La Tène time

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Central European Iron Age
Hallstatt period
Ha C 800-620 BC Chr.
Ha D1-D3 620-450 BC Chr.
La Tène time
LT A 450-380 BC Chr.
LT B 380-250 BC Chr.
LT C 250-150 BC Chr.
LT D 150-15 BC Chr./ 0

The La Tène period , also known as the La Tène period , is an epoch of the more recent pre-Roman Iron Age in large parts of Central Europe . It ranges from around 450 BC. Until the time of the birth of Christ.

The term Latène culture , also La Tène culture , refers to the archaeological legacies of the Celts from the Latène period and includes all material groups from this time north of the ancient world.

The eponymous site was La Tène on Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland.

Dating and dissemination

The Latène culture developed under Mediterranean influence at the beginning of the 5th century BC. From the north-west Alpine Hallstatt culture to an independent art and culture form. This was between 450 BC. BC and 40 BC Widespread in France , northern Alpine Switzerland , southern Germany up to the low mountain ranges, Austria , the Czech Republic and parts of Hungary . The genesis of the Latène civilization took place in the so-called "Westhallstatt Circle".

Carriers of the Latène culture are those since the 5th century BC. In Greek, later also in Roman sources mentioned Celts . Among the peculiarities of the culture are jewelry made of glass , such as glass arm rings , finger rings and ring pearls.

Typical objects of the Latène culture, especially made of metal, and imitations have also been found in northern Germany, Poland, Scandinavia, Great Britain and up to the Balkans. They are important for the chronology of the Iron Age in these regions. That is why the Latène period is also spoken of there, although the Latène culture did not extend into these regions.


Our knowledge of the Latène culture comes from two groups of sources:

  • Archaeological findings and finds, i.e. immediate evidence. The Latène culture was defined by them; they are actual remnants of the La Tène period.
  • Written sources. Since the 5th century BC There are reports from Greeks and Romans concerning the area of ​​the Latène culture. It speaks of the Celts and Gauls , who are identified today as the bearers of the Latène culture. The reports come from outsiders who at times only had a vague knowledge of the situation, but also - like Caesar , who wrote the most important source - knew them first-hand. The representations often reflect the knowledge and interests of the writer rather than offering well-founded and objective reporting.

Ethnographic observations and historical reports on Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany are several centuries younger and irrelevant for the characterization of the Latène culture, since the Irish, Scots, Welsh and Bretons did not describe themselves as indigenous Celts until the 19th century, as opposed to the later conquerors conceived the English and French. An initially purely linguistic classification was adopted as a popular name. In the ancient sources, however, the inhabitants of the British Isles are always referred to as Britannians, Caledonians or in the north as Picts, never as Celts.

Latène culture, Celts and ancient tradition

Late Iron Age helmet from London

The late Hallstatt culture and the Latène culture are considered to be "Celtic" primarily due to ancient text sources. The Greek Herodotus wrote about "Celts" at the sources of the Danube in the 5th century BC . Whether this is the Iron Age Heuneburg has not been conclusively clarified. At the same time, he also mentioned the Celts across the Strait of Gibraltar. It is very questionable whether the bearers of the late Hallstatt culture or the Latène culture saw themselves as one people. The term "Celts", Greek keltoi , most likely did not come from the Celts themselves. We cannot know whether the language borders of that time were congruent with the cultural borders due to the lack of datable language evidence from the late Hallstatt and early La Tène periods .

Roman authors called the Celts "Galli", Gauls . This name is used today in France for the local bearers of the Latène culture. The Romans met in Gaul from the 2nd century BC. On Celts. The subsequent fighting in the Gallic War dragged on until the Battle of Alesia in 52 BC. Chr. They were described in detail by Gaius Iulius Caesar in his work De bello Gallico , which is the most important written source on the (late) latène culture.

In the south-east of Britain towards the end of the Iron Age, the influence of the Latène culture from the mainland can be demonstrated (Aylesford-Swarlington). According to written sources, Belgians from northern France immigrated here. The rest of the British islands are archaeologically not part of the Latène culture.

On the other hand, Celts can be better identified further south. The population of the Alps was largely Celtic with the exception of a few valleys in the Valais and the Eastern Alps (east and south of the Adula group, i.e. the Gotthard massif). The largest part of it was made up of the Helvetii , whose sub-tribe were the Tigurines in the course of the invasion of the Cimbri and Teutons of a Roman army around 107 BC. At Agen had inflicted a shameful defeat. As a result of the Germanic tribes invading from the north, the Helvetii, led by Divico, tried in 58 BC. They emigrated south to Caesar (De bello Gallico) through the Rhône valley, but were defeated by him in the battle of Bibracte and sent back to their abandoned homeland as a buffer to the Germans advancing from the north . Only a part of the twelve great oppida cremated before the departure after Caesar was rebuilt. The Helvetii were then romanised relatively quickly, but their presence is still assured in various proper names, place names and sanctuaries, at least in the 1st century.

Outline and development

Otto Tischler worked out the first chronology of the Latène period in 1885 based on typological series of fibulae and swords. Since then, the La Tène period has been divided into three or four main sections:

Time period  Dechelettes  Reinecke Dating
Spring Tène A La Tène I. La Tène A.  approx. 450-380 BC Chr.
Spring Tène B La Tène I. La Tène B. approx. 380–250 BC Chr.
Middle Latène La Tène II La Tène C. 250-150 BC Chr.
Late Latene La Tène III La Tène D. 150 BC Until the birth of Christ 

Spring La Tène

Within the late Hallstatt culture, Greek and Etruscan imports are increasingly common north of the Alps . During the late Hallstatt period , these were limited to the very richly furnished so-called princely graves. In the early La Tène period, the Mediterranean models are also imitated and an independent art style developed from them. Imports from the Mediterranean and objects of the new artistic style can now be found increasingly in less richly furnished graves. The Marzabotto primer is considered to be the leading object of the La Tène A level .

The core areas of this cultural development are particularly the regions on the north-western edge of the Hallstatt culture, with the Hunsrück - Eifel and Marne - Moselle regions and, in the east, the Dürrnberg ( Austria ) site, with outstanding burials . In these three regions, the early La Tène culture is evident from richly decorated graves and other sites from the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Particularly clearly tangible. In the second half of the early La Tène period, large migratory movements begin . These Celtic moves have been mentioned and described several times by Roman and Greek authors, most of them by Polybius . So Celts moved to northern Italy, settled in the Po Valley and plundered in 387 BC. BC Rome .

Middle Latène

During the 3rd century BC The Celtic migrations reached the Danube basin , Macedonia , Greece and Asia Minor ( Galatia ). For 281 BC The military successes of the Celts in Macedonia are documented. Towards the end of the early La Tène period, burials under the hills were replaced by flat graves. Richly furnished graves are largely absent from the Middle Latène period. During the middle La Tène period the first signs of a monetary economy appeared. The majority of Celtic coins are imitations of Greek and Roman coins. At the same time, the first town-like, fortified settlements ( Oppida ) emerged.

Late Latene

In the late La Tène period burials continued in flat graves. Towards the end of this epoch we come across very richly decorated graves with extensive Roman additions. The Oppida are characteristic of the last section of the Latène period. Due to their fortifications, which were built at great expense, their size and the partial recognizability of artisan quarters, these settlements are classified as at least protourban.

In large parts of the northern Alpine distribution area of ​​the Latène culture, there were so-called Viereckschanzen , right-angled structures surrounded by ditches and palisades, during the late Latène period . These have long been considered shrines. Since the 1990s, other functions, such as agricultural farms, have also been discussed.

No later than the second half of the 1st century BC. The sites of the late Latène culture in central and southern Germany seem to be running out. This is often explained by the Germanic tribes advancing south , although this question has not yet been resolved archaeologically (" Helvetier wasteland "). In France, but also in the Pannonian region, in particular south of the Gellért mountain belonging to Budapest , which carried the oppidum of the late Celtic Eravisker , the sites still existed. In the late 1st century there were still Eraviskian resettlements at newly founded fort sites such as in Budapest-Albertfalva and the somewhat more southern Vetus Salina . Celtic pottery traditions could be held there until the 2nd century AD. The Gellértberg, probably called Mons Teutanus by the Romans , remained inhabited by this people until the middle of the 3rd century. It can be said that after the conquest, some important centers and areas of the Latène culture developed mixed cultures with a strong Roman influence or laid the foundation for an individual provincial Roman culture.

The classification of the late Latène carried out by Paul Reinecke is based exclusively on the finds of the prehistoric settlement areas of Karlstein in today's Bad Reichenhall , which were excavated and examined by the local archaeologist Josef Maurer between 1902 and 1907.


Replica of the Altenburg settlement near Bundenbach ( Hunsrück )

Within the Latène culture, three main types of settlement can be distinguished: fortified hilltop settlements that existed primarily in the early La Tène period, significantly larger, city-like, fortified oppida , which are mainly known from the late Latène period, and above all the large number of smaller, unpaved settlements. Larger rural settlements and individual craft settlements ( Bad Nauheim / salt production, Lovosice , Czech Republic / ceramic and millstone production) are also rare forms of settlement .

The buildings from the Latène period were made of wood, like almost all of the prehistory. It was predominantly post structures, i.e. H. the load-bearing wooden posts were dug into the ground in a regular, rectangular arrangement. The interior was often divided into two or three naves by the posts. Round buildings are also known from Spain. The walls were usually made of twigs woven between the posts and covered with clay. White lime plaster is documented from a number of settlements, and there are isolated references to colored painting.

In addition to residential houses in which stoves for cooking, baking and heating have occasionally been found, pit houses are known. These buildings, only a few square meters in size and largely buried in the ground, were probably used primarily as workshops, as indicated by weaving weights and spindle whorls for textile production, which were discovered in many mine houses. Small buildings with only four or six posts are interpreted as granaries.

In rural settlements, several smaller buildings are often arranged around a larger, multi-nave building. Apparently these are homesteads each with a house and several barns, workshops, storerooms and other outbuildings. Such homesteads could be surrounded by fences. The so-called fermes indigènes , individually lying farmsteads, in which significantly more area was surrounded by a fence, a ditch or both than would have been necessary for the building, are sometimes more elaborately fortified . Such systems are known from large parts of France. In Germany, comparable facilities are referred to as “Herrenhöfe”, but mostly appeared in the previous Hallstatt period and only partially existed until the early La Tène period. Both types of settlement are considered to be the residences of regional leaders.

The hill settlements from the early La Tène period were secured by a wood-earth or wood-stone-earth wall. They consisted of logs lying on top of each other, lengthways and crossways, which formed rectangular boxes. These boxes were filled with stones or earth, apparently depending on what was available in the area.

The oppida , on the other hand, were usually protected by the murus gallicus or post-slit walls described by Caesar . The murus gallicus is characterized by horizontal trunks that were connected by long iron nails, and had a stone facade in which the beam heads were visible. It was mainly built in Western Europe. Post-slot walls, on the other hand, had a more eastern distribution and had vertical posts with long, horizontal anchor beams as well as a stone facade. In both cases, the spaces between the woods were filled with stones and earth.

Burial grounds

Burials are one of the most important sources of the Latène culture. However, numerous components of a funeral do not leave any material traces in the ground. Therefore, only the tombs themselves can be explored archaeologically. These are very often used for comprehensive questions such as social order, religious ideas or gender relations.

During the early La Tène period (level A) some of the deceased are buried under burial mounds. This is partly done in wooden chambers and usually with different additions. Ceramic vessels are the most common here; but bronze dishes and wagons are also occasionally given. In addition, there are often parts of the personal equipment worn on the body such as brooches , belts, jewelry or weapons. Sometimes tools and food are also given. The burial in hills takes place mainly as a body grave. Further graves in the form of cremation or body burials are laid as subsequent burials in existing mounds, and others as urn or incendiary graves on the edge or in the immediate vicinity of the mound.

An outstanding ensemble of graves from the springtime La Tène period was excavated from 1994 on the Glauberg in Hesse , approx. 30 km northeast of Frankfurt am Main. In addition to three ornate burials with gold gifts and alleged imports under two burial mounds , there were four life-size stone steles - one of them almost completely - which probably belonged to a sacred district.

The very richly furnished graves run out as early as the Latène B level. Now mostly shallow graves with body burials and more modest graves are created.

During the Middle Latène culture, shallow graves with cremations are the rule. There are no very rich graves, as in the early La Tène period. In the late La Tène period, the number of burial grounds is remarkably low in some regions. It is possible that the dead are buried here in a way that does not leave any traces in the ground. In other regions such as Gaul, on the other hand, shallow grave fields are still being created. Towards the end of the Late La Tène period, there were again extremely richly furnished graves in some regions, e. B. in Göblingen - Nospelt ( Luxembourg ).


For the late La Tène period, Caesar's “Gallic War” is an important written source on the social order within the Latène culture. For the previous epochs and the late Latène culture outside of Gaul, conclusions can only be drawn from archaeological studies. These are based predominantly on grave finds, but the development of the settlement forms in the course of the Latène period also offers some indications.

From a number of very richly equipped, so-called “princely graves” and numerous elaborately fortified hilltop settlements, many archaeologists concluded that there was a strong social structure with a small number of “princes” at the top. These would have controlled farmers and artisans in their territory as well as long-distance trade. They were able to pass on their power to their descendants and, with the help of imported luxury items, copied the lifestyle of the Etruscan and Greek upper classes. Other researchers see the state graves as aristocrats or chiefs with only temporary power and limited control over people and territory.

The almost complete disappearance of very rich graves in the Middle Latène period can be interpreted as evidence of greater social equality. But changed religious ideas and the resulting changes in burial customs can also have caused this development.

Caesar names three social groups within Gallic society: druids , "knights" and the vast majority of the population who are treated almost like slaves. He also names various nobles and leaders who had a following, entered into marriage alliances and acted as leaders in the war. In Noricum was already around 170 BC. From an aristocratic rule to a monarchy. According to Caesar, the druids had duties as priests, judges and teachers. Finds of anklets suggest that there was slavery , which was also mentioned by Caesar.

Art styles

Replica of the Pfalzfeld column

An important definition criterion and characteristic of the Latène culture is the rich ornamental, sometimes figurative decoration of jewelry, weapons and vessels made of metal. There are also individual stone steles. The definition and subdivision of four successive artistic styles of the Latène culture goes back to Paul Jacobsthal , who published the fundamental work on it in 1944. He described the adoption and transformation of Greek / Etruscan motifs, plant ornamentation, animal and mask representations as well as circle ornamentation as the most important characteristics of "Celtic" art.

  • Early Style : Circle patterns , mask motifs, palmettes, floral motifs, hybrid creatures, Etruscan influences v. a. in figurative representations, oriental elements, antithetical depictions of animals.
  • Waldalgesheim style : floral elements (different from the Early Style ), arises after the incursions in northern Italy (northern Italy or eastern France and Switzerland), detachment from Mediterranean ideas, sometimes fights in ornament, no central development, measured against the rich finds you can find the Waldalgesheim -style rare form different genera: scabbards (Italy), brooches (Switzerland), neck rings (eastern France). Top products, high exclusivity.
  • Sword style (from 275 BC): mainly on sword scabbards in Hungary, Southeast Germany, Bohemia and Switzerland; figurative motifs; intended asymmetry, tendril ornaments from top right to bottom left; Decoration may have been modeled on the linen ribbons on swords.
  • Plastic style (from 275 BC): ornament and object become one unit, ornament exaggerates real plasticity; Three-dimensional vortex ornaments and spherical elements on bracelets and fibulae: hollow cast bronze hoops, arm and foot rings, egg or shell rings, hollow hump rings .

Locations (selection)

The eponymous discovery site La Tène in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland deserves special attention . In 1857, in La Tène near Marin-Epagnier , Hans Kopp discovered large amounts of artifacts , probably sacrificial objects, during excavations on Lake Neuchâtel . However, the area around La Tène was not the starting point of the Latène culture.



  • Dürrnberg near Hallein (Salzburg): Grave fields and mines from the late Hallstatt and early La Tène periods
  • Goarmbichl in Vill near Innsbruck: Remains of simple dwellings, important as an inner-alpine location



See also

Portal: Prehistory and Protohistory  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of Prehistory and Protohistory


  • Rosemarie Müller:  Latène culture and the Latène time. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde (RGA). 2nd Edition. Volume 18, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2001, ISBN 3-11-016950-9 , pp. 118-124.
  • Björn-Uwe Abels : The honorary citizen near Forchheim, the central settlement of Northeast Bavaria from the early La Tène period . In: Jörg Biel u. a. (Ed.): Early Celtic princely seats. Oldest cities and rulers north of the Alps? International workshop on Celtic archeology in Eberdingen-Hochdorf, September 12th and 13th, 2003 (Archaeological information from Baden-Württemberg; Vol. 51). Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-927714-79-8 , pp. 42-47.
  • Richard Ambs: The Celtic Viereckschanze near Beuren (reports on archeology in the district of Neu-Ulm, Vol. 4), Neu-Ulm 2011, ISBN 978-3-9812654-2-2
  • John Collis: The Celts. Origins, myths & inventions . Tempus Books, Stroud 2003, ISBN 0-7524-2913-2 .
  • Janine Fries-Knoblach: The Celts. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-17-015921-6 .
  • John Collis (Ed.): The European Iron Age . Routledge, London 1997, ISBN 0-415-15139-2 .
  • Paul Jacobsthal : Early Celtic art . Clarendon, Oxford 1969 (repr. Of the Oxford 1944 edition).
  • Michael A. Morse: How the Celts Came to Britain. Druids, ancient skulls and the birth of archeology . Tempus Books, Stroud 2005, ISBN 0-7524-3339-3 .
  • Felix Müller (Ed.): Art of the Celts. 700 BC Chr. - 700 AD. Verlag NZZ Libro, Bern 2009, Belser Verlag, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 3-7630-2539-1 .
  • Sabine Rieckhoff, Jörg Biehl: The Celts in Germany . Theiss, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-8062-1367-4 .

Web links

Commons : Latène culture  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Latène culture  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Latènezeit  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Data from the timetable in The World of the Celts. Centers of power. Treasures of art. Thorbecke, 2012, ISBN 3799507523 , p. 524 f.
  2. La Tène period., accessed on January 1, 2015 .
  3. ^ Rosemarie Müller: Latène culture and Latène time . In: Heinrich Beck, Dieter Geuenich, Heiko Steuer (Hrsg.): Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde , founded by Johannes Hoops, Volume 18. 2nd edition Berlin / New York 2001, pp. 118–124
  4. ^ András Mócsy : The population of Pannonia up to the Marcomann Wars. Hungarian Academy of Sciences Publishing House, Budapest 1959. p. 65.
  5. ^ Éva B. Bónis : Roman ceramic research in Hungary. In: Rei Cretariae Romanae Fautorum Ubique Consistentium acta. 1958. p. 9
  6. ^ Zsolt Mráv: Castellum contra Tautantum. To identify a late Roman fortress. In: Ádám Szabó , Endre Tóth (ed.): Bölcske. Roman inscriptions and finds - In memoriam Sándor Soproni (1926–1995) Libelli archaeologici Ser. Nov. No. II. Hungarian National Museum, Budapest 2003, ISBN 963-9046-83-9 , p. 354.
  7. Johannes Lang: History of Bad Reichenhall. Ph.CW Schmidt, Neustadt / Aisch 2009, ISBN 978-3-87707-759-7 , p. 50
  8. Beurener Keltenschanze: Pioneering achievement in Celtic research, archive link