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River Thames spearhead

  • The warrior's grave

    The warrior's grave

  • 2. Cart or chariot burial

    2. Cart or chariot burial


Decorated bronze mirror

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War and art in Iron Age Britain

War and art in Iron Age Britain

Iron Age Britain has often been considered a particularly warlike period because of the many hillforts and weapons. Wars and raids certainly did take place, but how much more warlike this time was than the Middle Ages or the Bronze Age is difficult to establish.

The finest examples of British La Tène or Early Celtic art are often weapons, such as the Kirkburn sword or Battersea shield. The splendour and expense of these weapons, and the metal parts of the chariots used by their owners, show the importance attached to being a warrior in the Iron Age.

Many warriors might have been aristocrats, chiefs or kings. The few outstanding objects, such as the Great Torc from Snettisham, were probably signs of their owners' great rank and power. But not every Iron Age society was so hierarchical. In many, the leading members of most families may have had the status of a warrior and owned fine swords.

La Tène is a style of decoration using abstract curving patterns, which spread rapidly from western Europe from around 450 BC. In Britain and Ireland, local versions of the style were developed by skilled craftspeople. Few objects used in daily life were ever decorated with these designs. Instead it was reserved for metal objects such as torcs, sword scabbards or mirrors. Today it is difficult to imagine the visual impact that these shining decorated objects would have had.

Other views: 1. Warrior's grave at Kirkburn, East Yorks.
2. A cart or chariot burial at Kirkburn, East Yorks.

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Word into Art, £16.99

Word into Art, £16.99