Iron Age

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
Related to Iron Age: bronze age

Iron Age

Iron Age, period in the development of industry that begins with the general use of iron and continues into modern times. In Asia, Egypt, and Europe it was preceded by the Bronze Age. It did not begin in the Americas until the coming of the Europeans. Iron beads were worn in Egypt as early as 4000 B.C., but these were of meteoric iron, evidently shaped by the rubbing process used in shaping implements of stone. The oldest known article of iron shaped by hammering is a dagger found in Egypt that was made before 1350 B.C. This dagger is believed not to have been made in Egypt but to be of Hittite workmanship. The use of smelted iron ornaments and ceremonial weapons became common during the period extending from 1900 to 1400 B.C. About this time, the invention of tempering (see forging) was made by the Chalybes of the Hittite empire. It is possible that the Hittite kings kept ironworking techniques secret and restricted export of iron weapons. After the downfall of the Hittite empire in 1200 B.C., the great waves of migrants spreading through S Europe and the Middle East insured the rapid transmission of iron technology. In Europe knowledge of iron smelting was acquired in Greece and the Balkans, and somewhat later in N Italy (see Etruscan civilization; Villanovan culture) and central Europe. The Early Iron Age in central Europe, dating from c.800 B.C. to c.500 B.C., is known as the Hallstatt period. Celtic migrations, beginning in the 5th cent. B.C., spread the use of iron into W Europe and to the British Isles. The Late Iron Age in Europe, which is dated from this period, is called La Tène. The casting of iron did not become technically useful until the Industrial Revolution. The people of the Iron Age developed the basic economic innovations of the Bronze Age and laid the foundations for feudal organization. They utilized the crops and domesticated animals introduced earlier from the Middle East. Ox-drawn plows and wheeled vehicles acquired a new importance and changed the agricultural patterns. For the first time humans were able to exploit efficiently the temperate forests. Villages were fortified, warfare was conducted on horseback and in horse-drawn chariots, and alphabetic writing based on the Phoenician script became widespread. Distinctive art styles in metal, pottery, and stone characterized many Iron Age cultures.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Iron Age

(700 B.C.)
The period characterized by the introduction of iron metallurgy for tools and weapons.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Iron Age


a period in the primitive and early class history of mankind characterized by the proliferation of iron metallurgy and the manufacture of iron tools. The concept of three ages—Stone, Bronze, and Iron—emerged in antiquity (Lucretius). The term “Iron Age” was introduced in the middle of the 19th century by the Danish archaeologist C. J. Thornsen.

The most important investigations, the initial classification, and the dating of the remains of the Iron Age in Western Europe were carried out by the following scholars and scientists: the Austrian M. Hoernes, the Swedes O. Montelius and H. Äberg, the Germans O. Tishler and P. Reinecke, the Frenchman J. Déchelette, the Czech scholar P. Pič, and the Pole Y. Kostrzewski. In Eastern Europe important work was done by the Russian and Soviet scholars and scientists V. A. Gorodtsov, A. A. Spitsyn, lu. V. Got’e, P. N. Tret’iakov, A. P. Smirnov, Kh. A. Moora, M. I. Artamonov, and B. N. Grakov; in Siberia, by S. A. Teploukhov, S. V. Kiselev, and S. I. Rudenko; in the Caucasus, by B. A. Kuftin, A. A. lessen, B. B. Piotrovskii, and E. I. Krupnov; and in Middle Asia, by S. P. Tolstov, A. N. Bernshtam, and A. I. Terenozhkin.

The period of the initial spread of ironworking varies from place to place. However, only the cultures of those primitive tribes living outside the ancient slave-owning civilizations that emerged in the Aeneolithic period and Bronze Age (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, India, China) are usually included in the Iron Age. The Iron Age was very short in comparison with the preceding archaeological periods—the Stone and Bronze ages. Chronologically its boundaries are from the ninth to the seventh century B.C., when many primitive tribes of Europe and Asia began to develop iron metallurgy, to the time of the emergence in these tribes of a class society and states. Certain contemporary non-Soviet scientists and scholars who consider that primitive history ends with the appearance of written sources date the end of the Iron Age in Western Europe to the first century B.C., when Roman written sources appeared containing information about Western European tribes. Insofar as iron, out of whose alloys various tools are made, has remained the most important metal to this day, the term “early Iron Age” is also used in the archaeological periodization of primitive history.

Within Western Europe the term “early Iron Age” pertains only to the beginning of this period (the so-called Hallstatt culture). Man first became acquainted with meteoric iron. Individual articles made of iron (mostly ornamental) have been found in Egypt dating trom the first half of the third millennium B.C., as well as in Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. The method of extracting the metal from the ore was discovered in the second millennium B.C. According to one of the more probable suppositions, the blooming method was first used by tribes subordinate to the Hittites living in the mountains of Armenia (Anti-Taurus) in the 15th century B.C. How-ever, iron remained a fairly rare and valuable metal for a long time. Only after the llth century B.C. did the extensive manufacture of iron working tools and weapons begin in Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Transcaucasia, and India. At this time iron also became known in southern Europe. In the 11th or tenth century B.C. individual iron articles spread to the area north of the Alps; they also began appearing in the southern steppe regions of the European part of the USSR. Iron tools, however, became predominant in these regions only in the eighth-seventh century B.C. In the eighth century B.C. iron articles became widespread in Mesopotamia, Iran, and, somewhat later, in Middle Asia. The first record of iron in China dates from the eighth century B.C. but the metal became widespread only in the fifth century B.C. In Indochina and Indonesia iron had become predominant by the beginning of the Common Era. Apparently, iron metallurgy has been known since ancient times to various tribes in Africa. Undoubtedly iron was already used in Nubia, the Sudan, and Libya in the sixth century B.C. By the second century B.C. the Iron Age had reached the central regions of Africa. Certain African tribes proceeded directly from the Stone Age to the Iron Age, bypassing the Bronze Age. In America, Australia, and on most of the Pacific islands, iron, except meteoric iron, remained unknown until the 16th–17th century A.D. with the arrival of Europeans in these parts.

In contrast to the comparative rarity of natural tin and copper deposits, iron ore (limonite), although of low quality, is found almost everywhere. However, the extraction of the iron from the ore is more difficult than in the case of copper. The smelting of iron was impossible for the ancient metallurgists. The iron was obtained in a dough-like state through blooming, a process consisting in reducing the iron ore at temperatures of 900°–1350°C in special furnaces with air being constantly blown with bellows through a nozzle. A bloom (lump) of sponge iron weighing from 1 to 5 kg would form on the bottom of the furnace. This bloom would have to be hammered to weld the particles of metal and remove the slag. The resultant iron was a very soft metal, and tools and weapons made from the pure iron had very poor mechanical properties. Only with the discovery in the ninth-seventh century B.C. of a method of preparing steel from iron and of its thermal processing did the new material achieve widespread use. The improved mechanical properties of iron and steel as well as the general accessibility of the iron ore and its cheapness ensured iron’s triumph over bronze and stone; the latter had remained an important material for the manufacture of tools during the Bronze Age. This displacement was not a sudden process. In Europe only in the second half of the first millennium B.C. did iron and steel begin to play a significant role as a material for the manufacture of tools and weapons. The technical revolution brought about by the spread of iron and steel increased mankind’s power over nature: it afforded the possibility of clearing large tracts of forest land for planting, expanding and perfecting irrigation and land melioration structures, and improving cultivation in general. The development of handicraft production accelerated, particularly of weapons and forged articles. The working of wood was perfected for the construction of dwellings and transportation vehicles (ships, chariots) and various domestic articles. The artisans, from the shoemakers and stone-masons to the miners, now had better tools at their disposal. By the beginning of the Common Era the principal types of artisan and farming hand tools (except screws and scissors) that were used in the Middle Ages and, to some extent, in modern times were already in use. Road construction was made easier, military equipment was perfected, commodity exchange expanded, and metal coins were used as currency.

The development of production forces, which was linked to the spread of iron, gradually led to the transformation of all social life. As a result of the increased productivity of labor, surplus products increased, which served as an economic precondition for the emergence of the exploitation of man by man and the decline of the tribal primitive communal system. One of the sources of the accumulation of wealth and the growth of property inequality was the expansion of commodity exchange. The possibility of enrichment through exploitation gave rise to wars for plunder and slaves. At the beginning of the Iron Age the construction of fortifications became common. During this period, the tribes of Europe and Asia were experiencing the stage of decline of the primitive communal system and were on the verge of developing a class society and states. The conversion of some of the means of production into the private property of a ruling minority, the emergence of slavery, the increased stratification of society, and the separation of a tribal nobility from the masses of the population were already features that were typical of early class societies. Among many tribal societies the structures of this transitional period acquired the political form of the military democracy.

The USSR. On the territory of the modern USSR iron metallurgy first appeared at the end of the second millennium B.C. in Transcaucasia (Samtavro burial ground) and in the south of the European part of the USSR. In Racha (western Georgia) the use of iron dates from remote antiquity. The Mossinoi and Khalibs (Khaldians), the neighbors of the Colchians, were reputed to be excellent metallurgists. However, on the territory of the USSR the spread of iron metallurgy occurred largely during the first millennium B.C. A number of late Bronze Age archaeological cultures are known in Transcaucasia whose height of development was in the early Iron Age: the central Transcaucasian culture with local areas in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan; the Kyzyl-Vank culture; the Colchian culture; and the Urartu culture. In the northern Caucasus, the Koban culture, the Kaiakent-Khorochoi culture, and the Kuban’ culture also date from this period. Tribes of Scythians, who created the most developed early Iron Age culture on the territory of the USSR, inhabited the steppes of the northern coastal areas of the Black Sea from the seventh century B.C. to the first centuries of the Common Era. Iron articles have been found in abundance in the settlements and barrows of the Scythian era.

Traces of metallurgical production have been found during the excavation of a number of Scythian sites of fortified towns. The largest number of remains of the iron and black-smith industries were found at the Kamenka site (fifth-third century B.C.) near Nikopol’, which apparently was the center of the specialized metallurgical region of ancient Scythia. Iron tools aided the extensive development of all handicraft production and the spread of plow farming among the local tribes in the Scythian period. The period occurring after the Scythian in the steppes of Prichernomor’e is represented by the Sarmatian culture, which prevailed from the second century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. In the preceding period (from the seventh century B.C.) the Sarmatians inhabited the region between the Don River and the Urals. In the first centuries of the Common Era one of the Sarmatian tribes, the Alani, began to play an important historical role, and gradually the name Sarmatian was replaced by the name Alani. From that time, when the Sarmatian tribes dominated northern Prichernomor’e, date the “burial field” cultures—the Zarubintsy, the Cherniakhov, and others—which became widespread in the western regions of northern Prichernomor’e and in the Upper and Middle Dnieper and Dnestr regions. These cultures belonged to the farming tribes, which knew the metallurgy of iron and among which, in the opinion of some scholars, were the predecessors of the Slavs. Living in the central and northern forest regions of the European part of the USSR, these tribes were acquainted with iron metallurgy since the sixth or fifth century B.C. In the eighth-third century B.C. , the Anan’ino culture predominated in the Kama Region. In this culture bronze and iron tools coexisted, with iron dominating at the end of the culture’s existence. The Anan’ino culture on the Kama River was replaced by the P’ianyi Bor culture (end of the first millennium A.D.).

In the Upper Volga Region and in the area between the Volga and Oka rivers, there are sites of fortified towns of the D’iakovo culture (middle of the first millennium B.C. to the middle of the first millennium A.D.) dating from the Iron Age, and in the region south of the middle reaches of the Oka, west of the Volga, and in the basin of the Tsna and Moksha rivers are sites of the Gorodetsk culture (seventh century B.C. to the fifth century A.D.), which belonged to the ancient Finno-Ugric tribes. There are many sites of fortified towns in the Upper Dnieper Region dating from the sixth century B.C. to the seventh century A.D. belonging to the ancient eastern Baltic tribes, which were later absorbed by the Slavs. The sites of fortified towns of these tribes are known in the southeastern Baltic Region, where along with the sites the remains of the cultures of the ancestors of the ancient Estonian (Chud’) tribes have been found.

In Southern Siberia and in the Altai the bronze industry developed intensively as a result of the abundance of tin and copper and successfully competed with iron for a long time. Although iron articles, apparently, had already appeared in the early Maiemiric period (Altai, seventh century B.C.), iron became widespread only in the middle of the first millennium B.C. (Tagar culture on the Yenisei, the Pazyryk barrows in the Altai). There are Iron Age cultures in other areas of Siberia and the Far East as well. In Middle Asia and Kazakhstan tools and weapons were also made out of bronze until the eighth-seventh century B.C. The appearance of articles made out of iron in the farming areas as well as in the steppes, where stock raising prevailed, dates from the seventh or sixth century B.C. In the first millennium B.C. and the first half of the first millennium A.D. the steppes of Middle Asia and Kazakhstan were settled by many Sako-Usun’ tribes in whose culture iron was widely used beginning in the middle of the first millennium B.C. In the farming areas the appearance of iron coincides with the emergence of the first slave-owning states (Bactria, Sogdiana, and Khorezm).

Western Europe. The Iron Age in Western Europe is usually divided into two periods—the Hallstatt (900–400 B.C.), which is also called the early, or first, Iron Age, and the La Tene (400 B.C. to the beginning of the Common Era), which is also called the late, or second, Iron Age. The Hallstatt culture was spread over the territories of modern Austria, Yugoslavia, northern Italy, and part of Czechoslovakia, where it was created by the ancient Illyrians, as well as in the Federal Republic of Germany and the Rhine departments of France, where the Celtic tribes lived. From this period date the cultures of the Thracian tribes in the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula, the Etruscans, the Ligurians, the Italic tribes, and other tribes on the Italian Peninsula; the early Iron Age cultures on the Iberian Peninsula (the Iberians, Turdetani, Lusitanians); and the late Lužica culture in the Oder and Vistula river basins. All these cultures were close to the Hallstatt culture. The coexistence of bronze and iron tools and weapons is typical of the early Hallstatt period, with iron tools gradually replacing bronze. Economically this epoch was characterized by the growth of farming; socially it was characterized by the decline of tribal relations. In the north of the modern Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic and in Scandinavia, western France, and England, the Bronze Age still prevailed at this time. Beginning in the fifth century B.C. the La Tène culture spread, characterized by the true flowering of ironworking. The culture existed until the Roman conquest of Gaul (first century B.C.). The La Tene culture was widespread in regions to the west of the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean, along the Middle Danube, and to the north. It is associated with Celtic tribes, which had large fortified towns that were the centers of these tribes and the places of concentration of various handicraft production. In this period the Celts gradually developed a class slave-owning society. At this time bronze tools were seldom used, but iron came into common use during the period of the Roman conquests. At the beginning of the Common Era the so-called provincial Roman culture replaced the La Tène culture in the Roman-conquered territories. In northern Europe iron became common some 300 years later than in the south. The culture of the Germanic tribes dates from the late Iron Age. These tribes inhabited the region between the North Sea and the Rhine, Danube, and Elbe rivers as well as the southern Scandinavian Peninsula; the archaeological cultures of the predecessors of the Slavs also date from the late Iron Age. In the northern countries, iron began to predominate at the beginning of the Common Era.


Engels, F. “Proiskhozhdenie sem’i, chastnoi sobstvennosti i gosudarstva.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21.
Avdusin, D. A. Arkheologiia SSSR. Moscow, 1967.
Artsikhovskii, A. V. Vvedenie v arkheologiiu, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1947.
Vsemirnaia istoriia, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1955–56.
Got’e, lu. V. Zheleznyi vek v Vostochnoi Evrope. Moscow-Leningrad, 1930.
Grakov, B. N. “Stareishie nakhodki zheliznykh veshchei v Evropeiskoi chasti territorii SSSR.” Sovetskaia arkheologiia, 1958, no. 4.
Zagorul’skii, E. M. Arkheologiia Belarussii. Minsk, 1965.
Istoriia SSSR s drevneishikh vremen do nashikh dnei, vol. 1. Moscow, 1966.
Kiselev, S. V. Drevniaia istoriia luzhnoi Sibiri [2nd ed.]. Moscow, 1951.
Clark, G. Doistoricheskaia Evropa. Ekonomicheskii ocherk. Moscow, 1953. (Translated from English.)
Krupnov, E. I. Drevnaia istoriia Severnogo Kavkaza. Moscow, 1960.
Mongait, A. L. Arkheologiia v SSSR. Moscow, 1955.
Niederle, L. Slavianskie drevnosti. Moscow, 1956. (Translated from Czech.)
Piotrovskii, B. B. Arkheologiia Zakavkaz’ia s drevneishikh vremen do 1 tys. do n. e. Leningrad, 1949.
Tolstov, S. P. Po drevnim dei’tam Oksa i laksarta. Moscow, 1962.
Shovkoplias, I. G. Arkheologichni doslidzhennia na Ukraini (1917–1957). Kiev, 1957.
Aitchison, L. A History of Metals, vols. 1–2. London, 1960.
Clark, G. World Prehistory. Cambridge, 1961.
Forbes, R. J. Studies in Ancient Technology, vol. 8. Leiden, 1964.
Johannsen, O. Geschichte des Eisens. Diisseldorf, 1953.
Laet, S. J. de. La Préhistoire de I’Europe. Paris-Brussels, 1967.
Moora, H. Die Eisenzeit in Lettland bis etwa 500 n. Chr., vols. 1–2. Tartu (Dorpat), 1929–38.
Piggott, S. Ancient Europe. Edinburgh, 1965.
Pleiner, R. Staré europské kováίstvί. Prague, 1962.
Tulecote, R. F. Metallurgy in Archeology. London, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Age

[′ī·ərn ¦āj]
Period characterized by production and widespread use of iron, starting approximately 1000 B.C.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Iron Age

the period following the Bronze Age characterized by the extremely rapid spread of iron tools and weapons, which began in the Middle East about 1100 bc
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005

Iron Age

In the history of computing, 1961-1971 - the formative era of commercial mainframe technology, when ferrite core memory dinosaurs ruled the earth. The Iron Age began, ironically enough, with the delivery of the first minicomputer (the PDP-1) and ended with the introduction of the first commercial microprocessor (the Intel 4004) in 1971.

See also Stone Age; compare elder days.
This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (
References in periodicals archive ?
We have been able to see exactly how they built it and it all dates back to the Iron Age of around 600-500BC."
"An Iron Age roundhouse around 13m in diameter -- one of the largest stone roundhouses we have seen - has been unearthed in one of the trenches closest to the eroding cliff edge.
Karen Fleming with a female druid from the Iron Age in a 3D wax reconstruction she recreated
"We will be aiming to recover more information" about what life was like for the Iron Age people who lived there."
Caption: IRON AGE--Here are some of the artifacts found at a burial site from the Iron Age in Qazvin province.
"Initial indications are that this is the remains of a souterrain of Iron Age date.
The findings at the Hili 2 archaeological dig provide an important insight into the daily lives of the UAE's Iron Age inhabitants, including their methods of cooking, house-building techniques, types of crops farmed, as well as evidence of communal activities.
Naomi Hu#382ovi#269ovaacute, a Canadian who has lived in Slovakia for 14 years, tells you why a trip to Smolenice at this time of year is a good idea.Did you know that this small town, along with its iconic castle, has a remarkable Iron Age settlement to visit?
Spear was the most widespread weapon in Iron Age Estonia as well as throughout the entire northern and north-eastern Europe.
The three settlement sites from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages were unearthed in Dhahirah's Ain Bani Saada area.
and the iron age at Ain Bani Sa'eda named (Qumaira 1); which is a