Hochdorf (Germany)

Iron Age Home and Grave of a Celtic Chieftain

Golden Footwear of Celtic Chieftain at Hochdorf
Golden Footwear of Celtic Chieftain at Hochdorf. Rosemania

Hochdorf is the name of the grave and rural residence of a princely Iron Age (Late Hallstatt period to early La Tène, ca 530-400 BC) chieftain, whose seat of power (or fürstensitz) was at nearby Hohen Asperg. The three sites (grave, rural residence and fürstensitz) are all located within about 15 kilometers of Stuttgart, on a small tributary stream to the middle ranges of the Neckar River of southwestern Germany.

Hochdorf Princely Residence

The residence (called locally "Gewann Reps" or "Hochdorf Reps") included an area of at least three hectares. Researchers found traces of very large houses (up to 140 sq m), subterranean huts between 2-8 meters long, storage pits and granaries, all surrounded by a (non-defensive) rectangular fence. The main residence was a large bow-sided house. Wheel-turned local pottery dominated the ceramic assemblage, although six Attic (Greek) sherds from klices, dated to ~425 BC, were identified. A balance with a scale to tare, cast in bronze and 11.5 cm long was probably used for weighing coins. Plant materials recovered from the site's numerous storage pits include barley, spelt wheat (Triticum spelta), and millet (Panicum milliaceum).

Six rectangular trench granaries were identified at Hochdorf's residential site, each with a U-shapped profile and measuring about 5-6 meters long, 60 centimeters wide and up to 1.1 m deep.

At least two are believed to be associated with barley beer production, based on the recovery of a thick layer of charred barley which has been evenly germinated. The others held pulses and other cereal grains and were probably used as storage facilities.

    Princely Grave at Hochdorf

    The so-called wagon grave at Hochdorf is one of about 100 such graves known from the second half of the sixth century BC in France, Switzerland and Germany. The grave is an enormous barrow mound, which was about 6 meters high and 60 meters in diameter when it was constructed. The entrance to the mound was to the north, and the mound was surrounded by a stone ring and oak posts.

    Within the barrow was a central grave chamber, measuring about 4.7x4.7 meters and made of looped oak beams. Within the chamber was a man's skeleton lying on a platform. At his feet was a large bronze cauldron, filled with honey mead. On the opposite of the chamber was a wagon, with service for nine guests; along the walls were nine drinking horns made from the horn of an auroch. Opposite the man was a large four-wheeled wagon with harnesses for two horses; within the wagon was a drinking service and a dinner set of three serving bowls, nine bronze dishes and plates. The chamber was decorated with wall hangings and carpets.

    Two inner chambers srrounded the inner chamber. The second chamber measured 7.4 x 7.4 meters; the final chamber 11x11 meters. Between the two chambers and atop the roof was a layer of 50 tons of stones: this multilayered is likely what protected the inner burial chamber from being looted in the past.

    The Prince at Hochdorf

    The man in the grave was about 40 years old and unusually tall for the Iron Ages, 1.85 meters. He wore a flat cone-shaped hat made of birch bark adorned with circle patterns and punched decorations; his body was wrapped in colored textiles. He had a golden necklace and shoes. Near him was a toilet-kit made of comb and a razor; a small iron knife, a quiver of arrows and a small bag containing three fishing hooks were not weapons but rather hunting artifaces.

    Eight of the drinking horns suspended from the southern chamber wall were made of auroch horn; the ninth is made of iron with inlaid strips of gold; each horn would have held up to five liters of beverage. These objects do not match other Hallstatt culture horns and were either imported from Eastern Europe or locally made using Eastern Europe artifacts as models.

    The large bronze cauldron, probably made in Greece, was decorated with three lions on the rim and three handles with roll attachments. The cauldron could have held between 400-500 liters of local honeymead (or hydromel), dregs of which were found within it. A small golden cup was placed on the top of the cauldron. The bronze bench on which the occupant lies measures 2.75 m in length and is supported by eight female figurines cast in bronze and standing on wheels, so the bench could be rolled.


    This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Iron Age, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

    Biel J. 2006 [ca. 1994]. Eberdingen-Hochdorf, Kr. Ludwigsburg, Baden-Württemberg. Brathair 6(1):3-9.

    Oestigaard T, and Goldhahn J. 2006. From the Dead to the Living: Death as Transactions and Re-negotiations. Norwegian Archaeological Review 39(1):27-48.

    Stika H-P. 2011. Early Iron Age and Late Mediaeval malt finds from Germany—attempts at reconstruction of early Celtic brewing and the taste of Celtic beer. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 3(1):41-48.

    Stika H-P. 1996. Traces of a possible Celtic brewery in Eberdingen-Hochdorf, Kreis Ludwigsburg, southwest Germany. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 5(81-88).

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