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The Pre-Roman Iron Age: 700 – 30 years BC

Trachten der Frauen und Krieger (Rekonstruktion), Artus Atelier
Trachten der Frauen und Krieger (Rekon­struk­tion), Artus Atelier

“Old Iron”? As if!

Already known of in the Medi­ter­ranean region since the Bronze Age, the old­est iron arte­facts in Thuringia date to the 7th/6th cen­tur­ies BC – for example, the remains of a knife found among cremated remains in a burial mound in south­ern Thuringia.

The util­isa­tion of iron did­n’t really gain momentum in Thuringia until the 2nd or 1st cen­tury BC. In con­trast to bronze or cop­per, iron ore was eas­ily obtain­able and sources com­mon. As such, unlike other metals, iron was­n’t a mater­ial con­fined to the upper classes.

A major advant­age of iron was its hard­ness. This prop­erty made it ideally suited for the pro­duc­tion of weapons, tools, and har­vest implements.

Archae­olo­gists divide the Iron Age into two epochs based on two import­ant sites: the Hall­statt, fol­lowed by the La Tène. The Hall­statt saw iron become estab­lished in Thuringia. The La Tène is dis­tin­guished by its dis­tinct­ively artistic dec­or­at­ive style. The La Tène was an import­ant factor in the flour­ish­ing of the Celts. In the ALT you will be amazed by the Celtic torcs and fibulae!

The Celts were also the first to use iron in Thuringia and drove its spread. Their arte­facts are present in buri­als in the Orla region in south­ern Thuringia, among oth­ers at the largest archae­olo­gical site in Thuringia, the Steins­burg hill-fort near Roem­hild. Many crafts­men lived and worked in this set­tle­ment. You can see mod­els of the Steins­burg in the ALT.

Under the influ­ence of clas­sical cul­ture from the Medi­ter­ranean region the Celts made many import­ant tech­no­lo­gical advance­ments. Examples include the intro­duc­tion of the rotat­ing pot­ter’s wheel and of rotary mills (or querns). They pos­sessed mas­tery of tra­di­tional metal­work­ing tech­niques, like black­smith­ing and fine-for­ging. They brought the first glass jew­ellery and the first coins to the region.

The pre-Roman Iron Age is also the period in which, for the first time in Thuringia, pre­his­toric peoples – Ger­manic as well as Celtic – are his­tor­ic­ally doc­u­mented. They were part of the Jastorf Cul­ture, archae­olo­gical evid­ence of which has been found in the area around the Saale and Ilm Rivers. They cremated their dead and the burial urns were interred accom­pan­ied by bronze and iron items typ­ical of the cos­tumes of this mater­ial cul­ture. Among these were weapons and jew­ellery styl­ist­ic­ally sim­ilar to those of the Celts. This reflects the fact that, between the 4th and 1st cen­tur­ies BC, Thuringia was a zone of con­tact between the Celtic south and the Ger­manic north. Stim­u­lated by the Celtic civil­isa­tion and char­ac­ter­ised by hill-fort set­tle­ments (or oppida), trade and crafts flour­ished in Thuringia up until the middle of the 1st cen­tury BC.