In the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, fibulae (or brooches) were originally used for fastening garments. They came in a variety of shapes, but all were based on the safety pin principle. Roman conquests spread the use of the fibula, which became the basis for more complicated brooches. The crossbow design reached the height of its popularity both in Italy and the Western European provinces at a later stage in the Empire’s history. Worn almost exclusively by men, the crossbow brooch came to represent civil and military authority, with famous late Roman generals such as Stilicho having been depicted wearing crossbow fibulae. Simpler versions made with cheaper materials were then popularised by Roman soldiers, thus allowing for their spread into the provinces where they became a staple of Romano-Celtic fibula design.
The dedicatory inscription ‘VTERE FELIX’, ‘use it with good luck’ or ‘with happiness’ is often found on Roman military artefacts, like belt fittings, brooches, and armlets; but it is rarely accompanied by ‘IURE VICTO’ inscription (‘rightful winner’). The inscription is typical of the late Roman military world, but it can also refer to people using the brooch in civil duties, these fibulae being ordinarily gifted to the militia armata and non armata.