Iron Age

History of Germany between 800 BC - 251 BC

In Europe, the Iron Age may be defined as including the last stages of the prehistoric period and the first of the proto-historic periods. The Iron Age in Europe is characterized by an elaboration of designs in weapons, implements, and utensils. These are no longer cast but hammered into shape, and decoration is elaborate curvilinear rather than simple rectilinear; the forms and character of the ornamentation of the northern European weapons resembles in some respects Roman arms, while in other respects they are peculiar and evidently representative of northern art. The dead were buried in an extended position, whereas in the preceding Bronze Age cremation had been the rule.

In Central Europe, the Iron Age is generally divided in the early Iron Age Hallstatt culture (800–450 BC) and the late Iron Age La Tène culture (beginning in 450 BC). The transition from bronze to iron in Central Europe is exemplified in the great cemetery, discovered in 1846, of Hallstatt, near Gmunden, where the forms of the implements and weapons of the later part of the Bronze Age are imitated in iron. In the Swiss or La Tène group of implements and weapons, the forms are new and the transition complete.

The Celtic culture, or rather Proto-Celtic groups, had expanded to much of Central Europe (Gauls), and, following the Gallic invasion of the Balkans in 279 BC, as far east as central Anatolia (Galatians). In Central Europe, the prehistoric Iron Age ends with the Roman conquest.

From the Hallstatt culture, the Iron Age spreads westwards with the Celtic expansion from the 6th century BC. In Poland, the Iron Age reaches the late Lusatian culture in about the 6th century, followed in some areas by the Pomeranian culture.

The ethnic ascription of many Iron Age cultures has been bitterly contested, as the roots of Germanic, Baltic and Slavic peoples were sought in this area.

Popular sites founded between 800 BC and 251 BC in Germany

Celtic Museum Heuneburg

The Celtic Museum Heuneburg features the original finds discovered throughout the many years of excavation at the Heuneburg. The exhibits underline the active trading contacts with other cultures: Greek imports, amber from the Baltic Sea, jewellery from Slovenia, transport amphoras from Marseilles. From 1983 the former tithe barn in Hundersingen has been used as the Heuneburg Museum. This museum was operated until 2000 b ...
Founded: 700 BC | Location: Hundersingen, Germany

Magdalenenberg

Magdalenenberg is considered the largest tumulus from the Hallstatt period (Iron Age) in Central Europe with a volume of 33.000 cubic meters. The central tomb, where an early Celtic Prince was buried, has been dendrochronologically dated to 616 BC. The mound, which is still distinctly silhouetted against the landscape, once possessed a height of 10–12 m (now about 8 m) and a diameter of 104 meters. Little is known a ...
Founded: c. 616 BC | Location: Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany

Otzenhausen Celtic Hillfort

The Celtic hillfort of Otzenhausen is one of the biggest fortifications the Celts ever constructed. It was built by Gauls of the Treveri tribe, who lived in the region north of the fort. The first fortification was constructed in the 5th or 4th century BC, but the real heyday of construction dates to the 2nd and 1st century BC. For reasons yet unknown, the fort was abandoned shortly after this expansion. The site is form ...
Founded: 400 BC | Location: Otzenhausen, Germany

Heidenmauer

The Heidenmauer ('heathen wall') is a circular rampart or ringwork, two and a half kilometres long, which was built by the Celts around 500 BC. The wooden elements of the wall have disappeared over the course of time by rotting away, but the stones have survived. Copious numbers of pottery finds have enabled a very precise dating. Almost all the containers are hand-made, only a few show traces of having been tur ...
Founded: 500 BC | Location: Bad D├╝rkheim, Germany

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.

The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.

The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.

Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.

At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.

In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.