La Tène versus Jastorf Cultures, and their Role in the Boundary of the Roman Empire
Map from “The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians”; apologies for the lack of an online version! This is the best map which shows both La Tène and Jastorf zones.
The distinction between the La Tène and Jastorf material cultures is an important tool to have in visualizing the divide between Celtic and Germanic peoples in the Iron Age, as well as how the European border of the Roman Empire landed. Uncovered elements of the La Tène zone and the Jastorf zone reflect distinctive features of either Celtic or Germanic society, respectively. Keep in mind, however, that the classification of these two are from general archaeological and historical trends, and therefore won’t be useful in understanding local differences within each zone. Frequency of trends discovered in each zone will inevitably vary (or entirely disappear) based on location. It’s also to be expected in areas of contact between the two zones, the line between La Tène and Jastorf elements will be blurrier; thus, Germanic settlements could reflect
La Tène elements, and vice versa.
As a rule of thumb, there are a few important trends in both zones which give rise to the La Tène/Jastorf, Iron Age Celtic/Germanic distinction:
Settlements: the La Tène zone boasts larger villages than the Jastorf zone, dating prior to Roman occupation of the La Tène region.
Coinage: currency has been uncovered in the La Tène region, whilst the Jastorf shows a stark lack of it. It should be noted that the frequency of coin use in the
La Tène zone is still low, and these Celtic coins relied on Latin for their inscription. This indicates that coins were not an invention of the La Tène Celts, but at the very least the presence of it presents a distinction from the Jastorf zones, which show no such coins in the Iron Age.
Literacy: in both regions literacy was extremely low, but in a few La Tène populations literacy among the elite is shown.
Arts: art is perhaps the greatest indicator of the La Tène versus Jastorf divide. The art uncovered in the
La Tène region is markedly Celtic, with its famous intricate metalwork patterns. By comparison, artwork uncovered in Jastorf Europe is simpler.
Surplus: the presence of large, permanent settlements, coinage, literacy, and finer arts in the La Tène zone indicate an economic surplus which frees up the people from a subsistence lifestyle. The economy of the Jastorf zone during the Iron Age was therefore highly subsistence-based.
These trends were not staunchly attached to either ethnic group, but rather to the region and the time period. Looking further forward in history, we see that Germanic Europe developed similar cultural elements as the
La Tène, largely in part to spreading Roman influence and the military/political success of later Germanic groups.
From the Roman point of view in the first century, the value of the
La Tène versus the Jastorf zone was clear: the richer La Tène was of more worth to conquer. Attempting to cohesively control a large region which wasn’t even cohesively controlled by itself was a logistics nightmare. And it also wasn’t worth it when there was little resource surplus to extract from. Consequently, as “The Fall of the Roman Empire: a New History of Rome and the Barbarians” author Peter Heather observes, the boundary of the Roman Empire ultimately settled upon not an ethnic line but a socio-economic line: La Tène Europe (Gaul) fell to continued Roman interest, while Jastorf Europe (Germania) remained purposefully out of its borders. Romans would come to underestimate the capacity of the Germanic peoples to advance as a civilization.
I was reading that pagans also used the shofar and menorahs and I wondered do you know when you find artifacts if they are exclusively Jewish? Also is there anything (else) in Judaism or Jewish culture that was adopted from pagan culture? Have Jewish artifacts been found anywhere else in the world besides Israel?
Well, lets break down your question, starting with the Shofar and the Menorah.
Shofar The Idea of taking an animal’s horn and blowing it is nothing new, and it isn’t exclusively Jewish. However, using a ram’s horn as material for the musical instruments, in modern times, is something distinct to Judaism. I cannot promise you that in the past absolutely nobody but Jews blew ram horns, as it seems illogical to assume that only 1 group of people in the entire habitual spectrum of rams used their horns for music. European people in the past (i.e Pagans) used the horns of whatever animal they had available, like ox horns and cow horns. Rams were introduced to western Europe considerably later, after they were domesticated in the mideast, Mesopotamia and other places in Asia, so whether or not said Pagans used ram horns, they were using them much later than the mid easterners.
Menorah First lets define what a Menorah is - it is a seven-lamp, with 6 branches, and an additional, central branch, so in total - seven branches. The only claim Ive heard of Menorahs being used by Pagans/not distinctively Jewish was debunked. The claim suggested the symbol was copied off the Romans, who copied if off some temple in Turkey. In reality, Menorahs appear on distinctive, Jewish currency during the Hasemonean dynasty’s rule in Israel:
A Menorah also appears on the Arch of Titus on which the imagery describes Romans carrying a Menorah. Why are they carrying a Menorah? because that is part of the plunder they got from ransacking the Jewish Temple. So the claim that Jews copied the Menorah off the arch is a bit silly, considering that it is showing the Menorah as Jewish plunder. Also the coins above^ predate the arch by a couple hundred years.
Artifacts that are exclusively Jewish
First, lets talk about Judaism. The oldest form of Judaism that is still practiced today is Rabbinic Judaism, which dates to the 6th century, after the destruction of the 2nd Temple. We have no idea how close Rabbinic Judaism is to the “original” form of Judaism, because due to political issues with Palestinians, we cannot dig anywhere near the Temple Mount today.
With that being said, pretty much any artifact with a Menorah inscribed on it (coins, pottery vessels, tools, art) is considered exclusively Jewish. Art and texts in Hebrew/Judeo-Aramaic too. 2nd Temple-era Jewish burials are also completely different than their neighbours’, so any Ossuary you find with Hebrew on it is Jewish.
BUT, there is a ridiculous variety of Hebrew/Israelite artifacts. What is the difference between “Jewish” and “Hebrew/Israelite”? Time.
When you say “Jewish” artifacts I assume you are talking about religious artifacts, but Judaism is the result of Israelites/Hebrews developing their concept of Monotheism. We start seeing Israelites as a distinct ethnic group as early as the Iron Age: their settlement patterns are different, their diet is different (You wont find any trace of pigs in any Israelite settlement, even the ones that are in perfect climate for raising pigs), and their worship customs are different, mainly because they are semi-pagan. It seems they worshipped one main god, which was YHWH, but not exclusively (we cant pinpoint just WHEN they moved to exclusive monotheism). They even took great care in inscribing YHWH (יהוה) into stones and artifacts, in Proto-Hebrew and Phonecian. Both Israelite kingdoms, Judea and Israel, have distinct pottery types. In Judea for example, you can find LMLK seals (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LMLK_seal) in Hebrew on jar handles.
As for things in Judaism that were adopted from Paganism? There are many, all of them related to the fact that Israelites/Hebrews were semi-pagan up until the Babylonian captivity, in the 7th century BC. The agricultural/nature Holiday TuBishvat for example has its roots in pagan traditions, in which the goddess Asherah is worshipped and celebrated. Most nature/agricultural holidays always have some connection to ancient paganism, regardless of Judaism. With Judaism its extremely hard to pinpoint exactly where some traditions come, because Jews were exiled to many spots on the planet over the course of history and adopted/incorporated local traditions as time went by.
Jewish artifacts worldwide
The answer is yes, Jewish artifacts can be found in many parts of the world, simply because Jewish communities exist in many parts of the world due to us being a displaced people for roughly 2000 years. You can find Jewish communities and artifacts in Europe, Asia (Kaifeng Jews in China for example), Africa and the mid east. Most synagogues in Europe, Africa (excluding north Africa) and Asia emerge in the 11th century AD. There are synagogues in Egypt and Syria from the 1st century AD. Point is, the closer you get to Israel, the older the community/artifact would be.
Cors y Gedol Burial Chamber, near Barmouth, North Wales, 31.12.16. In the last few minutes of daylight of 2016, I managed to take a walk through the fog to photograph this burial chamber once again in North Wales. It was eerily quiet except for the fast flowing stream nearby. The chambered cairn is over 84ft long and most of the stones that originally formed the chamber lie behind the capstone and the remaining upright stone. The site was first sketched in 1766 and ordinarily the view of the whole bay from the site is impressive. Along with the cromlech at Dyffryn Ardudwy, this is one of the earliest constructed tombs of the British Isles, dated from well before 4000BCE.
Unsurprisingly, there weren’t any other people around. It’s probably my last prehistoric site of 2016; Happy New Year people!
Bachwen Burial Chamber, North Wales, 27.10.17. Not sure why I love photographing this cromlech so much; I think it’s because of its position on the headland and the surrounding mountains. There’s often a serenity to these places but here it feels particularly special. The prolific cap and ring rock art that covers the top of the capstone is also very pronounced and lovely.
Bronze and Iron Age items, Storiel, Bangor, North Wales, 24.10.17. The first item is part of a tankard whilst the second represents oxhead escutcheons (fastenings for a handle on a bucket). Subsequent items include a spearhead, a bronze palstave head circa 1300 BCE, a socketed axe head and a flat axe.
The final image is of two iron bars from Penrhos Lligwy on Anglesey, North Wales. Tonnes of iron slag found at several sites around Anglesey are evidence of an iron industry based on the exploitation of iron pan in the bogs from 300 BCE to the arrival of the Romans.
Din Lligwy Romano-Celtic Settlement, Anglesey, 31.7.17. The site sits on top of a raised ledge of Stone, incorporating several stone based roundhouse and rectangular buildings within a walled compound. The settlement features a blacksmith’s building and several cattle shelters. This site made a great impression upon me as a child and I still love walking through the trees to see it even today. It is very easy to imagine people living here approximately 1500 years ago.
6000 year old Alpine Jadeite Ceremonial Axe Head, The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, 11.11.17.
It is highly likely that this rare jadeite axe head made its way along the Rhine about 6000 years ago to finally reach the shores of Scotland. This highly polished item, made for export, was probably considered a prestige item. Jadeite is a very hard material and very difficult to work.