The Iron Age was a period in human history that began between 1200 and 600 BC, depending on the region, and followed the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. During the Iron Age, people across much of Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa began making tools and weapons from iron and steel . For some societies, including ancient Greece, the beginning of the Iron Age was accompanied by a period of cultural decline.
Humans may have smelted iron sporadically throughout history. Bronze Age, although they probably considered iron an inferior metal. Iron tools and weapons were not as hard or durable as their bronze counterparts.
The use of iron became widespread after people learned to make steel, a much harder metal, by heating iron with carbon. The Hittites, who lived during the Bronze Age in what is now Turkey, may have been the first to make steel.
When was the Iron Age?
The Iron Age began around 1200 BC in the Mediterranean region and the Near East with the collapse of several Bronze Age civilizations, including Mycenaean civilization in Greece and the Hittite Empire in Türkiye. Ancient cities, including Troy and Gaza, were destroyed, trade routes were lost, and literacy declined throughout the region.
The cause of the collapse of these Bronze Age kingdoms remains unclear. Archaeological evidence suggests that a succession of severe droughts in the eastern Mediterranean region over a 150-year period, from 1250 to 1100 BC, likely played a significant role in the collapse. Earthquakes, famine, sociopolitical unrest, and invasions by nomadic tribes may also have played a role.
Some experts believe that a disruption in trade routes may have caused a shortage of copper or tin used to make bronze at that time. As a result, blacksmiths may have turned to iron as an alternative.
Many scholars place the end of the Iron Age around 550 BC, when Herodotus, “The Father of History”, began writing “The Stories”, although the completion date varies by region. In Scandinavia it ended closer to AD 800 with the rise of Vikings. In western and central Europe, the end of the Iron Age is generally identified as coinciding with the Roman conquest during the first century BC.
Greek Dark Ages
Greece had become a major center of activity and culture on the Mediterranean by the end of the Bronze Age. The Mycenaean civilization was rich in material wealth from trade. The Mycenaeans built large palaces and a society with a strict class hierarchy.
But around 1200 BC, Mycenaean Greece collapsed. Greece entered a period of unrest sometimes called the Greek Dark Ages.
Archaeologists believe there may have been a period of famine during which the Greek population fell dramatically. The major cities (with the exception of Athens) were abandoned. As urban societies divided, people moved into smaller, more pastoral groups focused on herding.
Mycenaean Greece was a literate society, but the Early Iron Age Greeks left no written records, leading some scholars to believe they were illiterate. Few artifacts or ruins remain from this period, which lasted about 300 years.
By the end of the Iron Age, the Greek economy had recovered and Greece had entered its “classical” period. Classical Greece was a time of cultural achievements, including Parthenonthe Greek theater and the philosophers, including Socrates.
The Classical period also brought political reforms and introduced the world to a new system of government known as the democracyor “rule by the people”.
The Persian Empire
During the Iron Age in the Near East, nomadic pastoralists who herded sheep, goats, and cattle on the Iranian plateau began to develop a state that would become known as Persia.
The Persians established their empire at a time when humans had learned to make steel. Steel weapons were sharper and stronger than ancient bronze or stone weapons.
The ancient Persians also fought on horseback. They may have been the first civilization to develop armored cavalry in which horses and riders were entirely covered in steel armor.
The first one The Persian Empirefounded by Cyrus the Great around 550 BC, became one of the greatest empires in history, stretching from the Balkans of Eastern Europe to the Indus Valley of India.
The Iron Age in Europe
Life in Iron Age Europe was primarily rural and agricultural. Iron tools made farming easier.
Celts lived across most of Europe during the Iron Age. The Celts were a group of tribes originating from central Europe. They lived in small communities or clans and shared similar language, religious beliefs, traditions and culture. Celtic culture is believed to have begun to evolve as early as 1200 BC.
The Celts migrated throughout Western Europe, including Britain, Ireland, France and Spain. Their heritage remains significant in Ireland and Britain, where traces of their language and culture can still be seen today.
Iron Age hill forts
In much of Celtic Europe, people lived in hill forts during the Iron Age. Walls and ditches surrounded the forts and warriors defended the hill forts from attacks by rival clans.
Inside the hill forts, families lived in simple, round houses made of mud and wood with thatched roofs. They grew crops and raised livestock, including goats, sheep, pigs, cows and geese.
Hundreds of bog bodies dating from the Iron Age have been discovered throughout Northern Europe. Bog corpses are corpses that are naturally mummified or preserved in bogs.
Examples of Iron Age bog bodies include Tollund Man, found in Denmark, and Gallagh Man from Ireland.
The mysterious bog bodies seem to have at least one thing in common: they died a brutal death. For example, Lindow Man, found near Manchester, England, appears to have been beaten in the head, slit in the head, and whipped with a rope made from animal sinew before being thrown into the aquatic bog.
The Celtic tribes did not have a written language at the time, so they left no record of why these people were killed and thrown into the bogs. Some experts believe the bog bodies may have been ritually killed for religious reasons.
Other Iron Age artifacts, including swords, cups and shields, have also been discovered buried in peat bogs. These may also have served as offerings to pagan gods in religious ceremonies led by Druid priests.