Crossbow Brooch

Date: ca. 430

Geography: Made in Rome/Constantinople

Culture: Late Roman or Byzantine

Medium: Gold

Dimensions: Overall: 4 11/16 x 2 3/16 x 1 9/16 in. (11.9 x 5.5 x 4 cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Gold

Credit Line: Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1995

Accession Number: 1995.97


Crossbow brooches were in vogue as sumptuous imperial gifts from 280 to the mid-sixth century. One of seven extant with pierced openwork, this brooch represents an intermediate stage in the development of such objects, datable to about 430. The Museum's example, like one from the grave of Omharus, king of the Gepids, has a Latin cross in the center of the top panel, making it overtly Christian. The point of the pin is inserted into a socket in the brooch's foot, and the looped pinhead fits into a perforation at the back center of the head. The pinhead is released by unscrewing the left hexagonal terminal. Because of its sophistication as a mechanism, the screw became a status symbol in jewelry.