The Mature Iron Age
Treasures from the Roman Empire, the Amber Route and the Migration Period 200 BC – AD 500

Cultural influences from the Celtic and later the Roman world filtered through to Greater Poland and much of Europe from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD. Contact with the Celts and Romans led to significant cultural uniformity among the societies inhabiting these territories. Interaction with the Celts brought about major social change. Celtic societies were famed for their complex religious traditions and excellent metalworking skills and were responsible for introducing many new production techniques, some of them adopted from the Mediterranean world. By the 3rd century BC they had managed to infiltrate more than half of Europe, even reaching as far as southern Poland. At the beginning of the first millennium AD, with the frontiers of the Roman Empire clearly drawn on the Rhine and the Danube, political, military and trade contacts with the Romans became very important for the development of the Barbarian peoples living outside the Empire. Social change among Barbarian communities led to the formation of tribal aristocracies, with warriors playing an important role in society and power being inherited rather than elective as it had been previously. The Romans often made pacts with local Barbarian rulers, who, in turn, adopted certain Roman customs. This is demonstrated by the fact that costly sets of bronze and silver drinking vessels and gaming pieces appear in elite burials known as princely graves. Trade routes played an important part in disseminating Celtic and Roman culture. One of these vital communication tracts was the Amber Route – a term often used in general reference to all of the links between northern and southern Europe, from the Baltic coast to the Adriatic. The main route along which amber was traded ran from Aquileia, on the Adriatic coast, via first-rate Roman roads to the frontier towns and cities of the Empire, such as Carnuntum, Vindobona (modern-day Vienna) and Brigetio, passing further on through the central European territories of the Barbarian world towards the mouth of the Vistula.

Roman written sources tell us that much of Barbarian Europe was inhabited by Germanic tribes, who steadily migrated from the north to the more appealing territories of southern and western Europe. Together with the Romans they helped bring about the downfall of the Celts, and then pressed forward, threatening the frontiers of the Roman Empire (with renewed effort after AD 375 when the Huns invaded Europe), ultimately founding their own kingdom on the ruins of the Western Empire, which finally fell in AD 476. The political unrest prompted by the Migration period also affected Poland. Various Germanic peoples, including Goths, Gepids, Vandals and Burgundii, came and went in search of new territories in which to settle. “The Migration Period from AD 375 to c. 500” map shows the impressive distances covered by these tribes. The Vandals reached as far as North Africa, where they reigned for almost a century, conducting raids on the Mediterranean Sea and sacking Rome in AD 455. Major battle sites are marked on the map (the Battle of Adrianople (Hadrianopolis), AD 378 – the Visigoths defeat the Romans; the Battle of Chalons (Catalaunian Fields), AD 451 – the Romans triumph over the Huns; the Battle on the River Nedao, AD 454 or 455 – the Huns are finally routed by the Gepids and their allies and are forced to retreat east).

During this period, Greater Poland was an integral part of Barbarian Europe. This is demonstrated by the presence of imports which were mainly produced by Celtic and provincial Roman societies. Evidence for the existence of shared religious beliefs comes from the widespread custom of making ritual offerings (often of dogs) and raising temples with beaten clay floors, decorated with square and circle designs. Increasing social stratification is reflected in the diversity of burial assemblages and in the hoarding of valuable goods and materials. During this period southern Greater Poland was still culturally comparable to southern and central Poland, where there was a strong Celtic influence. This influence was manifest in the prevalent practice of ritually destroying weapons deposited in warriors’ graves and in the rapid adoption of agricultural innovations, such as ox-drawn ploughs with an iron-sheathed blade and coulter, reaping hooks for cutting grass and rotary querns for milling grain. Craft and industry also flourished in this region, which is evidenced by the emergence of iron smelting and salt production sites, amber working centres and pottery workshops producing wheel-thrown ceramics. In contrast, northern Greater Poland had cultural ties with Pomerania, having been colonised for some time by Gothic tribes. Inhumation burials rather than cremations were popular among these societies. They raised burial mounds and stone circles (but avoided the deposition of weapons in graves) and became highly skilled in gold- and bronze-working. It was only after the turbulent times of the Migration period, which heralded the end of antiquity, that Greater Poland became populated by Slavic societies. This marked the dawn of a new stage in this region’s history – the Middle Ages.