fibulae were composed of four components: The body, pin, spring, and hinge. The head is the end of the fibula with the spring or hinge.

Bilateral springs can be very short, with only one or two revolutions per side, or up to 10 cm long.

Most bilateral springs are made of one piece of metal and therefore have a spring cord, a piece of wire extending from one end of the spring to the other.

For example, the Asia Minor Decorated Arc Fibula (Blinkenberg Type XII Variation 16) dating to the 5th century BC.

It is important to note that different types of fibula construction were used contemporaneously.

Most fibulae are made of bronze (more properly "copper alloy") or iron, or both.In ancient Rome and other places where Latin was used, the same word denoted both a brooch and the fibula bone because a popular form for brooches and the shape of the bone were thought to resemble one another. They are usually divided into families that are based upon historical periods, geography, and/or cultures.Fibulae are also divided into classes that are based upon their general forms.Unilateral springs are the earliest type, first appearing around the 14th century BC.Bilateral springs that wind around to both sides of the fibula body, appeared around the 6th century BC.

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