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 Dürkheim, Germany

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Hochosterwitz Castle

Hochosterwitz Castle is considered to be one of Austria's most impressive medieval castles. The rock castle is one of the state's landmarks and a major tourist attraction.

The site was first mentioned in an 860 deed issued by King Louis the German of East Francia, donating several of his properties in the former Principality of Carantania to the Archdiocese of Salzburg. In the 11th century Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg ceded the castle to the Dukes of Carinthia from the noble House of Sponheim in return for their support during the Investiture Controversy. The Sponheim dukes bestowed the fiefdom upon the family of Osterwitz, who held the hereditary office of the cup-bearer in 1209.

In the 15th century, the last Carinthian cup-bearer, Georg of Osterwitz was captured in a Turkish invasion and died in 1476 in prison without leaving descendants. So after four centuries, on 30 May 1478, the possession of the castle reverted to Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg.

Over the next 30 years, the castle was badly damaged by numerous Turkish campaigns. On 5 October 1509, Emperor Maximilian I handed the castle as a pledge to Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, then Bishop of Gurk. Bishop Lang undertook a substantial renovation project for the damaged castle.

About 1541, German king Ferdinand I of Habsburg bestowed Hochosterwitz upon the Carinthian governor Christof Khevenhüller. In 1571, Baron George Khevenhüller acquired the citadel by purchase. He fortified to deal with the threat of Turkish invasions of the region, building an armory and 14 gates between 1570 and 1586. Such massive fortification is considered unique in citadel construction.

Since the 16th century, no major changes have been made to Hochosterwitz. It has also remained in the possession of the Khevenhüller family as requested by the original builder, George Khevenhüller. A marble plaque dating from 1576 in the castle yard documents this request.

A specific feature is the access way to the castle passing through a total of 14 gates, which are particularly prominent owing to the castle's situation in the landscape. Tourists are allowed to walk the 620-metre long pathway through the gates up to the castle; each gate has a diagram of the defense mechanism used to seal that particular gate. The castle rooms hold a collection of prehistoric artifacts, paintings, weapons, and armor, including one set of armor 2.4 metres tall, once worn by Burghauptmann Schenk.