The presence of any kind of ‘formal’ religion in the European Iron Age is debatable but, as the period progressed, persistent patterns of religious expression began to emerge over wide areas of non-Mediterranean Europe. By the time of Roman intervention, religion began to become codified and personified, and the local deities named in written text and inscriptions, attest to a formalization of cults and gods. Some deities apparently had influence over vast regions, whereas others belonged to a single place. Other topics considered in the chapter are the role of the Druids in orchestrating religion, power, and justice in the late pre-Roman Iron Age, the reinvention of Druidism in Gaul in the Roman period, and the lack of a clear-cut interface when the monotheistic new faith of Christianity was added to the melting pot of established cults in the fourth century AD.
This chapter examines the disparate scales of ritual deposition in Iron Age Europe, from the individual/household to the wider region. It explores commonalities underlying different practices, including the pervasive interest in human remains, the deployment of ritualized violence, the formalization of religious practice, and the roles of natural, domestic, and monumental spaces. The Iron Age is notable for the ritualization of domestic life, with certain objects, including human body parts, deposited in houses. Watery places provided another focus; bodies showing heavily ritualized treatments have been found in bogs from Scandinavia to Ireland. From the middle La Tène period, more formal cult centres appear, some as foci for deposition on an enormous scale. Elsewhere, as in Ireland, ritual activity focused on ‘ancestral’ landscapes. Motivations behind acts of deposition are difficult to ascertain, but the material residues suggest a widespread concern with sacrifice as a means of securing benefits for the community.
Study of orientation in Bronze Age Cretan buildings has revealed long-overlooked sunrise alignments at the Palace of Knossos; while the recording of dawn alignments at the Mesara-type tholos tombs has challenged previous ideas about religious belief, suggesting a new, somatic agenda for discourse about ritual practices at the tombs. This chapter highlights a long-standing Aegean tradition from the Early Iron Age until late antiquity in which the sun was perceived as an active agent facilitating processes of prophecy and communication with the dead. Taking issue with disembodied visions of knowledge and presentist templates of religion centred on worship of abstract deities, it revisits material evidence from the Mesara-type tombs, and considers whether it is possible to trace in the prehistoric era early formulations of this tradition linking sunlight with divination and the dead.