Iron Age Scandinavia

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Extent of Pre-Roman Iron Age settlements in Scandinavia, 4th century BC - 1st century BC
The expansion of the Germanic tribes 750 BC – AD 1 (after the Penguin Atlas of World History 1988):
   Settlements before 750 BC
   New settlements by 500 BC
   New settlements by 250 BC
   New settlements by AD 1

Iron Age Scandinavia (or Nordic Iron Age) refers to the Iron Age, as it unfolded in Scandinavia.


The 6th and 5th century BC was a tipping point for exports and imports on the European continent. The ever increasing conflicts and wars between the central European Celtic tribes and the Mediterranean cultures, destabilized old major trade routes and networks between Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, eventually breaking down, and it changed the Scandinavian cultures dramatically. Now they had to be practically self-dependent and self-sustaining. Archaeology attests a rapid and deep change in the Scandinavian culture and way of life. Agricultural production became more intensified, organized around larger settlements and with a much more labour-intensive production. Slaves were introduced and deployed, something uncommon in the Nordic Bronze Age. The rising power, wealth and organization of the central European tribes in the following centuries did not seem to instigate an increased trade and contact between Scandinavia and central Europe before 200 - 100 BC. At this point the Celtic tribes had organized themselves in numerous urban communities known as oppida, and the more stable political situation in Europe allowed for a whole new economic development and trade.[1]

Bronze could not be produced in Scandinavia, as copper and tin were not local natural resources, but with new techniques, iron production from iron ore (Norway and Sweden) or bog iron (Denmark) slowly gained ground. Iron is a versatile metal and was suitable for tools and weapons, but it was not until the Viking Age that iron incited a revolution in ploughing. The Bronze Age ard plough was still the plough of choice, but now much larger areas were farmed, to the extent that the southern Scandinavian regions were almost deforested. Previously, herds of livestock had pasture grazed freely in large wood pastures, but were now placed in stables, probably to utilize manure more efficiently and increase agricultural production. Even though the advent of the Iron Age in Scandinavia was a time of great crisis, the new agricultural expansions, techniques and organizations proceeded apace. And though the decline of foreign trade might suggest that the period marked a transition from a rich and wealthy culture to a poor and meagre culture, the population grew and new technology was developed. The period might just reflect a change of culture and not necessarily a decline in standards of living.[1]


The Iron Age in Scandinavia and Northern Europe begins around 500 BC with the Jastorf culture, and is taken to last until ca. AD 800 and the beginning Viking Age. It succeeds the Nordic Bronze Age with the introduction of ferrous metallurgy by contact with the Hallstatt D/La Tène cultures.

The Northern European Iron Age is the locus of Proto-Germanic culture, in its later stage differentiating into Proto-Norse (in Scandinavia), and West Germanic (Ingvaeonic, Irminonic, Istvaeonic) in northern Germany.

Culture and religion

Nordic Iron Age culture
Nordic Iron Age cult


  1. 1.0 1.1 Jørgen Jensen: I begyndelsen


  • Jørgen Jensen (2002): I begyndelsen, Gyldendal og Politikens Danmarks Historie (Vol. 1), ISBN 87-89068-26-2 (Danish)
  • Bente Magnus, G Franceschi, Asger Jorn (2005): Men, Gods and Masks in Nordic Iron Age Art.
  • M Zvelebil (1985): Iron Age transformations in Northern Russia and the Northeast Baltic, Beyond Domestication in Prehistoric Europe

See also