Hallstatt culture

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the archaeological culture. For other uses, see Hallstatt (disambiguation).
Hallstatt culture
Hallstatt LaTene.png
Geographical range Europe
Period Iron Age Europe
Dates circa 800 BC — circa 501 BC
Type site Hallstatt
Preceded by Urnfield culture
Followed by La Tène culture
A drawing commissioned by Johann G. Ramsauer documenting one of his cemetery digs at Hallstatt; an unknown local artist painted these watercolors.

The Hallstatt culture was the predominant Central European culture from the 8th to 6th centuries BC (European Early Iron Age), developing out of the Urnfield culture of the 12th century BC (Late Bronze Age) and followed in much of Central Europe by the La Tène culture. It is commonly associated with Proto-Celtic and Celtic populations in the Western Hallstatt zone and with (pre-)Illyrians in the eastern Hallstatt zone.

By the 6th century BC, it spanned across territories north-south from the Main, Bohemia, the Little Carpathians, the Swiss plateau, the Salzkammergut, down to the border between Lower Styria and Lower Carniola, and from the western zone, that included Champagne-Ardenne, the Upper Rhine, and the upper Danube, to the eastern zone, that included Vienna Basin and the Danubian Lowland, for some 1000 km. Parts of Britain and Iberia are included in the ultimate expansion of the culture.

It is named for its type site, Hallstatt, a lakeside village in the Austrian Salzkammergut southeast of Salzburg, where there was a rich salt mine, and some 1,300 burials are known from the period, many with fine artefacts.

Hallstatt type site[edit]

The Strettweg Cult Wagon, one of the most elaborate objects from the period
Decorated pottery typical of the eastern zone, 7th century
Reconstructed "funerary wagon"
Sword hilt, Hallstatt

In 1846, Johann Georg Ramsauer (1795–1874) discovered a large prehistoric cemetery near Hallstatt, Austria, which he excavated during the second half of the 19th century. Eventually the excavation would yield 1,045 burials, although no settlement has yet been found. This may be covered by the later village, which has long occupied the whole narrow strip between the steep hillsides and the lake.

The community at Hallstatt exploited the salt mines in the area, which had been worked from time to time since the Neolithic period, from the 8th to 5th centuries BC. The style and decoration of the grave goods found in the cemetery are very distinctive, and artifacts made in this style are widespread in Europe.

Stratigraphy at the type site, extending from about 1200 BC until around 500 BC, is divided by archaeologists into four phases:

date BC
HaA 1200-1000
HaB 1000-800
HaC 800-650
HaD 650-475

Hallstatt A-B are part of the Bronze Age Urnfield culture. Phase A saw Villanovan influence. In this period, people were cremated and buried in simple graves. In phase B, tumulus (kurgan) burial becomes common, and cremation predominates. Little is known about this period in which the typical Celtic elements have not yet distinguished themselves from the earlier Villanova-culture. The "Hallstatt period" proper is restricted to HaC and HaD (8th to 5th centuries BC), corresponding to the early European Iron Age. Hallstatt lies in the area where the western and eastern zones of the Hallstatt culture meet, which is reflected in the finds from there.[1] Hallstatt D is succeeded by the La Tène culture.

Hallstatt 'D' swords, from Hallstatt

Hallstatt C is characterized by the first appearance of iron swords mixed amongst the bronze ones. Inhumation and cremation co-occur. For the final phase, Hallstatt D, only daggers are found in graves ranging from c. 600–500 BC. There are also differences in the pottery and brooches. Burials were mostly inhumations.


Two culturally distinct areas, an eastern and a western zone are generally recognised.[2] The main distinction is in burial rites and grave goods: in the western zone, members of the elite were buried with sword (HaC) or dagger (HaD), in the eastern zone with an axe. The western zone has chariot burials. In the eastern zone, warriors are frequently buried in full armour.

The approximate division line between the two subcultures runs from north to south through central Bohemia and Lower Austria at about 14 to 15 degrees eastern longitude, and then traces the eastern and southern rim of the Alps to Eastern and Southern Tyrol.[citation needed]

Western Hallstatt zone[edit]

While Hallstatt is regarded as the dominant settlement of the western zone, a settlement at the Burgstallkogel in the central Sulm valley (southern Styria, west of Leibnitz, Austria) was a major center during the Hallstatt C period. Parts of the huge necropolis (which originally consisted of more than 1,100 tumuli) surrounding this settlement can be seen today near Gleinstätten.

Grave items from a chieftain's grave, including bronze armor and the burial mask and hands from the Kröllkogel between towns of Gleinstätten and Kleinklein as well as the famous Strettweg Cult Wagon from the Strettweg excavation near Judenburg, Styria are on display in the Joanneum's Archaeology Museum located at Schloss Eggenberg in the Styrian capital of Graz.

Eastern Hallstatt zone[edit]

Trade and population movements spread the Hallstatt cultural complex into the western Iberian peninsula, Britain, and Ireland.

Culture and trade[edit]

Further information: Greeks in pre-Roman Gaul

It is probable[3][4][5] that some if not all of this diffusion took place in a Celtic-speaking context.[6] In northern Italy the Golasecca culture developed with continuity from the Canegrate culture.[7][8] Canegrate represented a completely new cultural dynamic to the area expressed in pottery and bronzework making it a typical western example of the western Hallstatt culture.[7][8]

The Lepontic Celtic language inscriptions of the area show the language of the Gollasecca culture was clearly Celtic making it probable that the 13th-century BC precursor language of at least the western Hallstatt was also Celtic or a precursor to it.[7][8] Lepontic inscriptions have also been found in Umbria,[9] in the area which saw the emergence of the Terni culture, which had strong similarities with the Celtic cultures of Hallstatt and La Tène.[10] The Umbrian necropolis of Terni, which dates back to the 10th century BC, was identical under every aspect, to the Celtic necropolis of the Golasecca culture.[11]

Trade with Greece is attested by finds of Attic black-figure pottery in the elite graves of the late Hallstatt period. It was probably imported via Massilia (Marseille). Other imported luxuries include amber, ivory (Gräfenbühl) and probably wine. Recent analyses have shown that the reputed silk in the barrow at Hohmichele was misidentified. Red dye (cochineal)[citation needed] was imported from the south as well (Hochdorf burial).

The settlements were mostly fortified, situated on hilltops, and frequently included the workshops of bronze-, silver-, and goldsmiths. Typical sites are the Heuneburg on the upper Danube surrounded by nine very large grave tumuli, Mont Lassois in eastern France near Châtillon-sur-Seine with, at its foot, the very rich grave at Vix, and the hill fort at Molpír in Slovakia.

In the central Hallstatt regions toward the end of the period, very rich graves of high-status individuals under large tumuli are found near the remains of fortified hilltop settlements. They often contain chariots and horse bits or yokes as commonly used by Cimmerian knights (Eurasian nomads). Well known chariot burials include Býčí Skála, Vix and Hochdorf. A model of a chariot made from lead has been found in Frögg, Carinthia. Elaborate jewellery made of bronze and gold, as well as stone stelae (see the famous warrior of Hirschlanden) were found in this context.

The material culture of Western Hallstatt culture was apparently sufficient to provide a stable social and economic equilibrium. The founding of Marseille and the penetration by Greek and Etruscan culture after ca 600 BC, resulted in long-range trade relationships up the Rhone valley which triggered social and cultural transformations in the Hallstatt settlements north of the Alps. Powerful local chiefdoms emerged which controlled the redistribution of luxury goods from the Mediterranean world that is characteristic of the La Tène culture.


Typical decoration on a belt-plate

At least the later periods of Hallstatt art are generally agreed to form the early period of Celtic art. Decoration is mostly geometric and linear, and best seen on fine metalwork finds from graves (see above). Styles differ, especially between the west and east. Animals, with waterfowl a particular favourite, are often included as part of other objects, more often than humans, and there is almost no narrative content such as scenes of combat depicted. These characteristics were continued into the succeeding La Tène style.

Imported luxury art is sometimes found in rich elite graves, and certainly had some influence on local styles. The most spectacular objects, such as the Strettweg Cult Wagon, the Warrior of Hirschlanden and the bronze couch supported by "unicyclists" from the Hochdorf Chieftain's Grave are one of a kind in finds from the Hallstatt period, though they can be related to objects from other periods.

More common objects include weapons, in Ha D often with hilts terminating in curving forks. Jewellery in metal includes fibulae, often with a row of disks hanging down on chains, armlets and some torcs. This is mostly in bronze, but "princely" burials include items in gold.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Koch
  2. ^ Koch; Kossack (1959); N. Müller-Scheeßel, Die Hallstattkultur und ihre räumliche Differenzierung. Der West- und Osthallstattkreis aus forschungsgeschichtlicher Sicht (2000)
  3. ^ Chadwick, Nora (1970). The Celts. p. 30. 
  4. ^ Kruta, Venceslas (1991). The Celts. Thames and Hudson. pp. 89–102. 
  5. ^ Stifter, David (2008). Old Celtic Languages - Addenda. p. 25. 
  6. ^ Alfons Semler, Überlingen: Bilder aus der Geschichte einer kleinen Reichsstadt,Oberbadische Verlag, Singen, 1949, pp. 11–17, specifically 15.
  7. ^ a b c Kruta, Venceslas (1991). The Celts. Thames and Hudson. pp. 93–100. 
  8. ^ a b c Stifter, David (2008). Old Celtic Languages (PDF). p. 24. 
  9. ^ Percivaldi, Elena (2003). I Celti: una civiltà europea. Giunti Editore. p. 82. 
  10. ^ Leonelli, Valentina. La necropoli delle Acciaierie di Terni: contributi per una edizione critica (Cestres ed.). p. 33. 
  11. ^ Farinacci, Manlio. Carsulae svelata e Terni sotterranea. Associazione Culturale UMRU - Terni. 


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Hallstatt culture at Wikimedia Commons