History Files

European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Lusatian Culture / Lausitz Culture (Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age) (Central Europe)
c.1300 - 500 BC

The later Bronze Age and Iron Age cultures across Northern Europe contained several distinct cultural periods and links with Early Poland. It was this territory in northern and Central Europe which would eventually grow into the Poland which is known by today's world, but population movements in the first few centuries BC and AD meant some rapid shifts in cultural dominance.

The Late Bronze Age Lusatian culture incorporated elements of the second millennium Trzciniec culture, while also serving as a replacement for the eastern edges of Unetice culture. It covered all of modern Poland with extensions into modern Czechia and Slovakia, north-western Ukraine, and areas of central-eastern Germany and eastern Pomerania. The border with what would later be East Prussia marked its farthest eastwards extent where it abutted the culture of the Balts.

In broad terms, the Lusatian (sometimes shown as Lausatian) was an eastwards extension of the Urnfield culture, part of the Central European great cultural realm which was proposed by Marija Gimbutas, and it shared roughly the same time span of existence. While the Urnfield developed into the Hallstatt of the early Celts, the Lusatian evolved directly into the subsequent Pomeranian culture, perhaps more directly influenced by the pervasive Scythian cultural intrusions of the eighth to sixth centuries BC.

These intrusions brought Ponto-Caucasian oriental influences into direct contact with the previous Chernogorovka and Novocherkassk cultural elements of the Cimmerians, and drove them into Romania, Hungary, and Moravia as they expanded their territory.

MapThe ethnic composition of the Lusatian people is questionable, but they would have pre-dated the arrival of Germanics into the region (view the map via the link, right, to see the presumed disposition of Germanic groups in relation to the people of the Lusatian).

The historical region from which the culture gets its name is Lusatia, situated roughly in the centre of the earlier cultural region. Today it sits astride the border between Germany and Poland, split down the middle in 1945 by the Soviet conquerors of East Germany. The name derives from a Slavic word to describe swampy land which was coined by the Sorbs, a Slavic minority in eastern Germany.

Egtved girl of the Bronze Age

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Bronze Age in Europe, J M Coles & A F Harding (London 1979), and from External Link: The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it).)

c.900 BC

For the earlier phase of the Lusatian, the dead are largely cremated and their remains placed in urns for burial. Now begins a phase of inhumation burials, with this being especially notable in Upper Silesia, which may reflect influence from the powerful Urnfield culture. Cremation burials continue in other Lusatian areas.

c.800 - 600 BC

This is the period of Scythian expansion from the Black Sea area into Central Europe. These steppe horsemen who appear in Romania, Hungary, and Moravia must be proto-Scythians, the successors of the south Russian Srubna culture of the Bronze Age who had constantly been pushing towards the west.

Lusatian cremation urns
Cremation urns of the Kashubian Group, part of the Lusatian culture, which was the predominant method of disposing of the dead during the entire culture period

They introduce eastern types of horse gear, oriental animal art, timber graves, and inhumation rites. Before entering Central Europe, they conquer the Cimmerians on the northern shores of the Black Sea and in the northern Caucasus, driving them out and dominating the northern Black Sea region.

There they acquire much of the Caucasian and Cimmerian cultural legacy and mix them with their own Ponto-Caucasian cultural elements. These oriental influences appreciably change the material culture of Central Europe.

The Baltic and Germanic cultures in Northern Europe remain untouched by the Scythian incursions, but the new cultural elements reached them through continuous commercial relations with Central Europe.

c.600 - 500 BC

The Lusatian culture still persists in the first centuries of the Early Iron Age. The amber trade is not cut off and the Lusatians continue to be mediators between the Baltic and Germanic amber gatherers and the Hallstatt culture in the eastern Alpine area. Beginning in the seventh century BC, the Etruscans in Italy also become part of the customer end of this network.

Amber beads
The amber trade of which the Balts were the masters meant that amber beads would end up in all sorts of places after travelling through the trade network - these beads ended up in the Near East

Novelties such as bronze horse-gear comprising bridle-bits, cheek-pieces and ornamental plates, as well as the initial iron objects, are transmitted into the Baltic area by the Lusatians. However, the continuous Scythian raids eventually sap the energy out of the Lusatian culture, and finally it buckles.

c.500 BC

Having been worn down to the point of collapse by Scythian raiding, Central Europe's Lusatian culture is now superseded in the north by the Pomeranian culture. This quickly expands southwards to absorb the territory of the Wysoko and Milograd cultures.

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