Timeless specialises in the collection and display of ancient brooches from all eras, ranging from the spiral brooches of the early Bronze Age to the beautiful penannular and ring-type brooches of Medieval Europe.
Typically made of bronze or copper alloy, the brooches are often richly decorated with silver or gold gilt, glass, enamel, semi-precious stones or Niello inlay. All our brooches are mounted in hand-finished frames and presented with context and provenance.
Our current collection is displayed in our galleries, and further information about the type of ancient brooch which TIMELESS collects may be found below.
Iron Age Brooches
Brooches (as we might think of them) were probably developed from Bronze Age dress pins bent to form a safety-pin type arrangement). However, it was the brooches from the La Tene epoch which first begin to display the classic bow shape and bilateral spring which lasted for over a thousand years.
Though cast from one piece of metal, the La Tene bows became flattened (which allowed for decoration), and were mainly
Celtic European in origin. La Tene type brooches were essentially the ‘prototype’ of the plethora of later Roman bow brooches, being manufactured from around the fourth century BC to the time of the Roman conquest of Britain in the first century AD.
An example of a La Tene type brooch can be seen above - a cast copper alloy Late Iron Age or early Roman period one-piece brooch of 'Nauheim derivative', La Tene III type. First century AD.
In 119 BC the Romans campaigned against the Pannonii, seizing their capital, Siscia.
Around eighty-five years later, Octavian (Augustus) established a garrison at Siscia, and within a few decades, the conquest of the Pannonii was completed ruthlessly by Tiberius — establishing the region as the Roman province of Pannonia in AD 9.
However, Celtic cultural influence continued to permeate everyday life in Pannonia, just as it did in Britannia after the Claudian invasion of AD 43
Pannonia was an ancient province of the Roman Empire, located in the river valleys of the Danube and Rhine.
The first recorded inhabitants of Pannonia consisted of dozens of different tribes, including Illyrian, Dalmatian and Greco-Thracian.
Prior to the Roman invasion, the Pannonian tribes were defeated by Celts migrating from Western Europe in the 4th century BC, although the Pannonians managed to assimilate the invading Celts, who then adopted their language and cultural practices. This Celtic influence can clearly be seen in the collection of ancient Celto-Pannonian brooches offered for sale by TIMELESS GALLERIES
Brooches of Pannonian type (termed ‘Kräftig-profilierte’ or ‘strongly profiled’) have been discovered in small numbers in England, particularly in the East and Southeast of the country, and were thought to have been brought to Britannia by Roman soldiers of the 9th Legion who were recruited in the Pannonian region.
These beautiful 2000-year-old Romano-Celtic brooches, considered to be the precursor of the well-known Romano-British trumpet brooch, would grace the wall of any home and provide an interesting talking point for years to come.
Along with their coinage, Roman Brooches constitute some of the more enduring archaeological relics left behind by the people of their empire. The brooches are a fascinating facet of ancient history and were as functional as they were decorative, being used to pin the clothing of emperors, soldiers and citizens alike.
The range and typology of Roman Brooches is truly enormous; so much so, that archaeologists can use the brooches to date a site, much like a geologist may use fossils to date a particular rock stratum.
A clear evolution may be discerned in many types of ancient brooches — from the delicate Celtic brooches of La Tene, to the massive, square-headed brooches of the Saxons over a thousand years later. However, it was during the Roman era that the brooch (or fibulae, as the Romans would have called them) developed into an astonishing array or types and families
The Penannular Brooch was the only style to last from the late Iron Age, throughout the Roman era and into the time of the Viking invasions of Britain – a period of over a thousand years.
Most likely invented in Britannia in the 3rd Century BCE, the penannular was known in Spain (Hispania) and Scandinavia (Scandia), but unknown throughout the rest of Europe until adopted by the Roman or Romanised people.
According to Hattatt (Ancient and Romano-British Brooches, 1982, pp 127)
the preponderance of penannular brooches found on Roman military sites makes
it very likely that these Celtic-style brooches were much-liked by the
Roman legions and auxilia due to the penannular’s
hard-wearing nature and ability to stay put!
(Indeed, pre-Roman penannular brooches have been found in Anglo-Saxon graves).
Early Roman Penannular Brooch. 1st Century BCE
As with many aspects of daily life, superior Roman technology and metal-working skills transformed the traditional late Bronze and Iron Age brooch designs into a dizzying array of beautiful adornments. However, Celtic influence may still be discerned in the earlier Roman Brooches.
While there is no clearly understood progression from one type of brooch to another, it is thought that this early Celtic La Tene influence can be best seen in the Roman ‘Colchester Type’ fibulae, as shown below.
These brooches were generally cast from a single piece of bronze, with the pin tensioned via a spring and caught by a catch-plate on the rear of the brooch, and form the template for many different types of Roman bow brooch.
Early ‘Colchester Type’ Fibula Brooch. 1st Century BCE to 1st Century AD
By the first century AD, Roman ‘Colchester Type’ brooches had developed into the classic Roman bow brooch, with a separate pin and spring, and a smooth, arched bow that tapered from the head to a long point, resembling the back of a leaping dolphin.
Furthermore, wings were added to the head of the bow, thereby covering the long, bilateral spring and producing the familiar ‘T-shape’ of these early Roman brooches.
The brooch below is one of the more typical Dolphin Brooch types that were manufactured in Britannia during early Roman occupation: The Polden Hill type fibula brooch.
A ‘Polden Hill’ type Dolphin brooch of the 1st Century AD. These types of brooches were characterised by the thin plates at the end of each wing which held the spring in place, although there are over three hundred variations of this type of brooch alone, occupying nearly twenty different categories.
The T-Shaped, or Tapering Bow brooch, is another early Colchester derivative, and represents one of the most commonly found types in Britain. Often beautifully imagined in their design, the T-Shaped Roman brooch typically had wide, tubular wings and were usually hinged, rather than containing a wire sprung pin.
The T-Shaped brooch saw the first introduction of ‘chain loops’ – small hoops at the heads of a pair of brooches which would have supported a chain worn across the chest (a mainly British custom). A broken chain loop may be seen on the sawfish type T-Shaped brooch below. Chain loops, however, became much more prevalent in a later style of Roman fibula brooch: the Headstud brooch.
Romano-British T-Shaped Sawfish Brooch, 1st Century AD
The Headstud Brooch
is one of the best known types of the Romano-British fibula brooch, and is the
Colchester derivative which achieved both the greatest decorative embellishment
and longest life.
These first to second-century brooches are found in a wide variety of forms, but typically
have short, semi-cylindrical wings into which the spring nestled (although hinged-pin
examples are also common). The bows were often deep and beautifully decorated, ending in a foot knop.
The heads of the brooches were cast with a circular stud in the middle of the two wings (actually derived from
the rivet of earlier two-piece brooches, but now vestigial and non-functional in the Headstud brooch) and topped with a swivelling wire loop to suspend the chest chain. Below is a stunning example of a Roman Headstud fibula brooch – the headstud being the round, enamelled decoration beneath the chain loop.
Romano-British Headstud Brooch, 1st to 2nd Century AD
Another type of early bow brooch, the Hod Hill type brooch, appeared to have originated in West Germany some time around AD 20 and was brought to Britannia during the Claudian invasion twenty or so years later.
The brooches are typified by a wide, flat head, often rolled over at the top, and side knops to the upper bow, as seen below. The Hod Hill brooch was made in such an enormous variety, that hardly two identical brooches have ever been found.
Hod Hills never contained springs, the pin being hinged behind the broad head plate.
Hod Hill Type Fibula Brooch.
Early 1st Century AD
To paraphrase Richard Hattatt (the universally accepted authority on Romano-British fibula brooches and inspiration for much of this blog)
The Trumpet brooch produces the archetypal case of 'the native British craftsman taking a foreign import and transforming it into a creation of his own. The mature British trumpet brooch is, at its best, a thing of considerable beauty and is found nowhere else in the world, other than the occasional stray.’
Derived from Iron Age Celto-Pannonian brooches, the Romano-British trumpet brooch employed a large, often rounded trumpet-shaped head to neatly hide its spring arrangement and so giving the brooch its name. Furthermore, the central knop (between the head of the brooch and the bow) was embellished in the trumpet brooch, essentially developing ‘leaves’ to become known as the ‘acanthus’ – a feature unique to these brooches.
Much like the Headstud brooch, Trumpet brooches were also given the swivelling chain loop at the top of the head, although this is missing in the example here.
Romano-British Trumpet Brooch, circa 2nd Century AD
The early Roman Bow and Fantail brooches are often beautifully enamelled and
intricate in their design. They are a rare find and consequently treasured by collectors, particularly
as the leg (beneath the bow) is often heavily embellished.
The brooch derives its name from a widening of the leg into a triangular shape, as seen in the
example here. The Bow and Fantail brooches were thought to have developed from earlier ‘thistle’
Early First Century Bow and Fantail Brooch.
The Knee Brooch was a later style military brooch of around the 2nd to 3rd centuries AD.
It was around this time that fibula brooches were largely abandoned by the British population, and most finds from the third century onwards were worn only by Roman personnel and military.
The knee brooch was characterised by their wide head plates, a steeply dipping downturn near the head of the bow, and the ample space created behind the bow and leg to allow for material of Roman military cloaks, as depicted below
Third Century Military Knee Brooch
These small military brooches typically had a horizontal catch plate (rather than the usual vertical plates seen on other bow fibulae) which was designed to allow the brooch to ‘hold’ more material behind the bow, necessitated by their small size.
Military knee brooches were produced in huge numbers in Britannia towards the end of the third century AD.
Highly prized by collectors, the Crossbow Brooch was another Roman military brooch that was used throughout the third and fourth centuries of Britain’s Roman occupation.
In fact, the Crossbow brooch dominated in the Roman military throughout the whole empire, from Britain in the west to the Euphrates in the east. Their design was so successful that they lived on beyond the fall of the Empire in the form of the Anglo-Saxon long brooch.
As can be seen here, military crossbow brooches were typically large in size, with a deeply arched bow, long leg and
‘onion shaped’ knops to the wings.
In contemporary reliefs and carvings, the crossbow brooch
was worn on the shoulder with the leg uppermost.
Brooches of this kind may have utilised up to fifteen separate parts, and are occasionally found in silver and gold — almost certainly having belonged to high ranking military officers.
The Roman Plate Brooch arose in the middle of the first century AD, and while still used as a functioning clothes fastener, the brooch was designed more as a decorative accoutrement than the bow brooch (where only the functional parts of bow brooches were decorated).
Consequently, the plate brooch represents some of the most beautifully wrought examples of Roman metalwork.
While the majority of plate brooches are round, they can be found in many different shapes and sizes, even displaying curvature to the plate much like the bow brooch. Often enamelled in the champlevé style (where the enamel fills hollows cast into the metal of the brooch), the plate brooch became popular around the time that Rome annexed Britannia to the empire.
Although a genealogy of plate brooches is difficult to ascertain, they may be described in five broad categories:
Glass Centre Boss
Introduced to Britannia from Gaul, Disc Brooches were circular, often knopped, and may have been domed, dished or perforated. Early disc brooches often portrayed a sunburst,
picked out in bronze ridges and enamelled sections, as can be seen here.
This was almost certainly intended to honour Mithras — a Persian god that had been
incorporated into the Roman pantheon and worshipped by the cult of the
unconquerable sun (Sol Invictus).
Mithraism was particularly popular with the Roman soldiery.
Second Century Disc Brooch with Sol Invictus
Later disc brooches became extremely ornate, often displaying concentric gilded or enamelled panels, circumferential lugs, knops and chain loops.
A much rarer type of Roman disc brooch was the repoussé disc brooch, where the plate design (sometimes copied from coins) was hammered into relief from the reverse side of the plate. These brooches rarely come to the market.
Finally, Non-Disc Plate Brooches were also commonly used during the Roman era, and may be found in many different shapes including square, lunar, lozengeform and swastika shaped as seen below.
A Non-Disc Roman PLate Brooch in the form of a Swastika. 2nd Century AD
Unique to Britannia, the Dragonesque brooch displays more Celtic influence than any other Roman brooch.
The term ‘dragonesque’ is a misnomer, having arisen by the shape being misinterpreted by later historians. The design is now not thought to be zoomorphic; rather, “a pair of Celtic cornucopia joined at their mouths and having ‘heads’ of capped trumpets” (Richard Hattatt, Ancient and Romano-British Brooches).
Nevertheless, the Dragonesque brooch represents a triumph of Roman metalwork, as can be seen in the example here. These brooches, while uncommon, were produced in Britannia from circa AD 50 to 150.
Second Century Dragonesque Brooch. British Museum
Of a similar age to the Dragonesque brooches (mid First to mid Second centuries AD), animal shaped brooches were also strongly influenced by the Celts of Western Europe: primarily, Britannia, Gaul and Belgica.
The animals depicted in Zoomorphic Brooches were typically stylised (as were horses on pre-Roman Celtic gold coins), and represented creatures that were spiritually significant to the Celt: Hares, swans, stags, fish, horses, eagles etc.
While undoubtedly Celtic in their design, the Celts rarely made zoomorphic brooches prior to the Roman invasion, and it was almost certainly exposure to Roman art (and the Roman love of depicting animals) that spurred the British-Celtic craftsmen to develop the zoomorphic brooch.
These intriguing brooches, as depicted below, are occasionally acquired by Timeless and framed for presentation.
First or Second Century Roman Boar Brooch
Reminiscent of regency jewellery, the Glass Centre-Boss Brooches of the Roman era were very late arrivals, becoming popular from the third to fifth centuries AD, and in fact, continued to be used by the British people long after the Romans left.
They were typically oval in shape, and dominated by a large, conical, coloured glass boss as seen below.
The popularity and longevity of these brooches has resulted in them becoming relatively common finds on Roman and post-Roman sites.
Fourth Century Gilt Glass Centre-Boss Brooch
Anglo-Saxon & Viking
The first Germanic people thought to have settled in Britannia were brought here as Batavian conscripts
during the Roman invasion of AD 43, probably attached to the 14th legion.
However, Nordic travellers continued to make their way across the North Sea throughout the Roman
occupation, and the influence of Rome can clearly be seen in the early, pagan era
Anglo-Saxon Long Brooches, as seen in the example here.
Early Anglo-Saxon Long Brooch, 5th Century AD. The similarity to the 4th Century Roman Crossbow Brooch is striking
In the first decades of the fifth century, Roman occupation of Britannia came to an end as the emperor (Constantine III) withdrew his forces in response to barbarian invasions across continental Europe. The Britons were left to their own defences, and within a few years, began to suffer from seaborn raids – particularly by the Scottish Picts along the north-eastern coastline.
However, the Roman conscription of Germanic tribes had not been forgotten by the remaining Romano-British, and the Angles, Saxons and Jutes were recruited to defend Britannia’s shores.
By AD 442, the Anglo-Saxons rebelled against their British overlords, and within twenty years, completely subjugated the incumbent Celts and Romano-British, and the first of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britannia began.
Oher brooches typical of the Pagan Saxon era (c. AD 450 – 650) include the Saucer Brooch, reminiscent of the Roman plate disc brooches, but with their rims slightly turned up. They were often embossed in the repoussé style, as described here , or chip-carved – a new technique much like wood carving which produced the classic Anglo-Saxon geometric pattern. Below is a beautiful chip-carved Saxon saucer brooch from around the middle of the 5th Century AD.
Fifth Century Saxon Saucer Brooch
Another common brooch type produced during the Saxon period, and almost certainly derived from the earlier penannular brooch, was the ring brooch, or Annular Brooch.
These brooches were worn to secure thin cloth (typically underclothes) well into the 15th century. The wire-like construction of these brooches made it difficult for them to hold any ornamentation, although the pins may have been decorated with the Saxon ‘ring and dot’ motif, common for the period.
High Medieval Decorated Ring Brooch. British Museum.
Penannular Brooches were also worn during the early medieval period, although these are typically associated with Vikings rather than Anglo-Saxons.
Worn by both men and women, and thought to have been used to cinch the material of a shift or shirt at the throat,
the Viking penannular brooches were often highly decorated, with flared ‘legs’ bearing chip-carved patterns as seen below.
Viking Penannular 'Omega' Brooch
AD 10th Century
It may be argued that the later (6th-7th century) Anglo-Saxon Great Square Headed Brooches reached the apex of design from any age, before or after. These stunning brooches can exceed eight inches in length and are typically chip-carved and gilded, although brooches made of gold and silver have been found, often in the
graves of female Anglo-Saxons.
It should be noted that while many of the artefacts displayed on these pages are finely worked and
intricately designed, the average Anglo-Saxon would have worn much smaller and simpler
versions of these brooches.
Following the departure of the Romans, the migrating Angles, Saxons and Jutes had a much lower standard of
living than the incumbent Romano-British. They were primarily farmers, and came to Britannia seeking land
to cultivate and raise livestock. They did not build in stone, preferring to live in their own
wooden dwellings rather than the (now empty) stone-built Roman buildings.
Eventually, they abandoned the city life for their farms and villages in the countryside,
and it didn’t take many years before the old Roman towns became almost deserted.
Eventually, Britain became an Anglo-Saxon nation, the British-Celtic and British-Latin spoken by the
island’s inhabitants was replaced with old English, technology was forgotten, and the country entered the
Timeless Galleries are indebted to the following authors for much of the information on this blog:
Logan Thompson (Ancient Weapons in Britain), R. Ewart Oakshott (The Archaeology of Weapons), Dan Howard (Bronze Age Military Equipment), P. R. S Moorey (Ancient Bronzes from Luristan)
Francois Bordes (The Old Stone Age), Charles Ede (Collecting Antiquities), Richard Hattatt (Brooches from Antiquity; Iron Age and Roman Brooches), Miranda J. Green (Celtic World)
Oliver Jessop (A New Artefact Typology for the Study of Medieval Arrowheads), Hazel Martingell (The Illustration of Lithic Artefacts)