The Iron Age ...
The iron age describes the last great prehistoric epoch and lasted in Europe from the eighth to the first pre-Christian century. This phase of human history is characterized by the suppression of the material bronze (see: Bronze Age) by iron, which was increasingly used for the production of weapons and tools. The Iron Age ended in Central Europe with the beginning of the Roman Empire, ie with the occupation of the countries under the influence of the Celts by the Romans.
The use of iron as a material took its course in Europe and gradually spread to China and India as late as the fifth century BC. Among the most important cultures of Europe, the Iron Age influenced significantly, include the Hallstatt culture and the La Tène culture of Central and Northern Europe and the Villanova and Este culture in Italy.
The people of the Iron Age:
Particularly important for the Iron Age were the Celts, who spread from France and Germany throughout Europe and across much of Asia. The people of this group of European tribes initially lived in smaller communities, focusing on the farming and keeping of livestock such as cattle and sheep. With the production of iron objects, the Celts gained in importance throughout Europe and began to settle in large urban plants, the so-called Oppida. These were well protected from attackers by ramparts and high walls and served as seats for jurisdiction and economic administration. In the third century BC, the Celts introduced the money economy, which brought a real heyday. Iron production played the most important role within the large urban facilities and employed a large majority of the inhabitants. The society of the Celts was built on three layers. After the supreme knighthood led by the powerful princes and the Druids, the Celtic priests, the common people made up the third and largest stratum.
All Celtic tribes shared their cultural habits and language, with no evidence of a single transnational Celtic kingdom. The Iron Age is characterized by the rule of many individual tribes, who practiced a lively economic and cultural exchange among themselves.
The extraction and use of iron:
From the late Bronze Age come isolated finds of objects made of iron. The displacement of the bronze by iron progressively took place, since the early objects made of it did not yet have the hardness that later made the material an indispensable material. Due to the significantly more widespread deposits compared to copper, however, the extraction of iron was much easier. Iron ore could be collected almost anywhere or mined in open-cast mining. Only in regions with particularly high deposits iron ores were also mined in civil engineering, as evidenced by Celtic mines in France and Roman mines in many European countries. Iron was not only easier to procure, but also a much cheaper commodity. As a result, the artisanal production of everyday objects, weapons and agricultural equipment in the Iron Age increased rapidly and brought a more differentiated social structure compared to the Bronze Age.
Under the influence of the Celts throughout Europe, political centers were created that were shaped by the economic boom of an ever-growing population. Bronze was still used, but in the Iron Age it was only used in the manufacture of jewelery and filigree artifacts, as it could easily be cast into small molds and easily machined. Iron, on the other hand, was used primarily for the manufacture of large equipment and weapons. Since the material could be obtained almost everywhere within a radius of a few hundred kilometers in most countries, in the Iron Age no complicated trade was necessary, as was the case with copper. Nevertheless, archaeological finds prove that the Celts operated a sophisticated trading system to spread luxurious and intricately decorated everyday objects throughout Europe and Asia.
The culture of the Iron Age:
The cultural development in the Iron Age of Central Europe was primarily influenced by the Hallstatt culture, which emerged from the urn field culture of the Bronze Age. The name refers to the Austrian town of Hallstatt, where in 1846 on the local salt mountain a huge field was uncovered with magnificent princely tombs. The enormous wealth of this culture was based on the high abundance of salt, which was highly sought after as a commodity throughout Europe. The Hallstatt culture cultivated intensive economic relations with the Etruscans and Greeks, as evidences of drinking cups made in the Mediterranean, amphorae and beak cans in Iron Age settlements of the Hallstatt culture clearly demonstrate. This not only indicates that the Celts appreciated foreign goods, but also entertained guests in the course of elaborate receptions. For this period of the Iron Age are also the finds of long and artfully manufactured iron swords and magnificent horse harnesses significant, which took in the Hallstatt culture a high priority.
In contrast, the La Tène culture is famous for ornate pieces of jewelry and ornaments made of iron, which replaced the Hallstatt culture in the fifth century BC. It was named after the Swiss municipality of La Tène on Lake Neuburg, where in the 19th century over 2500 objects from this phase of the Iron Age were secured. Various tools, weapons such as swords, axes, helmets and chariot components, as well as gold, silver and iron trinkets found in La Tène display exceptionally elaborate ornaments and show the prosperity of the people who populated the region during the Iron Age. Typical of the La Tène culture are s or spiral ornaments and detailed animal motifs. In addition to iron objects, La Tène also found pieces of jewelry made of glass beads and amber as well as ceramic vessels that are clearly influenced by the style of Roman and Greek art. This suggests that Mediterranean cultures were important trading partners to the Celts during the late Iron Age.
However, as the Romans continued to advance towards Europe and at the same time the Teutons gradually spread from the north, the area of the Celts became smaller and smaller. The conquest of Europe by the Romans marked the end of the Iron Age shortly before the birth of Christ. However, the Celtic language has survived and is still spoken as Gaelic in Ireland and Wales.