Fibulae or brooches were originally used in Ancient Greece and in the Roman Empire for fastening garments, such as cloaks or togae. The fibula designs developed into a variety of shapes, but all were based on the safety-pin principle. The Roman conquests resulted in a spread of Roman culture and therefore the use of the fibula, which became the basis for more complicated and highly decorated brooches, modelled in bronze, silver and gold and further enriched with precious and semi-precious gemstones. Fibulae are the most common artefact-type in burials and settlements throughout much of continental Europe. By the Middle Ages, the Roman safety pin type of fibula had fallen into disuse.
The bird brooch above is an example of a plate brooch with a pin hinge. The plate of metal has been shaped into a zoomorphic design, a bird, and then attached is a pin hinge, which with the right amount of tension was used to fasten cloaks within the early 1st century AD. Brooches as an accessory became associated with the upper class and the more elaborate the brooch the higher the status of its wearer. The zoomorphic kind of brooch was typical in the British and continental areas as many of the birds shown were either representative of native birds or of ducks.
For more information on Roman animal symbolism, please see our blog post: Animal Symbolism in Roman Art