Hallstatt Culture: Early European Iron Age Culture

Model of a Hallstatt Wagon at the German National Museum in Nuremberg
Wolfgang Sauber

The Hallstatt Culture (~800 to 450 BC) is what archaeologists call the early Iron Age groups of central Europe. These groups were truly independent of one another, politically, but they were interconnected by a vast, extant trading network such that the material culture (tools, kitchenware, housing style, farming techniques) were similar across the region.

Hallstatt Culture Roots

At the end of the Urnfield stage of the Late Bronze Age, ca. 800 BC, the central Europeans were mostly farmers (herding and growing crops). The Hallstatt culture included an area between central France to western Hungary and from the Alps to central Poland. The term includes many different unrelated regional groups, who used the same set of material culture because of a strong network of trade and exchange.

By 600 BC, iron tools spread into northern Britain and Scandinavia; elites concentrated in western and central Europe. The Hallstatt elites became concentrated within a zone between what is now the Burgundy region of eastern France and southern Germany. These elites were powerful and located in at least 16 hillforts called "seats of power" or fürstensitz.

Hallstatt Culture and Hillforts

Hillforts such as Heuneburg, Hohenasberg, Wurzburg, Breisach, Vix, Hochdorf, Camp de Chassey, and Mont Lassois have substantial fortifications in the form of bank-and-ditch defense. At least tenuous connections with the Mediterranean Greek and Etruscan civilizations are in evidence at the hillforts and some non-hillfort settlements. Burials were stratified with a few extremely richly outfitted chamber graves surrounded by up to a hundred or so secondary burials. Two dated to the Hallstatt which contain clear connections with Mediterranean imports are Vix (France), where an elite female burial contained a huge Greek krater; and Hochdorf (Germany), with three gold-mounted drinking horns and a large Greek cauldron for mead. Hallstatt elites clearly had a taste for Mediterranean wines, with numerous amphorae from Massalia (Marseille), bronze vessels and Attic pottery recovered from many fürstensitze.

One distinctive trait of Hallstatt elite sites was vehicle burials. Bodies were placed in a timber-lined pit along with the ceremonial four-wheeled vehicle and the horse gear--but not the horses--that were used to move the body to the grave. The carts often had elaborate iron wheels with multiple spokes and iron studs.


  • Bujnal J. 1991. Approach to the study of the Late Hallstatt and Early La Tène periods in eastern parts of Central Europe: results from ​comparative classification of 'Knickwandschale'. Antiquity 65:368-375.
  • Cunliffe B. 2008. The Three Hundred Years that Changed the World: 800-500 BC. Chapter 9 in Europe Between the Oceans. Themes and Variations: 9000 BC-AD 1000. New Haven: Yale University Press. p, 270-316
  • Marciniak A. 2008. Europe, Central and Eastern. In: Pearsall DM, editor. Encyclopedia of Archaeology. New York: Academic Press. p 1199-1210.
  • Wells PS. 2008. Europe, Northern and Western: Iron Age. In: Pearsall DM, editor. Encyclopedia of Archaeology. London: Elsevier Inc. p 1230-1240.
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Hirst, K. Kris. "Hallstatt Culture: Early European Iron Age Culture." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, thoughtco.com/hallstatt-culture-early-european-iron-age-171359. Hirst, K. Kris. (2020, August 25). Hallstatt Culture: Early European Iron Age Culture. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hallstatt-culture-early-european-iron-age-171359 Hirst, K. Kris. "Hallstatt Culture: Early European Iron Age Culture." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hallstatt-culture-early-european-iron-age-171359 (accessed May 29, 2023).