Review Article

Triumph and limitations of the corpus: the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age fibulae of southern Italy

Raffaele Carlo De Marinis
Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Antichità
Università degli Studi di Milano
Via Festa del Perdono 7, 20122 Milano, Italy

(Translated from the Italian by Reviews Editor)

Books Reviewed
Click to buy

FULVIA LO SCHIAVO. Le fibule dell'Italia meridionale e della Sicilia dall'età del bronzo recente al VI secolo a.C. (Prähistorische Bronzefunde Abteilung XIV, 14. Band). 3 volumes, xvii+964 pages, 12 figures & 7 tables in text; 758 plates in volume 3. 2010. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner & Mainz: Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur; 978-3-515-09823-6 hardback €290.

De Marinis image

After a long gestation period Fulvia Lo Schiavo's monumental work on the fibulae of southern Italy and Sicily from the thirteenth to the sixth century BC has appeared in three volumes in the Prähistorische Bronzefunde series (PBF). The geographic focus is on Sicily, Campania, Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia. After an introduction which summarises the history of research, started in 1970–1973 and pursued to varying degrees of intensity and with prolonged periods of interruption until 2005, the work unfolds in three parts: methodology, critical examination of the sources and catalogue. The latter contains some 8000 fibulae, reproduced at a scale of 2:3 as is the PBF style for this type of artefact. Had a scale of 1:2, common for illustrating fibulae in protohistoric research, been adopted, some 110 plates out of the 739 plates in the third volume could have been saved.

The work differs from similar publications in the PBF series in a number of aspects. Not least is the inclusion of Sicily, a departure from the volumes dedicated to Italy so far (on swords, daggers, knives, razors, horse bits, carts, axes). Further, as the author herself writes, this is not an exhaustive inventory, as is generally the case for PBF volumes. In part this stems from a lack of information from unpublished excavations, and in part it is a deliberate choice, since from 1990 onwards four volumes have been published on the cemeteries of Pontecagnano, two on those of Incoronata and S. Teodoro near Metaponto and one on S. Maria d'Anglona, to cite but the most important works in terms of quantity of published artefacts alone. As inclusion in the catalogue of artefacts from these volumes would have largely overstepped the 8000 mark, Lo Schiavo has retained only those new types that enlarge the typological framework. The decision not to attempt an exhaustive corpus is a direct consequence of the size of the geographic area taken into consideration, a region where remains of the first few centuries of the Iron Age are particularly abundant. The number of Iron Age burials at Pontecagnano alone now exceeds 7000. By way of comparison, the volume in the same series devoted to northern Italy but excluding Emilia-Romagna (von Eles Masi, Le fibule dell'Italia settentrionale, PBF XIV, volume 5, 1986), although it concerns a region greater in area, only contains 2541 artefacts, taking into account that the documentation is far from complete. For the volume under review here, the author presents the final result as a large catalogue raisonné.

In the methodological part, the criteria adopted for fibulae classification (to a large extent those of Renato Peroni and his followers, which includes the author) are presented. The taxonomic units used are, from the general to the specific, category, class, type, variety and variant. Five categories are defined: A) bow fibulae with symmetrical, disc- or elongated foot, which comprise 21 classes and 140 types; B) bow fibulae with long foot, which consist of 12 classes and 145 types; C) serpentiform fibulae with symmetrical, disc- or elongated foot, of which there are 10 classes and 83 types; D) serpentiform fibulae with long foot, consisting of 8 classes and 48 types; E) fibulae with bow parallel to the pin, of which there are 7 classes and 55 types. The roughly 8200 fibulae of the catalogue (8168, but with other finds added; to avoid re-numbering the entire catalogue, existing numbers + a letter have been used) are thus classified into 471 types distributed among 58 classes and 5 categories (the actual number of types is also greater than 471 because of the additions). Lo Schiavo's concept of class corresponds to that of a typological family, and that of category refers to a class of objects within a scheme that places the term 'category' at a more general level (fibulae, pins, axes, daggers, swords, etc.). So, if the serpentiform fibulae with long foot are deemed to be a category (Lo Schiavo's category D), to which taxonomic entity do fibulae as a whole belong?

This enormous amount of data, which new finds and new excavations constantly expand, needs to be organised according to chronological and cultural parameters. Typology offers the only practicable, scientific way to construct such a framework. This is the philosophy at the root of the PBF series, one to which Lo Schiavo also subscribes. While adopting the methodological approach of Peroni, who defines a type as a mental model, the author focuses on techniques of manufacture as the principal point of reference to define the various types rather than on formal, functional or chronological aspects. In fact, all typological classification, from lithics to ceramics and metal artefacts, even if it is based on explicitly pure morphological criteria, implicitly contains elements of technical or functional character.

In the introduction, the space allocated to manufacturing techniques is quite generous (pp. 6–32), as southern Italy has yielded few finds other than the production waste from the workshop of Mazzola on the island of Ischia. After some terminological clarification (distinction between wire, rod and strip), Lo Schiavo establishes that the fibulae were made from a twisted or hammered rod, or from a strip, or that they were cast in a single or double mould, or in the lost wax technique. Furthermore, there are fibulae whose bow is decorated with amber, ivory or bone. This emphasis on technology is also found in the introductions to specific types: when describing the fibulae with inlaid bow of the Capua type (p. 360), the author observes that the amber discs possess a series of small holes, which, she suggests, offer a better grip between the discs fastened by resins. In this respect I can draw attention to the fibulae with amber-decorated bow found in the cultural area of Golasecca: they always feature these small holes, and in some cases very thin pieces of wood inserted in the holes, to prevent the individual pieces of amber to rub one against one another.

The chapter devoted to the sources (pp. 55–84), which provides a thorough review of the main complexes and an overview of the state of research in the period and area considered, is particularly useful. The catalogue is organised along PBF guidelines: general introduction on each type; catalogue entries; discussion of chronology; and distribution of type. Here space is insufficient to discuss the issues and problems raised by such a broad and demanding work. Looking through the catalogue, it is immediately noticeable that there are types documented by dozens or hundreds of exemplars and other types only represented by a few instances. Campania is the region that offers by far the greatest number of finds. There are also a few types of fibulae known in northern and central Italy, such as fibulae a navicella with lateral knobs or with rhomboid navicella, or 'dragon' fibulae with lateral rods (class XLVI) and 'dragon' fibulae with antennae (class XLVII). In these instances, the probable region of origin is central Italy, in particular the Etruscan area. We discover that the serpentiform fibulae with two loops and curved bow and pin (class XLI), frequently defined in the literature as Sicilian types, occur mainly in Calabria and Basilicata and far less often in Sicily. The distribution of spectacle fibulae (type 431), with consistent numbers of finds in Basilicata, Campania and Puglia, is of great interest. These fibulae, which correspond to the Haslau-Regelsbrunn type according to Paul Betzler (Die Fibeln in Süddeutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz I, PBF XIV, volume 3, 1974), are largely present in the Piceno area of central Italy, in Greece, in the Balkans and in eastern Hallstatt groups. Their distribution map has now been considerably enriched, and Gero von Merhart's old idea that the Piceno should be considered a zone of colonisation by eastern Hallstatt groups and that the southern Italian examples derive from intense exchange with Greece must be definitely abandoned. From a chronological point of view, the documentation is not uniform: the sixth century BC appears little represented, except in Puglia. The absence of serpentiform and dragon fibulae later than the seventh century BC is noticeable. Is this due to a lack of documentation or are these fibulae no longer part of the costume after the Orientalising period in southern areas? For the most part, the discussion of chronology, the critical analysis of contexts and of regional distributions is too synthetic. This is understandable: 964 pages of text and 758 plates do not allow further expansion. All the same, since typology is not an end in itself but a tool to organise data according to chronological or cultural parameters, the lack of a general synthesis with respect to cultural aspects is noticeable. The geographic area considered is articulated in diverse archaeological cultures, a term that is taboo for Peroni and his followers who prefer to use the expression 'archaeological facies': nevertheless it would have been useful to provide the reader with some information on such facies, including their geographic extent, which types of fibulae characterise them, and what cultural dynamics are involved. In any case Lo Schiavo's work will remain an essential point of departure for anyone attempting to study the protohistory of southern Italy.