Praeneste fibula

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The brooch of Palestrina
Latin: Fibula Praenestina
Size10.7 cm (4.2 in) long
Created7th century BC
Location disputed, alleged to be the Bernardini tomb, Palestrina, Italy
Discovered byUnknown, announced by Wolfgang Helbig in 1887
Present locationPigorini National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography, Rome, Italy
CultureEtruscan civilization, orientalizing period

The Praeneste fibula (the "brooch of Palestrina") is a golden fibula or brooch, today housed in the Pigorini National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography in Rome. The fibula bears an inscription in Old Latin, claiming craftsmanship by one Manios and ownership by one Numazios. At the time of its discovery in the late nineteenth century, it was accepted as the earliest known specimen of the Latin language. The authenticity of the inscription has since been disputed.[1] However a new analysis performed in 2011 declared it to be genuine "beyond any reasonable doubt" and to date from the Orientalizing period, in the first half of the seventh century BC.[2]


The fibula was presented to the public in 1887 by Wolfgang Helbig, an archaeologist. According to some sources, Helbig did not explain how he had come to acquire the artifact at the time,[3] although others[4] state that the fibula "was first made known to the public in three short articles in the Römische Mitteilungen for 1887 where it is said to have been purchased in Palestrina by a friend of Helbig in the year 1871, or five years before the discovery of the tomb" – the tomb in question being the Bernardini Tomb whose treasure the fibula was later claimed to be a part of.

Date and inscription[edit]

The inscription on the Praeneste Fibula. The writing runs from right to left.[5]

The fibula was thought to originate from the 7th century BC.[5] It is inscribed with a text that appears to be written in Old Latin or Proto-Latino-Faliscan (shown by MED /med/ as an accusative instead of ablative), here transcribed to Roman letters:


The reconstructed Proto-Italic ancestor would have been:

*(PN) med fefaked (PN)

The equivalent Classical Latin sentence obtained by applying the appropriate differences between Old Latin and Classical Latin would probably have been:

*Manius me fecit Numerio[citation needed]

translated as:

Manius made me for Numasius[5]

Hoax hypothesis[edit]

In 1980 Margherita Guarducci, a leading epigraphist, published a book arguing that the inscription had been forged by Francesco Martinetti, an art dealer, and Helbig, who were known to have collaborated in shady dealings. Guarducci argued that the fibula's presentation in 1887 was a hoax perpetrated to advance the careers of both men.[6] This was the most formal but not the first accusation of its kind: Georg Karo had said that Helbig told him that the fibula had been stolen from Palestrina's Tomba Bernardini.[3]

Subsequent arguments for authenticity[edit]

Evidence in favor of the genuineness of the text came from a new Etruscan inscription of the Orientalizing period published by Massimo Poetto and Giulio Facchetti in 1999. The inscription scratched on the body of an Etrusco-Corinthian aryballos shows a gentilicium, Numasiana, which provides confirmation of the genuineness of the name Numasioi on the Fibula Prenestina, often regarded as suspicious by the supporters of the theory that it was a forgery.[2]

In 2005, based on epigraphic and other arguments, linguist Markus Hartmann concluded that it is justified to assume the authenticity of the inscription as long as there is no compelling evidence for a forgery, and dated it with confidence to the seventh century BC.[citation needed]

In 2011, new scientific evidence was presented by the research team of Edilberto Formigli and Daniela Ferro, whose optical, physical and chemical analyses allowed them to take into consideration smaller scrapes on the surface of the object than was possible in the 1980s. Observation by means of scanning electron microscope (SEM) and detailed physical and chemical analyses on the surface of small areas within the track of the incision showed the existence of micro-crystallization of the gold surface: a natural phenomenon that could have taken place only in the course of centuries after the fusion. The study reported that a 19th-century forger could not have realized such a forgery.[2]

However, the micro-crystallization discovery alone seems to still leave open the possibility that C. Densmore Curtis' impression, expressed in 1919, that "based on its stiff lines and awkward transitions, ... it did not come from the Bernardini Tomb, but is of a somewhat later date",[7] could be correct.


Replicas of the fibula are held by the National Roman Museum's Museum of Epigraphy at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome,[8] and also by the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Conway, Robert Seymour (1897). The Italic Dialects: edited with a grammar and glossary. Vol. I. Cambridge (England): University Press. pp. 311–2.
  2. ^ a b c Maras, Daniele F. (Winter 2012). "Scientists declare the Fibula Praenestina and its inscription to be genuine 'beyond any reasonable doubt'". Etruscan News. 14.
  3. ^ a b Momigliano, A. (1989). "The Origin of Rome: III Settlement, Society and Culture in Latium and at Rome". In Edwards, I. E. S. (ed.). The Cambridge Ancient History. VII. Vol. Part 2: The Rise of Rome to 220 B.C. (2 ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 73–4. ISBN 9780521234467. One, the gold fibula (Fig. 23) inscribed 'Manios me vhevhaked Numasioi' ('Manios (Manius) made me (or 'had me made'?) for Numasios (Numerius)') – perhaps the most famous inscribed object from the whole of Latium – raises two doubts, one about its origin and the other about its authenticity. It was published in 1887 by an eminent archaeologist, W. Helbig, without indication of its origin. Later Georg Karo declared that he had been told by Helbig that the fibula, being of gold and obviously valuable, had been stolen from the Tomba Bernardini
  4. ^ Curtis, C. Densmore (1919). "The Bernardini Tomb". Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome. 3: 22. doi:10.2307/4238513. ISSN 0065-6801. JSTOR 4238513.
  5. ^ a b c d Halsey, William D. (1965). Collier's encyclopedia, with Bibliography and Index. US: The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company. p. 595.
  6. ^ Gordon, Arthur E. (October–November 1982). "Review: 'La cosiddetta Fibula Prenestina. Antiquari, eruditi e falsari nella Roma dell' Ottocento by Margherita Guarducci". Classical Journal. The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. 78 (1): 64–70. JSTOR 3297269.
  7. ^ Curtis (1919), pp. 21–22.
  8. ^ Westin Tikkanen, Karin (26 Jul 2012). "The Consequences of Truth". Bulletin of the History of Archaeology. 22: 19. doi:10.5334/bha.22113.
  9. ^ "Replica of the Praeneste Fibula". Harvard Art Museums.

Further reading[edit]

Authors who argue that the Fibula is a forgery:

Authors who argue that the Fibula is authentic:

  • Lehmann, Winfred P. (1993). Historical Linguistics (3rd ed.). Routledge.
  • Wachter, R. (1987). Altlateinische Inschriften. Sprachliche und epigraphische Untersuchungen zu den Dokumenten bis 150 v. Chr. Bern etc.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Formigli, E. (1992). "Indagini archeometriche sull'autenticità della Fibula Praenestina". Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Römische Abteilung. 99: 329–43, Taf. 88–96.
  • Hartmann, Markus (2005). Die frühlateinischen Inschriften und ihre Datierung: Eine linguistisch-archäologisch-paläographische Untersuchung (in German). Bremen: Hempen. ISBN 978-3-934106-47-5.
  • "La Fibula Prenestina". Bullettino di Paletnologia Italiana (in Italian). 99. 2014.

External links[edit]