3. Case Study

3.1 The nature of the evidence

Very little detailed exploration of dress in Iron Age Italy has been undertaken. No text comparable to Bonfante's seminal Etruscan Dress (2003, first published in 1975) exists for the Iron Age. Comprehensive publications of individual ornaments such as fibulae (von Eles Masi 1986) and pins (Carancini 1975) have provided extremely useful typologies, but no work considers Iron Age Latial costume in its entirety. This is unsurprising in light of the paucity of evidence: Latial Phases II and III precede writing, and there are no artistic sources that illustrate how the ornaments known from burial might have been worn.

The majority of our evidence for the dress and ornamentation of the Iron Age inhabitants of Latium comes from non-organic elements that survive in mortuary contexts. Throughout Latium these are generally bronze ornaments and dress components in Phase II; iron does not become a common material until late in Phase III (Bietti Sestieri and De Santis 2000, 22). Many female burials are furnished with beads of amber, glass paste, faience or types of stone.

Figure 6
Figure 6: Osteria dell'Osa cemetery, distribution of Phase II and Phase III burials showing all burials included in study, by cluster (plan excludes burials with no surviving clothing or ornament in their grave goods)(L. Cougle, digitised in ArcMap after Bietti Sestieri 1992b, Fig. 7.1a)

At Osteria dell'Osa fibulae, varying in style and number per individual, are the most common ornaments in both male and female burials. Almost 54% of published Phase II male burials have a single fibula of serpentine style in their corredo, and this is usually the sole ornament in the burial. Arch bow fibulae appear in the burials of nine Phase II individuals that have been identified as males (indicated on Figure 6), although their sex is in fact uncertain: in the case of the six adults (burials 9, 46, 214, 297, 321 and 390), the skeletal evidence that Becker and Salvadei (1992, 112, 117, 142, 153, 156, 167) used to establish sex is ambiguous. The other three individuals (burials 18, 317 and 345) were identified as subadult males (Becker and Salvadei 1992, 113-14, 155, 160), and, as stated above, determination of biological sex from juvenile skeletal and dental remains cannot be confidently accepted (see Molleson et al. 1993, 23; Mays and Cox 2000, 123-25; Moss and Moss-Salentijn 1977, 407). The sex of all subadult individuals is classified as 'Unknown' in the current analysis (see Tables 1-3).

Female adults at Osteria dell'Osa may be buried with single or multiple fibulae in a range of styles (see Table 7). Fibulae in female burials are generally from the class of arch bow fibulae, which encompasses a large range of styles - from relatively plain, undecorated bows, to highly decorative bows inlaid with ivory, amber, or beads.

Table 6: Frequency of major ornament types in burials of mature males

 Phase IIAPhase IIB Phase II (unspecified) PHASE II AVERAGE
Serpentine Bow Fibula70.2% 46.3% 12.5% 53.7%
Arch Bow Fibula 1.8% 6.1% 0.0% 4.1%
Multiple Fibulae 0.0% 3.7% 0.0% 2.0%
Suspension Rings 1.8% 7.3% 0.0% 4.8%
Hair Rings 1.8% 4.9% 0.0% 3.4%
Finger Rings 0.0% 2.4% 0.0% 1.4%
Beads 0.0% 6.1%0.0% 3.4%

Table 7: Frequency of major ornament types in burials of mature females

 Phase IIAPhase IIB Phase II (unspecified) PHASE II AVERAGE
Serpentine Bow Fibula 3.2% 4.8% 3.8% 4.2%
Arch Bow Fibula 87.3% 79.4% 65.4% 80.0%
Multiple Fibulae 34.9% 30.2% 11.5% 29.3%
Suspension Rings 71.4% 69.0% 38.5% 66.0%
Hair Rings 65.1% 50.0% 19.2% 50.7%
Finger Rings 36.5% 36.5% 23.1% 34.9%
Beads 52.4% 55.6% 26.9% 51.2%

Table 8: Frequency of major ornament types in burials of subadults

 Phase IIAPhase IIB Phase II (unspecified) PHASE II AVERAGE
Serpentine Bow Fibula 0.0% 1.1% 0.0% 3.7%
Arch Bow Fibula 48.5% 0.1% 25.0% 41.5%
Multiple Fibulae 9.1% 0.1% 0.0% 12.2%
Suspension Rings 42.4% 0.2% 0.0% 32.9%
Hair Rings 27.3% 0.1% 0.0% 22.0%
Finger Rings 15.2% 0.1% 0.0% 14.6%
Beads 42.4% 0.1% 0.0% 31.7%

In addition to fibulae, females have a range of other ornaments among their grave goods. These include beads of glass paste, amber or faience, single or composite pendants, decorated or plain bronze suspension rings attached to fibulae, finger rings, chains, bosses and hair rings. Frequencies of the more common ornament types in the burials of adults and subadults are outlined in Tables 6-8. These objects fall into two classes: those that function as jewellery, and have a primarily aesthetic function, and those that lend structural support to garments. Some items, like fibulae, serve both purposes: they have the functional quality of securing fabric, yet their fine workmanship shows they were aesthetically valued. Other items, such as bosses, must have been directly sewn to fabric; they have no means of temporary attachment to garments (such as a pin), nor could they be worn directly on the body.

It is this class of object that gives us the best clues about how garments might have been constructed and worn. Aside from some isolated pseudomorphs (for example, on metal objects in burials 202, 433, and 576) there is no direct textile evidence from Osteria dell'Osa. Spatial distribution of these objects within the burial is of limited use in reconstructing clothing at Osteria dell'Osa - the high level of disturbance and the widespread practice of secondary burial means that in many cases the location of dress fittings within the burial does not indicate how these items might have been positioned on the garments of the living.


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