Iron production began in many parts of Europe during the late Bronze Age. Although initially comparatively rare, production steadily increased in volume and quality, and major centres developed in southern France, Bavaria, Austria, and southern Poland; the discovery of standardized ingots shows the distribution of smelted iron. Blacksmithing techniques improved rapidly, and the processes of cold working, quenching, and annealing were mastered. The transition from bronze to iron for tools and weapons varied regionally, and the role of iron varied from a utilitarian material for tools to an exotic inlay for decoration. By the late Iron Age a full range of tools had been developed, which changed little for many centuries. These harder, sharper, and more durable tools had a major impact on the productive capacity of other industries, including agriculture, but especially woodworking and carpentry. The use of iron nails transformed domestic architecture, the construction of fortifications, and shipbuilding.
The ascendancy of iron as the main metal in Iron Age Europe was accompanied by important innovations in the working and manufacture of many other raw materials, both inorganic and organic, from salt to stone. In many areas, traditional small-scale processing for domestic use gave way to mass production for a wider market. This was made possible by the mastery of high-temperature processes and the introduction of new techniques, among them the fast potter’s wheel, double-chambered kilns for pottery firing, and soldering. Cooperation between craftworkers specializing in different trades was often the basis for new products and developments. At the same time, intensification of contacts and trade with the Mediterranean world introduced not only new materials, such as glass and enamel, but also standardized size and weight systems, and coinage. Many new types of artefact are found for the first time, including tools, and musical and medical instruments.
This chapter challenges prevailing paradigms which have structured discussion of trade and exchange in Iron Age Europe around the dichotomies of gifts vs commodities, or socially generated exchanges in the earlier Iron Age vs production for profit in the later Iron Age. It begins by reviewing the debate on markets and gifts, and what is still useful, and goes on to suggest new directions for research, focusing more on what brought people together as much as the items exchanged. Early Iron Age links between the Mediterranean and Europe north of the Alps are reconsidered in the light of recent work, with a focus on the Heuneburg and Massalia. For the later period, the role of oppida is considered; evidence of production for profit is absent from many areas, and the long-distance exchanges evident at oppida were part of broader European links connected to changes in power and identity.