Iron Age Britain

iron-age-settlement

Iron Age Settlement

At the beginning of what had been referred to as the “British Iron Age” around 800 – 750BC iron reached Britain from Europe.  It was harder and stronger than bronze, and it revolutionised much of agricultural working practices.

Iron tipped ploughs, could dig up the land more efficiently and quicker.  Iron axes, would de-forest wooded areas quicker.

By 500 BC, the common language spoken by the inhabitants was “Brythonic” and by the Roman era, their language was similar to that of the Gauls.

Skilled craftsmen showed their wares, producing patterned gold jewellery, weapons made of bronze and iron.

Pytheas of Massilia, believed the inhabitants were speaking in a Celtic dialogue, believed to come from Western Europe or that of the Welsh.

Iron Age Britons lived in groups ruled by a chieftain.  As the population grew, wars broke out between different tribal groups, which led to the construction of “Hill Forts.”  By 350 BC these forts had fallen out of favour.

Prior to the Roman invasion, many Germanic-Celtic speaking refugees from the lands of Gaul, who had been displaced by the expansion of the Roman Empire around 50 BC settled in Britain.  They settled on the lands of Southern Britain.

In the year 175 BC highly developed pottery making skills appeared in Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex.

The tribes of the South East became romanised, and were attributed with the creation of early settlements.

The Roman Empire expanded into parts of Northern-Britain, as Rose took interest in Britain.  Was it the large number of refugees from Europe or the large mineral reserves held by Britain?

Maiden Castle located in Dorset, is a fine example of an Iron Age Hill Fort, measuring 1800 feet in length, and dates back to (900-600 BC).

Archaeological evidence indicates the site was used by gatherers, traders and for storage.

Danebury Hill Fort in Hampshire, showed it to been used as a settlement, including religious out buildings.

By 100 BC, hill forts in southern parts of Britain were abandoned, whilst those in the western and northern parts of the country along with Ireland continued to be used until the Roman conquest in AD 43.

Most Iron Age settlements were small, the main family and descendants, often enclosed by banks and ditches, but large enough to create a defensive position.

Their buildings were built of a roundhouse design, built out of timber and stone, covered in thatch or turf.

Another type of dwelling, often found on marsh edges and lakes, involved the creation of a man-made island, built of stone and timber, thought to be a form of defence.

Another type of settlement found at that time consisted of a tall tower like structure, surrounded by smaller round houses, more commonly found in the eastern parts of the country.

The Iron Age gave us some of the finest pre-historic metalwork of Britain.  Bronze and goldsmiths produced high quality items, richly decorated with fancy designs and enamelled inlays.  Anything from delicate works of rings, brooches to shields, helmets and swords.

Coinage first appeared in Britain during 20 BC in south-eastern parts of the country.

Around 150-200 BC Roman influence extended to the western parts of the Mediterranean and southern France.  Trading started between the British and Romans, across the English Channel.

Trade with the Romans intensified after 50 BC, following Julius Ceasar and the Roman conquest of Gaul (France).

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Britain and the Celts

celt-farm

Celt Farm

Iron Age, saw much warfare among the Celtic tribes, in this land of ours, requiring the construction of many hill forts.  These Celts were true warriors in every sense of the word, for they fought from horses or wooden chariots, and threw spears and fought with swords, and carried wooden shields.  Some even wore chain mail for added protection.

The Celts were an accomplished race of people, they were much more than farmers, for they could pick up a weapon and fight for their people.  Many of their number were blacksmiths, bronze smiths, carpenters, whilst others worked with leather and made pottery.  They also created elaborate jewellery from gold and precious stones.

They took their art further, by adding artistic designs made from metal, leather and precious stones to their swords, daggers and shields.

Celtic society was organised, based on the part you played within your designated tribe.  At the head would be the King or Chieftain, and next in line, the nobles, followed by the craftsmen, then the farmers and warriors, last in line would be the Celtic slaves.

Trade with European countries, was an important part of everyday life to them.  Copper, tin and iron, along with skins, grain and wool were exported.  In turn they imported fine pottery and quality metal goods.  Celtic currency started out as iron bars, and by 50 BC they had switched to gold coins.

Celtic houses were round in design, with a central pole, with horizontal poles radiating outwards.  Walls made of wattle and daub, with a thatched roof.  They made dyes from plants; weld for yellow, woad for blue and madder for red.

The Druids were the priests of the Celtic people, and played an important part in their lives.  These druids were scholars and advisors to the Celtic Kings, who worshipped more than one God.

During Celtic times, the old tradition of building barrows for the dead was phased out, and replaced with individual graves.  Yet, some parts of tradition still carried on; the practice of burying grave goods with the dead, what was required by him to gain access to the afterlife. (A similar practice to that carried out by the Pharaoh’s in Ancient Egypt).

The main Celtic festivals were:

Imbolc in early February, start of lambing season.

Beltane in early May, cattle let out, after being under cover all  winter.

Lughasad in August, crops right for harvesting.

Samhain in November, animals moved undercover for winter.

The Celts were no match for the warriors of Rome, and were defeated by the might of Julius Caesar in 55 BC and again in 54 BC.  The Roman’s withdrew from Britain, as the Celts agreed to pay Rome an annual payment.

In 43 AD the Romans invaded Britain under Empereor Claudius with Aulus Plautius their supreme leader.  The Romans and Celts faced each other in battle, but resistance to these Roman invaders proved futile.  By 47 AD the Romans had control of Britain from the River Humber to the River Severn.

The Celtic Iceni tribe in East Anglia rebelled against these Roman warriors.  A deal was struck and their King’s retained their position at head of their tribes, and accepted Roman Rule.

Only one leader refused to accept Roman Rule: Queen Boudicca.  For it was upon the death of the Iceni King, the Kingdom was left to his wife Boudicca and Emperor Nero, but Nero wanted it all.  Boudicca was appointed leader by the Celts and led an army of 100,000 warriors, and burned Colchester, St.Albans and London to the ground with no survivors.  Her army met the Romans in battle, and the Celts were defeated… with their leader dead, the Celts were forced into accepting Roman Rule.

(Image) Celt Farm: Wikipedia