La Tene Cultune

Tene Culture

During the fifth century BC, the Celts underwent a period of social, cultural, and political change. This era has been identified as the start of the La Tene period, named after the Swiss site that provided archaeologists with their first insight into the cultural wealth of the Celtic world in its heyday. An era of expansion during which Celtic civilization spread across much of Europe, it was also a period of artistic excellence. The La Tene culture marked the highpoint of Celtic civilization, and lasted until its destruction at the hands of the Romans.

Right: The "Prunay vase" (c.400-350 bc) is embellished with a typical early La T6ne period abstract swirling decoration painted onto the ceramic surface.

Dike Hallstatt in Austria, the small Swiss

_| village of La I ene gave its name to a cultural period in Celtic history because of objects discovered there in the 19th century. The village lies on the shore of I .ake Neuchatel, and while Hallstatt was known for its grave finds, La I ene was noted as the site that produced thousands of votive offerings. For the most part these were decorative metal objects which were thrown into the lake as offerings to the gods.

During the 19th century the lake was partly drained, revealing the lake lied scattered with votive objects. Evidently La Tene was an important religious site, although there were other locations scattered throughout the Celtic world. Taken in conjunction with the Hallstatt finds, the La Tene objects helped to provide a chronological framework for the development of Iron Age Celtic society. The La Tene period has l)een divided into three phases; the first— La Tene I—from the early fifth century BC to about the mid-third century BC. La Tene II succeeded it, and lasted until the late second century' BC, with La Tene III continuing until the Roman conquest during the mid-first century BC in Gaul and the mid-first century AD in southern Britain. (Since Scotland and Ireland were never conquered by the Romans, La Tene 111 continued until the fifth century AD in those regions).

The entire period saw the Celtic world at its height, and La Tene period artifacts have been discovered as far apart as Scotland and Turkey. During this period the La Tene Celts came into contact with the Greeks, Carthaginians, and the Romans.

Coming of age

The period also saw a significant expansion of the Celtic homeland, which originally encompassed parts of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, and southern Germany. By the time of the Roman conquests

The spread of La Tène culture 500-200 bc.

IERNE

— maximum extent of Hallstatt culture

Tene Culture

The spread of La Tène culture 500-200 bc.

IERNE

— maximum extent of Hallstatt culture

Tene Finds

the Celts had expanded into western Spain, most of France, Holland, the Danube valley, and all of the British Isles, including Ireland. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to even begin to conceive of the Celtic world as a unified body. Celtic society was a tribal one, and this lack of any permanent central control was a leading factor in the eventual collapse of the Celtic civilization.

Burials remained an important aspect of Celtic society, just as they had been during the I lallstatt period. These burial sites provide archaeologists with a unique insight into Celtic society, where a stratified aristocracy, a warrior cult, social gatherings, and religion all played a significant part. The graves also reveal a wealth of information about everyday life in the La Tene period; iron-working, the decorative arts, cloth manufacture, pottery, and woodwork arc-all present in funerary remains. But although one period followed the other, the La Tene is distinctive in terms of the artistic legacy left behind by the Celts. La Tene was characterized by its unique artistic style, and stunning decorative items have survived to show the cultural wealth of the La Tene artisans and smiths.

As such, the La Tene era marked the high point of Celtic civilization, artistically, militarily, socially, and economically. Much of this book will involve an analysis of the La Tene civilization, and its impact on the people who encountered it.

Left: Pair of La Tène shields made from a mix of bronze and iron, 4th century bc, found at Saint-Jean-sur Tourbe. France.

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