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The Praeneste fibula (the "brooch of Palestrina") is a golden fibula or brooch, today housed in the Museo Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini in Rome. The fibula bears an inscription in Old Latin. 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. 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.
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 , although others 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
The fibula was thought to originate from the 7th century BC. It is inscribed with a text that appears to be written in Old Latin, here transcribed to Roman letters:
- MANIOS MED FHEFHAKED NVMASIOI
The equivalent Classical Latin sentence obtained by applying the appropriate differences between Old Latin and Classical Latin would probably have been:
- *MANIVS ME FECIT NVMERIO
- Manius made me for Numerius
In 1980 Margherita Guarducci, a leading epigraphist, published a book claiming that the inscription had been forged by Francesco Martinetti, an art dealer, and Helbig, who were known to have collaborated in shady dealings. Its presentation in 1887, she claimed, was in fact a hoax perpetrated to advance the careers of both men. 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.
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.
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.
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", could be correct.
- Conway, Robert Seymour (1897). The Italic Dialects: edited with a grammar and glossary. I. Cambridge (England): University Press. pp. 311–2.
- Maras, Daniele F. (Winter 2012). "Scientists declare the Fibula Praenestina and its inscription to be genuine 'beyond any reasonable doubt'". Etruscan News. 14.
- 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. 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
- 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.
- Gordon, Arthur E. (October–November 1982). "Review: 'La cosiddetta Fibula Prenestina. Antiquari, eruditi e falsari nella Roma dell' Ottocento by Margherita Guarducci". The Classical Journal. The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. 78 (1): 64–70. JSTOR 3297269.
- Curtis (1919), pp. 21–22.
Authors who argue that the Fibula is a forgery:
- Hamp, Eric P. (1981). "Is the Fibula a Fake?". American Journal of Philology. 102 (2): 151–3. doi:10.2307/294308. JSTOR 294308.
- Gordon, Arthur E. (1983). Illustrated Introduction to Latin Epigraphy. Berkeley/Los Angeles/London. ISBN 0520038983.
- Bonfante, Larissa (1986). Etruscan Life and Afterlife: A Handbook of Etruscan Studies. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
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.
- Formigli, E. (1992). "Indagini archeometriche sull'autenticità della Fibula Praenestina". MDAI(R). 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Praeneste fibula.|
- Harsch, Ulrich (1996). "Fibula Praenestina". Bibliotheca Augustana.