Gilded silver fibula of the "Drago" type

CULTURE:
Etruscan
DATE:
early 7th century BCE
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General Description

One of the most popular types of Etruscan jewelry is the fibula, a garment fastener consisting of a straight pin coiled to form a spring at one end, a catchplate that secures the pin at the other end, and a decorative element that holds pin and catchplate together.

Made of silver, this fibula is decorated with applied figures of monkeys and ducks and was originally completely covered with thin gold foil. Even in its corroded, fragmentary condition, this earliest example of an Etruscan fibula is of particular importance. Fibulae, necklaces, and pins of silver have been found in Greek graves at Pithecusae, Cumae, and Syracuse, but silver is rare in pre-Greek Italy. The silver used for this fibula therefore suggests the trade connections between Etruscans and Greeks. The ducks, in contrast, represent a traditional local element. During the Villanovan period, birds played a far more important role than human or animal figures, and they may have had religious connotations.

Clearly not of Italian origin, the monkeys or apes sitting on the bow of the fibula betray an eastern influence. According to literary sources, Hiram, King of Tyre, imported apes, probably from India. Assyrian sculptures show men in Phoenician dress bringing apes as gifts to the Assyrian court. Studies have shown that the distribution of ape or monkey images, from the Aegean to Etruria corresponds well with Syrian and Phoenician trading contacts. The four other fibulae in the Dallas Museum of Art's collection (1991.75.2, 1991.75.3, 1991.75.4, 1991.75.5) are also impressive in their well-balanced shapes, and ample demonstration of the decorative granulation at which Etruscan goldsmiths excelled.

Adapted from

Barbara Deppert-Lippitz, Ancient Gold Jewelry at the Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art in association with the University of Washington Press, 1996), 34, 121.

Fun Facts

  • Jewelry was far more than merely ornament to the Etruscans; it was often close to being a magic charm or amulet and implied the protection of the gods.