I. Prehistoric Times > M. Later Old World Prehistory (3000 B.C.E. and Afterward) > 4. Europe after 3500 B.C.E.
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
4. Europe after 3500 B.C.E.
By 3500 B.C.E., Europe was peopled by small, egalitarian Stone Age farming communities. They had cleared vast acreages of land and lived in highly organized landscapes of small hamlets, homesteads, and farmlands. By this time, copper and gold metallurgy were well established in the Balkans; indeed, metallurgy may have developed independently in this region.  1
Initially, copper and gold were used as decorative metals, fashioned into luxury ornaments that were traded throughout Europe. The same trade networks carried distinctive bell-shaped beakers throughout much of western Europe. By 2000 B.C.E., European smiths had learned how to alloy copper and tin to make bronze. The result was tough-edged artifacts that could be used to fell trees and work with wood. The trade in these weapons, as well as control of ore outcrops, lay in the hands of local chiefs. For the first time, European society showed signs of social ranking. Surplus food supplies were channeled into erecting majestic religious monuments, of which Stonehenge in southern Britain is best known. Important religious ceremonies took place at such shrines, perhaps at the winter and summer solstices.  2
The Bronze Age, the period when bronze technology came into use throughout Europe, was a period of political instability and intense competition for land. Now warrior chiefs presided over warlike tribes, as plows and more consolidated forms of agriculture produced higher crop yields. Some of these European groups raided the eastern Mediterranean world in about 1200 B.C.E., destroying Mycenae in Greece and overthrowing the Hittite empire. These were formidable fighters, who used horse-drawn vehicles and devastating slashing swords, far more effective than the cutting weapons of earlier centuries.  3
After 1000 B.C.E., iron technology spread rapidly across Europe. Ironworking originated in the Mitanni area of Anatolia in the mid-second millennium B.C.E. Hittite monarchs guarded the secret for some time, for they were well aware of the strategic advantages of iron. But mercenaries in their armies took the metallurgy home with them, and the secret was out. Europeans embraced the new technology with enthusiasm. By this time, the most coherent political unit was a loose confederacy of tribes formed in time of war, or temporarily under a charismatic chieftain. This native form of government was to survive for centuries beyond Roman frontiers.  4
The Hallstatt people were expert bronze and iron workers who colonized former Urnfield areas of central and western Europe in the early first millennium B.C.E. Celtic speakers with a distinctive and highly sophisticated La Tene technology spread north from the Rhine and Danube Valleys into the Low Countries and Britain in the 4th century B.C.E. The Celts were formidable warriors, who built large hill forts and introduced the Romans to the short sword, sacking Rome itself in about 390 B.C.E.  5
The last three centuries C.E. saw the appearance of coinage and the founding of small states and fortified towns. These were the people defeated by Julius Caesar in Gaul in 56 B.C.E. And these were the warrior groups who eventually sacked Rome and sacked its provinces in later centuries.  6
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.