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THE RISE AND SPREAD OF THE IRON-AGE.
THE gloom of the prehistoric period in Europe begins now towards the close of the Bronze-Age in the lands on the Mediterranean, and especially in Greece, to vanish before the dawning light of history. About eight or nine centuries before the birth of Christ the poems of Homer give us a picture of the transition. from the Age of Bronze to that of Iron. Other old classical writings have also preserved memories of the early use of iron in the South, as well as of the antecedent general use of bronze, and the still older employment of stone for implements and weapons. Gradually, as the higher civilisation of the Iron-Age and the knowledge of writing spread from Greece and Italy over the Alps northwards, must the darkness of prehistoric times there too though slowly and only step by step have yielded before the dawn of a day more and more clearly illumined by the light of history.
"The written records in the civilised lands of the South furnish us therefore, though only mediately, with an important contribution to the better understanding of the contemporary antiquities and memorials left us of the prehistoric times which long continued to prevail in the North, and increase in value the nearer we draw to the close of the period. It must however appear in the highest degree remarkable that the Ironculture, which had quickly attained a rich development in the classic countries of the Mediterranean, and which had already eight or nine hundred years before the birth of Christ laid the foundations there of a new historical period, should have required well nigh a thousand years to penetrate the northern coastlands. of the Baltic, and nearly two thousand, that is till the ninth or tenth century A.D., before it could put an end to the prehistoric conditions in the Scandinavian. North, or in general bring these hitherto almost unknown regions within the pale of the world's history. In spite of the lively amber trade which continued to flow from the North, in spite of the many communications whereby the inhabitants of the North both on expeditions of peace and war must have come into contact with peoples far and near, foreign writers give us such scant and incomplete accounts of the high North far into the period just mentioned, ie., till the ninth century A.D., that it is impossible either from historical accounts or otherwise to draw a living picture of the conditions of civilisation in the North. Nor are there any native writings of contemporaneous origin to help us. The surprise we feel at so great and persistent a difference between the civilisation of south and north
Europe, which must have been yet greater during the previous ages, will however vanish, when we consider the perpetually hostile relations in which the conquering classic peoples stood for centuries towards the so-called "barbarian" tribes to the North, torn as they were by internal wars. Our surprise is much lessened, when we observe that there was almost as long or at all events a very considerable lapse of time between the introduction of the Iron-culture into south Europe itself and into the neighbouring regions of north Africa and Asia, comparatively near as they were.
We have seen that the more primitive movements of culture in the Ages of Stone and Bronze did not originate in Europe. Just as little was this the case with the Iron-culture and the commencement of its higher progress. True we cannot now settle with certainty how far back in time the first knowledge and use of iron recedes in Greece and Italy. But even should the use of iron be shown to have existed in these countries for more than a thousand years B.C.,-that is more than three thousand years ago, the fact remains just as unshaken, that the objects of iron which are most like the objects of bronze, and which therefore lie nearest to a Bronze-culture, are derived from the interior of India, and that the antiquity of iron is beyond all comparison greater in Egypt Assyria Judea and in other regions of Asia than in Europe. Inscriptions antiquities and mighty monuments prove that iron more than four thousand years ago, that is more than two thousand before the birth of Christ, was generally used in Egypt. Hence it afterwards— naturally at an early date-spread south and west to
the interior of Africa. Here the population, otherwise on the whole cut off by such strong barriers, appears in consequence to have passed directly from the StoneAge to that of Iron without any intervening Age of Bronze. At least simultaneously with its use in Egypt iron made its appearance in considerable quantities further to the north and east in Asia-in Assyria and Palestine, while from quite immemorial times it was known and used in Persia India and China. Unfortunately the chronology is too uncertain for us to fix its date. But the discoveries just mentioned of exceedingly ancient Indian objects of iron in BronzeAge forms show that India probably continued to be the real centre from which the knowledge and use of iron originally radiated in various directions. Crossing the old Culture-realms in Persia Assyria Palestine and Egypt it was at last brought by long-beaten tracks westwards to the extreme south of Europe. Undoubtedly it first reached both Greece and the regions near the mouth of the Danube through Egypt and Asia Minor. Even long after iron had come into general use in Italy the Romans continued to obtain a great part of their best iron by extensive commerce with the Orient, nay, even with India and the still more distant China. And in general the classical culture in Greece and Italy was developed on the foundation of the far older oriental culture. As a result of the importance everywhere justly attributed to iron the writings of antiquity contain many myths of its first discovery. Usually however it was supposed to have been found, after great conflagrations in forests had smelted the ore in the ground into lumps fit for the hammer and forge. Of
special interest are the accounts we possess to the effect that the Romans drew their best iron from Spain as well as from the East and from the Danube-lands or "Noricum," the swords of which in the time of Cæsar Augustus were so famous in Rome. The rich metal-producing regions in central Europe had thus early a remarkably developed iron industry, surpassing even that of Rome to some extent. As in the BronzeAge, it seems therefore that they originally received the new metal by other routes than Greece and Italy, though also from the Orient, and independently improved on the working of it. The Danube, so important and in fact the chief artery connecting central Europe with the Orient, continued doubtless to pour fresh blood and life into the populations of the surrounding valleys; while gradually more southern and richer streams of culture more directly imparted to Greece and Italy a share in the produce of the Egyptian and Assyrian culture.
Yet more strongly than in the previous Age of Bronze must the originally distinct currents in south and central Europe have come into contact with one another in the Age of Iron. As early as the transition from the Bronze-Age to that of Iron in central Europe (at least four to five centuries before Christ) we here find by the side of native productions numerous traces of connexions with and influences from the ancient pre-classic culture of Iron in the more southern countries. On investigation however it appears that these connexions were not at first maintained so much with Greece, where indeed the higher classic culture first arose, as with central and north Italy, where the early