La Tène Culture

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

La Tène Culture


the culture of the Celtic tribes, who inhabited the territory of modern France, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Austria, northern Italy, and the British Isles in the second half of the first millennium B.C. and the beginning of the Common Era. The culture is named after the site of La Tène in Switzerland.

The La Tène culture is the stage of the Iron Age that followed the Hallstatt culture. At this time, bronze implements are no longer encountered, and blacksmithing, jewelry-making, and other crafts began developing. The potter’s wheel appeared. The oppida, fortified tribal centers or sanctuaries located on hilltops, appeared during this period. Some of these oppida later became cities. The finds of iron plowshares, sickles, and scythes attest to improvements in farming techniques. The La Tène culture significantly influenced the cultures of a number of non-Celtic European tribes, including the Germanic and, possibly, Slavic tribes. The development of handicrafts and trade led to the dissemination of similar forms of material culture in Western Europe.

The classical scheme for the periodization of the La Tène culture, which was proposed by the German scholars O. Tishler and P. Reinecke and the French archaeologist J. Déchelette, is being reconsidered in the light of new discoveries. In the meantime, however, it remains the basis for the study of the La Tène culture.

According to Déchelette, the culture is divided into three stages. The first stage (500–300 B.C.) is characterized by short pointed swords without crossbars and with iron sheaths; a variety of torques made of metal; fibulae with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic decorations; modeled pottery, although some was made on the potter’s wheel and decorated with stamped designs; and flat-grave burials.

The second stage (300–100 B.C.) is characterized by long swords with rounded tips and curved crossbars, wooden shields with elliptical iron bosses, and glass bracelets. The first local coins appeared during this period. High-quality pottery was produced on the potter’s wheel; the black polished variety was exported to remote regions. Iron scissors became widespread. Burials in tumuli are encountered in some places. In addition to inhumation, the rite of cremation became prevalent in this period.

The third stage (first century B.C. to the first century A.D.) is characterized by very long swords with rounded tips and without crossbars; daggers with anthropomorphic hilts; iron spurs, locks, and keys; and bronze seals. In addition to the principal region of the culture’s dissemination, numerous treasures, burial grounds, and remains of settlements, cities, and fortifications of the La Tène culture are encountered in other parts of Western Europe. In the regions conquered by Rome, the La Tène culture gradually disappeared, giving way to the provincial Roman culture.

The La Tène art, for the most part ornamental and stylized, developed under the influence of the Etruscan and late Roman cultures. In the early stage, masks wreathed with the likeness of a two-leafed crown and the palmette and lotus ornamental motifs appeared. The ornaments of the mature La Tène style (fourth century B.C.) are characterized by the combined use of relief, engraving, and incrustation with coral and enamel on precious metals. Stylized representations of birds and animals appeared on the metal articles of the middle of the fourth century B.C. The plastic style emerged in the third century B.C.: cast bronze bracelets with sculptured decorations, hoops with massive protuberances, and plaques with imitation filigree. Two-horned bronze helmets are typical of the British Isles.


Filip, J. Kel’tskaia tsivilizatsiia i ee nasledie, Prague, 1961. (Translated from Czech.)
Filip, J. Keltové ve strědni Evropě. Prague, 1956.
Hubert, H. Les Celtes depuis l’époque de la Tène et la civilisation celtique [2nd ed.] Paris, 1950.
Déchelette, J. Manuel d’archéologie préhistorique celtique et gallo-romaine; vol. 4: Second âge du fer ou époque de la Tène, 2nd ed. Paris, 1927.


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