History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Pomeranian Culture / Pomeralian Face-Urn Culture (Iron Age) (Poland)
c.650 - 200 BC
Incorporating the Bell Grave Culture & Lampshade Grave Culture

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 Iron Age Pomeranian culture evolved out of the preceding Lusatian culture around the middle of the seventh century BC. It occupied much the same territory as the Lusatian, but without the extension into eastern Germany and with a reach which eventually went farther southwards.

This culture is often linked to the Nordic Bronze Age, which appeared late in Scandinavia in comparison to the continental European Bronze Age. It has also been linked (by Shchukin amongst others) to the Bastarnae, but that theory has fallen out of favour more recently. The border with what would later be East Prussia marked its farthest eastwards extent, with it abutting the culture of the western Baltic tribes beyond that - although western Balts also played a part themselves in the Pomeralian Face-Urn culture.

As this alternative name suggests - Pomeralian Face-Urn - the culture's prominent feature was the creation of burial urns which had highly naturalistic and individual faces (the House Urn culture of central Germany was similar in some respects).

Initially only vaguely-marked faces, by the fifth century BC they attained a classical shape. These 'face urns' were often deposited in stone cists (small stone 'coffins' or ossuaries). They also had lids which were made in various forms and with various scenes being incised onto their bodywork, such as chariot races, hunting, or riders. Brooches of the Certosa type (which were native to northern Italy), and necklaces of multiple bronze rings are typical examples of their metalwork.

The aforementioned southwards extension of this culture saw the Pomeranian absorb territory which had previously been part of the Wysoko and Milograd cultures. This brought changes to the Pomeranian itself. The fashionable face urns gradually lost their human features and developed into much more simplified versions.

Only the depiction of a bead necklace around the neck and the sun symbol on the lid remained from the previously rich decoration with ornaments and symbolic scenes. In grave pits these simplified pear-shaped urns were covered with a large pot or sometimes with two or three pots stored one above the other. In view of this custom, some archaeologists have referred to the later Pomeranian as the Bell Grave culture or Lampshade Grave culture.

The Pomeranians cultivated cereal crops, with rye being added to these northern harvests for the first time. Imports from the south were generally lower, even though Greece and Italy both enjoyed blossoming cultures in this period. Warfare seems unlikely as an adequate reason for the drop in imports, as the region also now produced fewer hill forts than the preceding Lusatians had done.

Pomeranian culture was probably influenced by Germanic groups of southern Scandinavia, at least in part, while a theory based on recent DNA evidence suggests the emergence of a pre-Slavic/Germanic mix which culturally influenced the later Western Slavs. Possibly this mix can be linked to the eighth century AD figure of Dragovit, 'king of the Veleti' (Wends), a form of northern or eastern Celt. The Pomeranian Face-Urn culture was eventually superseded by the Oxhöft and Przeworsk cultures.

Vistula lagoon, Poland

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information 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.500 BC

Despite Scythian raids which leave tell-tale archaeological signs such as spent arrowheads, the Pomeranian culture gradually begins to spread southwards, entering regions which had formerly been part of the Lusatian culture.

This new culture also permeates former Wysoko and Milograd cultural regions to the south. In Masovia and Poland this mixture leads to the development of a group which produces bell-shaped burials, known as the Glockengräbergruppe.

Pomeranian jars
A Pomeranian culture or Pomeralian Face-Urn culture tomb chest which was constructed at a time of greater metallurgy skills but with weaker ceramic skills when compared to the preceding Lusatian culture

c.400 BC

From around this period onwards, various peoples pass through the region over the next eight hundred years, leaving their mark as they go. This starts with Celts of the La Tène who arrive in Bohemia and southern Poland - the northern limit of their expansion.

This expansion is led by the Boii tribe which makes Bohemia the easternmost part of its home for the next three centuries, but the same expansion also stops the Pomeralian Face-Urn culture from expanding any farther south.

Western and southern Poland have also been disrupted by Scythian raids, but these suddenly drop off around 400 BC, leaving the Face-Urn culture free to expand instead across the entire Vistula basin and to reach the upper Dniester in Ukraine, thereby bypassing the La Tène Celts. It has to be wondered just what influence this has on the Vistula Venedi who may already have been in position for up to two millennia.

By the time the Boii are being taken over by Germanic leaders in 8-6 BC, the Face-Urn has already faded. This may also be due in part to the appearance of fresh Germanic settlers on the southern Baltic coast around the same time, led by the Goths.

River Vistula
The mouth of the Vistula in the first century AD was an ideal route for settlement for groups coming south from Scandinavia, but also for groups migrating along the coast such as the speculated movement of Venedi Celts

The Baltic tribes remain mostly in the north-eastern corner of what is now Poland and especially in modern Kaliningrad, although they too are forced to retreat somewhat in the face of the Gothic settlement.

c.200 BC

Eventually Central Europe's Pomeranian / Face-Urn culture is replaced by the Oxhöft culture in northern Poland and the contemporary Przeworsk culture in southern and central areas.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.