This information was first published in Treasure Hunting magazine as a series of articles running from January - December 1986. I also subsequently self-published a small run of 100 booklets. At the time I could find no single source for identifying my buckle finds and many metal detectives were similarly disadvantaged. I decided therefore to research the subject myself and correlate all the diverse information that was now beginning to become available in archaeological papers and in the metal detecting press. Much of the information was gleaned from the University Libraries of Nottingham and Leicester, both of which have extensive collections of archaeological journals, and from my own collection of books. Many useful references will be found in the article end notes along with the names of people who were particularly kind and helpful to me. Please bear in mind that this information is now 16 years old and much is likely to have been published since then. I have resisted making any major changes to the original although I have tidied up the text somewhat. The information contained here was to the best of my knowledge accurate at the time and so I must let it stand and hope that it still serves a useful purpose for those interested in the subject. I am aware that the article is not as easily read in this form as in a book so please feel free to print out the drawings and/or text for easier reference. My only stipulation is that it should be free and not sold in any form.
Chris Marshall (October, 2002).
The Oxford dictionary defines the buckle as a metal rim with hinged, spiked tongue for securing a strap or ribbon etc., and the name is derived from the Latin buccula (cheek-strap or visor). Here we have a clue to the possible origin of the buckle as a piece of cavalry or military equipment amongst the Romans, and it is true that there is no evidence of the use of buckles in England before the Roman invasion. It is likely therefore that the buckle was introduced by the Roman army and subsequently copied and produced by the native bronzesmiths (see fig.1 no 31). The history of the buckle is allied closely to the development of costume and the loose and flowing garments of the civilian Roman at this time did not require the use of buckles. This is clearly demonstrated when comparing the number of brooches and dress pins found on civil sites with the number of buckles.
The Roman soldier certainly did use buckles on his swordbelt, baldrick, and also for strapping together his laminated plate armour, and this is attested by the numbers that are found on fortified sites. Roman villas have produced a few examples of military type buckles - particularly of the 4th-5th century AD and this has led some people to conjecture that these sites may have been defended at some stage against Saxon raiding parties. By far the greatest number of these buckles however, particularly in the earlier period, has been found in Roman military contexts.
Whenever a strap or belt was employed the buckle was by far the best way of providing a secure attachment and a ready means of adjustment. No doubt at an early stage the buckle would also have been adapted for use on military horse harness. A particular type has not been recognised although there are several buckles illustrated that could have served the purpose (e.g. fig.1 no's 14-18).
Distinctive features of Roman buckles
1. Separate hinge-pin passing through the drilled ends of the buckle-loop and joining all the component pieces - fig.1 no's 3; 4; 7-13; 35
2. Separate hinge-pin passing through cast rings on the buckle-loop and joining all the component pieces - fig.1 no's 20-33
3. Buckle-loops 'D' and sub-'D' shape. Many of this type have involuted terminals - fig.1 no's 14-25
4. Buckle-loops rectangular or sub-rectangular with decorative knobs on corners of leading edge - fig.1 no's 2; 27-29
5. Tongues plain or with incised decoration. The barred tongue, a feature of military buckles, appears early and late - fig.1 no's 28; 35
6. Some armour buckles have a double hinge plate - fig.1 no 10
7. Buckle -plates either cast integral with hinge-rings fig.1 no 31, or sheet metal hooked over hinge-pin fig.1 no's 34; 35
8. Buckle-plates plain fig.1 no 35, inlaid enamel fig.1 no's 31; 33, niello fig.1 no 32, or repousse fig.1 no 34
Examples from dated contexts
First century AD - fig.1 no's 7-10; 13; 30; 32
Late-First/Early Second century AD - fig.1 no 27
Early-Fourth century AD - fig.1 no 2
Fourth century - fig.1 no 34