Switzerland in the Iron Age – What we know so far?

photo of lake during daytime
Photo by H. Emre on Pexels.com

Switzerland is a gorgeous hilly European country, home to various lakes, villages, and the high mountains of the Alps. Its towns contain medieval quarters, with landmarks like Lucerne’s wooden chapel bridge and Bern’s Zytglogge clock tower. The nation is also renowned for its hiking trails and ski resorts. International finance and banking are chief industries, and Swiss chocolate and watches are world-renowned.

However, today, we will explore a different aspect of Switzerland.

The History of Switzerland in the Iron Age

Paleolithic Times

A hand-ax fashioned by Homo erectus has been discovered in Pratteln, which has been dated to 280-300,000 years ago.

Archeological evidence implies that hunter-gatherers were settled in the lowlands north of the high peaks of the Alps in the Middle Paleolithic era 150,000 years ago. By the Neolithic era, the region was densely populated. Remains of Bronze Age pile homes from as early as 3800 BCE have been discovered in the shallow regions of many lakes. Around 1500 BCE, Celtic tribes settled in the area. The Raetians lived in the eastern areas, while the Helvetii controlled the west.

Neolithic to Bronze Era

The Neolithic reaches the Swiss region before 7,000 years ago (6th millennium BCE), governed by the Linear Pottery culture. The region was densely populated, as is attested to by the many archeological discoveries from that era. Remains of pile dwellings have been discovered in the shallow areas of different lakes. Archeologists found artifacts dating to the 5th millennium BC at the Schnidejoch in 2005 CE.

In the 3rd millennium BCE, Switzerland lay on the western outskirts of the Corded Ware horizon, beginning the early Bronze Age (the renowned Beaker culture) in step with Central Europe in the late centuries of the 3rd millennium BCE.

The first Indo-European settlement likely records to the 2nd millennium BCE, at the latest in the Urnfield culture from 1300 BCE. The pre-Indo-European population of the Alpine area is exemplified by Ötzi the Iceman, an individual of the 4th millennium BCE found in the west Austrian Alps.

Iron Age

By the last centuries of the BCE era, the Swiss plateau and Ticino were extensively settled by Continental Celtic speaking tribes (also known as Gauls): the Vindelici and Helvetii occupied the eastern and western region of the Swiss plateau, respectively, and the Lugano region by the Lepontii. The non-Celtic Raetians inhabited the interior Alpine valleys of eastern Switzerland (Grisons).

The population of La Tène culture burials in Switzerland shows that the Swiss plateau between Winterthur and Lausanne was densely populated. Settlement centers lived in the Aare valley between Bern and Thun and between the Reuss and Lake Zurich. The Valais and the areas around Lugano and Bellinzona also appear to have been well-populated; however, those lay outside the Helvetian edges.

Almost all the major Celtic oppida were constructed in the vicinity of the larger rivers of the Swiss plateau. About 12 oppida are known in Switzerland, not all of which were occupied simultaneously. For most of them, no modern name has survived; in cases where a pre-Roman name has been recorded, it is given in brackets. The largest was the one in Berne-Engehalbinsel (presumably Brenodurum, the name recorded on the Berne zinc tablet, on the Aare, and the one in Altenburg-Rheinau on the Rhine. Of intermediate size were those of Bois de Châtel, Avenches (completely abandoned with the Aventicum foundation as the capital of the Roman region), the Oppidum Zürich-Lindenhof at the Zürichsee–Limmat–Sihl triangled Lindenhof hill, Jensberg (near vicus Petinesca, Mont Vully, all within a day’s march from the one in Berne, and the Oppidum Uetliberg, overlooking the Zürichseee and Sihl lake shore. Smaller oppida were at Lausanne (Lousonna), Genève (Genava), on the banks of Lake Geneva, at Sermuz on the upper end of Lake Neuchatel, at Eppenberg and Windisch (Vindonissa) along the lower Aar, and Mont Terri and Mont Chaibeuf in the Jura mountains, the territory of the Rauraci.

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