Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Olympian Iron Age: Hittites (1400) to Celts (800)

With the Stone Age began agriculture, cities, and war. The Bronze Age saw the growth of widespread trade in many goods based on a need for minerals (especially copper and tin). Oddly enough, with the Iron Age came the development of alphabets or systems of letters representing distinct sounds. This greatly increased the use of writing and, with it, the development of historical records and literature. With that, we humans transitioned from anonymous prehistory into a sustained narrative with named cities and individuals.

Tradition identifies the Hittites as the founders of the Olympian Iron Age. A Hittite state, with its core in central Anatolia, ebbed and flowed in power from 1750-1200 BC. In 1595 a Hittite army even sacked distant Babylon. By 1500 Hittite power waned for a hundred years. It increased again in 1400 through the use of iron technology and by 1300 extended to all of Anatolia and into the Levant. Hittites and Egyptians fought a large battle to a standstill at Kadesh in the Levant in 1274 BC. The written peace treaty between Hittite ruler Hattusili 3rd and Egyptian ruler Ramses 2nd following the battle is Olympia’s oldest. The Hittite empire collapsed in the general chaos engulfing the eastern Mediterranean region after 1200.

Iron technology spread from Anatolia to Egypt (1200 BC), the Aegean (1000 BC), and eventually up the Danube River (800 BC). In Alpine region of Olympia, it was adopted and adapted by Celts.

In 1846, Johann Ramsauer (1795-1874) discovered an ancient grave in Hallstatt, about 110 miles (70 km) southeast of today's Salzburg, Austria. Humans had settled there ages before to exploit the area’s rich sources of salt. Eventually Ramsauer and others excavated over 1,000 graves there dating from 1200-500 BC. Iron tools were found in graves dating from 800 BC. These people were Celts and their early Iron-Age culture is called Hallstatt. Celts spread their Hallstatt culture (800-400 BC) from their core in the Alpine region to southwestern Germania, most of Gallia, and southeastern Brittania.

In 1858, Hansli Kopp discovered the remains of an ancient settlement at La Téne on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel about 64 miles (40 km) west of today's Berne, Switzerland. Subsequent excavations recovered iron swords, potter's wheels, chariots, and coins. Celtic culture had evolved from its earlier Hallstatt phase into this later La Téne phase after 400 BC.

Celtic culture continued to expand after 400 BC. This later La Téne culture spread throughout Britannia (where Gaelic speakers remain), Gallia (named after the Celts there), Iberia (Galicia in the north), and even to Anatolia (with its central Galatia). La Téne culture ended with the Roman conquest of the Celtic heartland around 50 BC.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.