How did Iron Age people live?

Around 800 BC people in Britain learned how to use iron. This discovery had a dramatic impact on everyday life. Iron tools made farming much easier than before and settlements grew in size.

Iron Age Britain was a violent place. People lived in clans that belonged to tribes led by warrior kings. Rival tribes fought with deadly iron weapons. Many people lived in hill forts to keep safe from attacks.

During the Iron Age, the Celtic people spread out across Europe and many settled in Britain. The ancient Britons followed a Celtic way of life. They produced fine metalwork and enjoyed feasting, music and poetry.

What was life like in an Iron Age hill fort?

By the end of the Iron Age many people lived in hill forts. The forts were surrounded by walls and ditches and warriors defended their people from enemy attacks.

Inside the hill forts, families lived in round houses. These were simple one-roomed homes with a pointed thatched roof and walls made from wattle and daub (a mixture of mud and twigs).

In the centre of a round house was a fire where meals were cooked in a cauldron. Around the walls were jars for storing food and beds made from straw covered with animal skins.

Iron Age farmers grew crops and vegetables. They kept geese, goats and pigs and had large herds of cows and flocks of sheep. Some people worked as potters, carpenters and metalworkers. Men and boys trained as warriors. They had to be prepared to fight at any time.

An image of the round house that the Britons lived in during the Iron Age
The Britons lived in villages of round houses, like these (drawn by a modern artist).

Watch the video below to find out about the largest Iron Age Hill fort in Britain.

Raksha Dave visits Maiden Castle in Dorset to find out about Iron Age tribes.

Iron Age people developed some very useful tools to help them in their daily work. Click on these pictures to find out more.

People in Iron Age Britain believed in powerful spirits. They met to worship the spirits in sacred places, like the shores of a lake or a clearing in a wood.

Priests known as druids led religious ceremonies. They sacrificed animals and sometimes humans too! The druids gave precious offerings, such as swords and cups, to the spirits. They buried the offerings in the ground or threw them into rivers, lakes and bogs. When the Romans first arrived in Britain they wrote about the religion of the ancient Britons. They described four of their main festivals:

  • Imbolc was held in February to welcome the birth of the first lambs.
  • Beltane was celebrated in May, when the cattle were moved to their summer fields.
  • Lugnassad was held in August to celebrate the ripening of the crops.
  • Samhain took place in November and marked the end of the year.
An image of the Battersea Shield
The Battersea shield was found in the River Thames. It was almost certainly thrown into the river as an offering to the spirits. Thousands of precious offerings have been found in British lakes, rivers and bogs.
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An animated image of a soldier guarding the Iron Age settlement.