History Files

European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Oxhöft / Oksywie Culture & Przeworsk Culture (Iron Age) (Poland)
c.200 - 1 BC & c.200 BC - AD 200

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 Oxhöft culture appeared in the first half of the second century BC, succeeding the earlier Pomeranian culture in modern northern Poland, mainly around the mouths of the Oder and Vistula. The Polish version of the name is Oksywie, after the village in which the first archaeology for this period was discovered. New arrivals in the form of a migration seem to have created the culture, either that or participants in the migration brought elements of it with them to override the Pomeranian's influence.

These people were probably either early Scandinavians, or from the western-neighbouring Jastorf culture. The Rugii and Lemovii tribes are both included as contributors to this culture, so a degree of early northern Celtic (Belgic) and/or Germanic influence does seem likely (the two often seem to have been combined during this period in northern and upper Central Europe).

In central and southern Poland, the Przeworsk culture appeared at about the same time. It was in part a continuation of the Pomeranian culture of the north, suggesting some southwards migration during the creation of the Oxhöft, but it also bore significant influence from the La Tène and Jastorf cultures.

The Przeworsk is linked by some scholars to the migration and arrival of the Vandali (and others), although this alone may be too simplistic a way of interpreting the evidence. However, given the apparent Celto-Germanic influence on the Oxhöft, it certainly cannot be ruled out. East Germanic tribes at this time were indeed migrating into Central Europe and Eastern Europe from Scandinavia (or more probably via Cimbric peninsula).

This much is known because they were present there over the next few centuries. Precisely when they migrated and from precisely where is open to a good deal of debate, but a period during the second century BC seems most likely.

There is no archaeological evidence of a Scandinavian origin for the Przeworsk culture however, but there is some evidence of an undetermined connection between north-western Europe (Jutland, Holstein, and Mecklenburg) and central Poland, western Ukraine, and Moldova at the crossover from the 'Early Pre-Roman Iron Age' into the late period, during the second half of the third century BC.

The nature of this connection is still the subject of study by a good many scholars from many northern and Eastern European countries, but it would seem to offer tentative support for a migration of early Germanic tribes from Jutland and surrounding environs at a time at which they were known to be expanding southwards in all directions from Scandinavia.

Vistula lagoon, Poland

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Jes Martens and Edward Dawson, from Rome and the Barbarians in Central and Eastern Europe, 1st Century BC-1st Century AD: The End of the La Tene Period, M B Shchukin (BAR, 1989), 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.120 BC

Although no documentary evidence exists to provide proof, it is generally accepted that the Vandali originate in southern Sweden or the Jutland peninsula. Around this time they migrate across the Baltic Sea, arriving on the Pomeranian shores of what later becomes Poland.

They soon settle in Silesia, a process of migration and occupation which may well result in the creation of the Przeworsk culture. This cultural definition then follows them southwards in the third century AD when they migrate again.

Crossing the Rhine
The Vandali probably started in southern Scandinavia, before migrating into northern Poland, and then shifting southwards to form, or perhaps found, the Przeworsk culture

c.8 - 6 BC

Various Germanic tribes can be located within the area of the Przeworsk at this time, including the Lugii and Vandali, along with the Vistula Venedi. The Burgundians are also linked to the region prior to their later migration.

Arguments have existed for some time over whether the Przeworsk is the result of Germanic, proto-Slavic, or Celtic influence. The truth is probably that Germanics and Celts almost certainly do contribute, perhaps in the form of the seemingly hybrid-like Belgae, while it is far too early for proto-Slavics to be located this far west.

The Lugii especially are known to cross the boundary between Germanic and Celtic (although many other tribes also exhibit crossover characteristics), while little is known of the proto-Slavs except that they first emerge between the southernmost extremities of Poland and western Ukraine.

Belgic settlement in, or migration across, Northern Europe almost certainly involved some of them entering the Cimbric peninsula where they interacted with early German tribes there, influencing them and being influenced by them

c.1 BC - AD 200

The Central European Oxhöft culture fades at the dawn of the first millennium AD, presumably overwhelmed by the strength of the Przeworsk culture. Around Two hundred years later that too gives way, to the Willenberg culture.

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