10.3 Iron and Steel in Early Europe
10.3.1 Technology Transfer
|Spreading the Technology|
|Way back I asked: Who smelted iron for the first
time? When and where? And how, exactly?
I didn't really answer these questions because neither I nor anybody else knows for sure. If we discount the more or less accidental production of some of iron during copper smelting and the few if spectacular objects from early times, the best we can say is that the systematic production of iron in bloomeries started around 1200 BC somewhere in Anatolia. To credit the Hittites with the "invention" of iron, as archeologists were inclined to do in the past, is most likely overstating the case. True, the Hittites left a lot of written documents where iron is mentioned but practically no iron artifacts to speak of.
If we believe some ancient Greeks like Strabo (65 BC - 25 AD), we should look for the Chalybians, who possessed the secret of steel making. Hence Chalyb=steel in Greek (and Latin), in contrast to "sideros"=iron. Besides the Greek references we do not know much about these guys but there are strong hints that they lived in the general Colchis area at the Black Sea coast as shown in the map below. The term "Chalyb" might come from the Hittite "Khaly-wa", meaning land of "land of Halys", which is also shown in the map below. The Halys river (now know as Kizilirmak) starts around there.
Note that the Greeks wrote their stuff about 1000 years after iron became generally known and used. Their differentiation between iron and steel might indicate that it took that long before metal workers could select and manipulate the stuff from the bloomeries in ways where this distinction became meaningful, including proper forging and quenching for getting hardened steel. Whatever. We must treat all these not-so-old writings like rumors and not as literal truth.
In this module I will give a very cursory look at the spreading of the technology and the trade with iron and steel "halfware" in mostly Europe. The "Eastern" technology of crucible steel will have its own module.
This chapter will be very patchy because the knowledge about these topics is patchy and because I want to keep this short. It goes without saying that most of what follows contains a lot of educated guessing.
|What we do know is
that iron technology spread rather quickly in the Mediterrean after 1200 BC.
The source seems to be present-day Turkey. One might assume that the
collapse of the Hittite empire around
1200 BC displaced a lot of people, including skilled iron engineers, who were
now free (or forced by circumstances) to move about and offer their skills to
all and sundry.
The map below, drawn after the map in Buchwalds's book, is rather trivial. What one sees is that the knowledge about iron spread by "water" - along major rivers or by seafaring. Small wonder - that's how people did get around for long distances. After you walked from Kiel in North Germany to East Anatolia once (and survived), you tended to take a boat for getting back.
The map also shows a few major places for iron production that I will discuss here.
|Spreading iron technology means that people in some area learned how to smelt iron and how to forge it into something useful. Essentially all you need is charcoal, iron ore and some clay for building the bloomery, plus a hearth, an anvil and tools for forging. If you can procure those things, that odd traveler who came by boat from far away (on his own or as slave) will show you how to smelt and forge iron in exchange for some money or the opportunity to stay alive.|
|Chances are he won't succeed on his first try. As
we have seen in all those modules before, you must do your smelting
just right. Your gangue
is "wrong", your bellows are leaky or especially efficient, your
charcoal is too reactive, and so on, and and all you produce is slag, useless
cast iron, or small useless blooms.
Eventually, after optimizing local processes, you will be able to produce some iron. But some areas / people will produce better stuff than others, not to mention that some produce their iron more cheaply than others. If for a given product there are differences in quality and / or price you have all that is needed to start some trading.
In other words: the spreading of the technology did not preclude trading. You might make your own iron but you will still import some from "specialists" who make a particular good (or cheap) variety. If conditions were right, you may even have given up your own production in favor of imported stuff.
The exporters of iron / steel owed their success not just to secret procedures or some magic. More likely they had better ingredients, a better organization, and a more motivated and skilled workforce. It is simply easier to make good iron with nice "clean" siderite than with dirty bog iron, for example. It is thus no great surprise that certain areas specialized in iron working quite early, and that their iron was traded wide and far.
|What follows are a few remarks about some places of iron production. Taken together, one can get a feeling for what has happened.|
|What we know with some certainty is that around 1100 BC iron appeared in "quantities" in Cyprus, Syria (Hama), and the Levante (many places). Occurrences in the Aegean (mostly islands like Crete, Euboia, Naxos, Thassos but also the mainland) and Anatolia are less pronounced. Here is a statistic compiled by Susan Sherratt1).|
|The number of objects found is certainly only a
small and unknown fraction of what was around. It thus may or may not be
halfway representative for the local level of iron technology. But that is all
we have to work with. We can discern certain trends however, with some
reasonable probability for being true:
|Wherever the starting point for
spreading iron technology might have been around 1200 / 1100 BC, at 500 BC, to
give a clear date, about everybody in Europe and around the Mediterranean
knew how to run a bloomery and how to produce iron implements from the iron
Let's look at a few places to get an idea of what was going on.
|The Etruscans - Populonia and Elba|
|I have mentioned Populonia and Elba before in the context of slag production during metal smelting. The whole area - Elba and the Italian coast region just across - was an ancient metal center, sort of an early Pittsburg, run by the Etruscans and later, as the Etruscans became absorbed in the Roman Empire, by the Romans.|
|Ancient writers remarked on it, for example the
Greek Diodorus (60
BC - 30 BC):
"Off the city of Tyrrhenia known as Populonium there is an island which men call Aethaleia (=Elba). It is about one hundred stades distant from the coast and received the name it bears from the smoke (aithalos) which lies so thick about it. For the island possesses a great amount of iron - rock, which they quarry in order to melt and cast (philosophers never get it right) and thus to secure the iron, and they possess a great abundance of this ore. For those who are engaged in the working of this ore crush the rock and burn the lumps which have thus been broken in certain ingenious furnaces; and these they smelt the lumps by means of a great fire and form them into pieces of moderate size which are iron their appearance like large sponges. These are purchased by merchants in exchange either for money of for goods and are then taken to Dicaerchia (=Puteoli, Campania) or other trading-stations, where there are men who purchase such cargoes and who, with the aid of a multitude of artisans in metal whom they have collected, work it further and manufacture iron objects of every description."
|The area, in particular Elba, had
copper ore and huge amounts of iron ore. The Etruscans already had a large
copper smelting operation going there and smoothly adopted to iron at the
latest around 600 BC, it appears. I have already stated that 2 Mio tons of slag
have been produced in about 500 years, some of which could have been from
copper smelting since this also produced iron-rich slag. This number is
actually debated and might be considerably smaller but that doesn't matter for
the three points I like to make:
|The Etruscan graves found under the slag deposits attracted far more attention than the slag for obvious reasons. Fortunately, a few iron objects were found in these graves and thus preserved and described (but rarely analyzed). Of particular interest here are the "spieti" (Italian) or "obelsikoi" or "oboli" (Greek), looking like thin (barbecue) spits of iron or bronze. They can be seen as a kind of currency, and that will not be the last time we encounter iron pieces as a kind of money.|
|We can be reasonably sure that the oboli and any
other iron products from this region consisted of inhomogeneous forged iron,
with varying concentrations of carbon and other elements (like phosphorous) and
always a lot of slag inclusions, typically elongated from smithing. Oboli,
according to general theory, were a kind of currency, sort of very elongated
coins, that you could use as money or directly as raw material of a certain
value. You could forge a knife from am oboli, or you could use them as spits
for roasting your chicken on the fire. Some modern archeometallurgists even
subscribe to a heretical point of view: Oboli were nothing but spits for
cooking on an open fire, as was the custom in those days. What else but iron
would you use for a spit?
Below is what real spits looked like - they could easily have been made from oboli.
|The Roman empire was rather large compared to the average distance people, goods and news could travel per day. It's influence on present day Germans (Italians, French, ....) can still be seen and felt if you have sensitive and trained receptors. The Romans were not only highly organized but used the specialities of the conquered territories to their best advantage. They also left a lot of written stuff and that's how we know about the "famous" Ferrum Noricum; the superior iron (actually steel) from the province Noricum.|
|Noricum used to be an independent
kingdom (we believe) that became (peacefully) incorporated into the Roman
empire in 16 BC. It coincided with much of what now is Austria. Ancient Noricum
included Hallstatt, a place that gave
the name to a whole culture (Hallstatt culture, 800 BC - 600 BC or Early
European Iron Age). It also contained a place (still) called
Erzberg I ("ore
mountain") close to the present town of
mountain or possibly smelter (smelter=Hütte) mountain). That's where
Ferrum Noricum was produced during the Roman times and somewhat earlier during
the (late) La Tène period
(following the Hallstatt culture; 450 BC - the Roman conquest in the 1st
century BC). There is another place called Erzberg (II) in Noricum that is also
known as an iron producing place - but not before early medieval times. Iron
production around Erzberg II went on until recently; it should not be confused
with Erzberg I.
The Romans run a kind of large-scale well-organized iron industry out of (present -day) Magdalenenbergor Magdalensberg, the "city" close to Erzberg / Hüttenberg. It is all in the map below:
|If you are now a bit confused about
all these folks and cultures (Romans, Austrians, Celts, Hallstatt, La
Tène,...) that's as it should be. Let's simplify and just look at two
cultures: The Celts, having their heydays from about 600 BC - 0 AD, and the
Romans who absorbed and replaced the Celts around 50 BC and later. The
Hallstatt and the La Tène culture (and others) are just expressions of
Celtic "super" structures.
The Celts are supposed to have been the first "iron masters" in Northern Europe; the link goes a bit deeper into the Celtic Culture.
You might be inclined to associate Celtic culture with Ireland, Wales and Scotland in more recent times because people there speak Gaelic, a kind of left-over Celtic tongue. Historians are not so sure. Celts and Celtic culture did survive to some extent in these places after it was all but extinguished on the continent, but it did not come from there.
| The Celts may have discovered and
explored the Hüttenberg ore deposit in the first century BC. They might
have had a cultural center on Magdalenenberg, working and trading the iron from
there and thus making it known to the Romans. The Romans eventually - more or
less peacefully, it appears - took over and lots of artisans settled there,
making Magdalenenberg at major hub for iron making and trading for centuries to
come. It is possible that the fame of Ferrum Noricum owes just as much (or
more) to the organizational skills of the Roman and to the cunning of their
smiths than to the quality of ore and iron.
We have known for quite some time that Ferrum Noricum was famous in antiquity because the Romans wroteabout it. Quite a lot, actually. However, besides the descriptions in the literature not much was known about this iron from direct evidence. That has changed only recently and I will get to that. First, however, I like to give a few quotes from ancient references to Ferrum Noricum. That is easier said then done because allsources on Ferrum Noricum mention that there are numerous references to its outstanding quality in ancient literature but very few actually supply quotes. Here is what I found (sometimes translated by me):
|Ovid (43 BC 17/18 AD), was a Roman poet
who is still well-known in educated circles.
He wrote: "...durior [...] ferro quod noricus excoquit ignis..." (...harder than iron tempered by Noric fire...).
One might conclude that he distinguished steel from iron and knows about "tempering". That word, however, has changed its meaning in the course of time from "quenching" to heating up again. So what Ovid meant depends on what tempering means.
|Titus Petronius(14 AD - 66 AD), the author of
the famous "Satyricon", has one of his figures, Trimalchio, praise
his cook in strong terms, finishing with: "... and
since he is so gifted, I presented him knifes made from Ferrum Noricum that I
brought back from Rome...". The knifes are fetched and admired for
There is more to this quote then meets the innocent eye. Trimalchio, a somewhat vulgar "noveau rich", shows his money by presenting his cook with a gift of not just one but several very expensive knifes, normally far too good for regular kitchen work. It's like you giving your cleaning Lady a Porsche instead of a subway token so she can get to work.
|Galen of Pergamon (129 AD 200/216 AD) we have met before. He was a prominent Greek-speaking Roman physician, surgeon and philosopher; arguably the most accomplished of all medical researchers of antiquity. He developed fine surgical instruments that needed to be made from the best iron "like Ferrum Noricum" if they should be serviceable.|
|Marcus Valerius Martialis (known in English as
Martial; 40 AD 102 /104 AD), was a Spanish poet who published short,
witty and satirical poems in Rome. He was born in Bilbilis and praises this
town as the place were first-rate steel blades originated from,
"better than the iron of
Chalyb and Noricum". In his
times the iron from Chalyb was already a myth and not real.
Martial also refers to the use of hunting spears with tips of Ferrum Noricum that were used by the emperor Domitian just for for playing around with! Once more a show of using the best and most expensive for inferior purposes, just to show off!
|Pliny the Elder (23 AD 79 AD) or Gaius
Plinius Secundus, famous Roman author, naturalist, philosopher, naval and army
commander (those guys were good at multi-tasking) writes:
"...the high quality of iron goods is ensured by the ore as in the Noricum, by the working as in Sulmo, or by the water as in the places given..."
One of the "water" places is the Martial's home town Bilbilis from above.
Tremendous confusion ensued from that statement. Can you make great iron / steel from inferior stuff by working it in special ways? (Yes, but only up to a point). Is it enough to have good ore for making good iron / steel? (Not really). Is the result of quenching, polishing, etc., dependent on the quality of the water you use (definitely not! - at least as long it is half-way clean water).
The water myth comes up even today on occasion, e.g. if a Spanish merchant tries to convince a tourist that they have "special water" there, making for swperior swords when used for quenching.
|The 20th century literature about
Ferrum Noricum is rather murky, mostly because it was based on discussing old
literature. If we want to shed some light on the topic, it is illuminating to
ask a few pointed questions:
people in Norica were Celts before they became Romans. They did produce iron in
Norica but not necessarily only in Hüttenberg. There are indications that
the Celts discovered the Hüttenberg "iron hat" (gossan) in the
second century BC and then exploited that source of minerals. If the Celtic
iron / steel from the Noricum was better than Celtic iron /steel from elsewhere
is an open question, it seems.
The iron industry in Hüttenberg went strong ever since the Celts started it until about the fall of the (Western) Roman empire in 454 AD. After a 500 year break (the "dark ages"), operations resumed in the 11th century and were kept going until 1978.
owe this question to Gerhard Dobesch3), and it makes some sense to me. The metallurgical
information to date does not unambiguously support these claims but one might
ore found in Hüttenberg is essentially
siderite or iron
carbide (FeCO3). Not the richest of ores but particularly easy to
smelt as people find out right now once more. Why? I shall leave that questions
open for the time being (meaning I don't know the answer yet). An analysis of
what one finds in roasted ore from the area
as given in Buchwald's book yields:
|4. So far there aren't many analyzed Noric iron pieces but their number is going up as I'm writing this. This is due to the ever increasing interest in ancient metallurgy and the many digs that have been started in recent years. New archaeological excavations at Hüttenberg started in 2003 under the direction of Brigitte Cech. Earlier resutls are well published in Harald Straube's book|
|Let's have a quick look at the pertinent results of analyzed Ferrum Noricum. I will only use two sources. There are undoubtedly more but as far as I'm aware of them nothing really new is added to what follows.|
|First we look at three swords likely made from Ferrum Noricum. All we need to do is to look at an old picture, augmented with some new data:|
|Vagn Buchwald has reasons to assume
that the three Celtic swords marked were made from Ferrum Noricum. His conclusion is based on a
thorough analysis of the composition of the slag
inclusions. If he is right, the three swords do have a relatively
high carbon concentration and a low
phosphorous concentration, a possible mark of high quality. But that
is also true for some other swords. From the data given Ferrum Noricum is
Buchwald's final words are of some interest:
|The general impression of Celtic swords, here covering a period
from roughly 650 to 100 BC, is that the blade was normally manufactured from a
single iron bar of no particularly good
quality. .... No deliberate attempt at carburizing - or
decarburizing - can be observed. It happens that a pearlitic hard steel is
located along the edge or at the point, but just as often the soft ferritic
zones are located here. The laminated textures are due to the original
heterogeneous nature of the bloom and bars, and not to some deliberate piling
of material with known carbon or phosphorous content ....
Common to all the Celtic swords is the extensive cold working that has taken place."
|Secondwe look at results from two kinds of early
"Austrian" steel, published by H. Preßlinger and colleagues
4). What they investigated in some
|Major results for the Gründberg specimen were:
It is not for me too put some doubts on the conclusion - but compare to what Buchwald has to say about "piling" right above. One particular interesting result, as far as I'm concerned, are measurements that offer a solution to the puzzle contained in these data: ferritic or ferritic-pearlitic steel - but very large hardness? How is that possible? The picture below gives the answer.
|It's the phosphorous, of
course. The red and blue dots are measured values, the red line gives (roughly)
relation due to a basic solution hardening mechanism for undeformed iron.
Cold working phosphorous steel increases the hardness values rather
dramatically. That is conceived as being good.
However, the steel might now be rather brittle and given to "cold shortening". Nothing seems to be known about that.
|Major results for the
Magdalenenberg specimen (knifes, axes,
|What do we learn? First
of all, to be careful with
interpretations. There is some disparity between Buchwald's and
Preßlinger's results. Of course, both could be right - the number of
specimens investigated is far too small to allow full generalizations.
What we might be able to conclude is that Ferrum Noricum was generally low in phosphorous but also in manganese. The manganese oxide contained in its ore thus does not make for better iron because appreciable amounts of beneficial manganese end up in the iron. It quite likely makes for better smelting, however, maybe by somehow helping to produce "better" slag? It is an open question at present.
"Classical" wrought iron with a low carbon and phosphorous concentration might be inferior to iron with an appreciable phosphorous concentration, i.e. phosphorous steel. Wrought iron or more or less pure ferrite, in other words, is simply not as hard as phosphorous steel. The latter cannot be hardened in the "usual" way but can become quite hard by cold working. Phosphorous steel is reported to be difficult to forge or easy to forge, take your pick. A pure carbon steel with proper care to carbon concentration and hardening would be superior, though - provided it does not contain too many "bad" slag inclusions.
|In other words: It is possible that very good smiths on occasion could make superior steel objects from very good Ferrum Noricum, while only normally good steel resulted from normal Ferrum Noricum (a very good smith never makes anything bad). It is, however, hard to judge the fighting quality of an old sword by a metallurgical analysis of just a small portion that usually does not include the edge. "The harder the better" is certainly not generally correct.|
|I haven't found other
comparisons between Ferrum Noricum and
"Ferrum normalium", the iron / steel produced elsewhere. At present
we must admit that we do not really know what exactly made Ferrum Noricum so
special. Maybe the bulk of it wasn't all that great after all, and only some
very expensive objects, made by special smelters and smiths, made it into the
literary fame that started the whole craze.
I have no problem to subscribe to the "two kinds of Ferrum Noricum" hypothesis but will not commit myself before more results are in.
|The Snowdonia National Park in
Northern Wales does contain a few early smelting places (plus some from far
later times) - just like a few thousand other areas in Europe. The only thing
remarkable about Snowdonia is Peter
Crew and his crew (couldn't resist). Peter is employed by the
Snowdonia National Park Centre; here is the address (couldn't resist once
more): Snowdonia National Park Centre, Plas Tan y Bwlch, Maentwrog, Blaenau
Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, LL41 3YU, UK.
Peter decided to do some smelting experiments: "From 1983 to 2007 a series of nearly one hundred ironworking experiments were carried out, primarily to provide data for the characterization and quantification of the slag from the excavations". He also decided to eschew learning about the science of smelting first and thus to go about it like the local yokels 2500 years or so ago: "It is very easy, but potentially misleading, to use technological tricks from later processes or other cultures". Use the materials you find locally, built smelters with it, following the "blue-prints" of what you dug up instead of learning it from the master, do not use modern equipment of any kind, and learn by trial and error. The result is: "Our early smelts were a disaster".
|Several highly readable
articles appeared, and in 2010 Peter Crew published "Twenty-five years of
bloomery experiments: perspectives and prospects" 5); the quotes above are from this paper. Peter also
became quite scientific in the meantime, witness one of his
Of interest for us here is to learn that 25 years of experimenting did produce a lot of interesting results - some of which are shown below - and definitely helped our understanding of early iron technology. However, Peter Crew did not yet reproduce exactly what he has dug up. In essence, Peter and his co-workers learned a lot from all their experiments, in particular that the Golidlock Principle strictly applies. Everything needs to be just right if you want to do a high quality smelt.
|Peter Crew investigated the influence of a lot of parameters on smelting. Besides playing around with the smelter geometry and air blowing parameters, they looked in particular on different kinds and grades of ore, flux and charcoal. Some quotes concerning results can be found in the "Odds and End" link.|
|Moreover, Peter Crew also looked into processing the bloom, from refining to making billets, bars, and finally artifacts like knife blades. He needed the help of blacksmiths for doing that and learned that present-day blacksmiths display various degrees of skills when faced with iron blooms. My feeling is that none of them would be up to the standards of an ancient smith. But then, how could they? They have to re-invent all the trade secrets that were passed on from master to apprentice for millennia before they became lost in more modern times.|
|Peter Crew and
colleagues produced a wealth of insights and data from their many experiments
and from checking with written accounts. I will give you just two pictures out
of many. First, let's look at the average size of blooms as a function of time.
Bloom size was limited for two reasons. First, in the beginning of iron
technology you were happy to get a bloom at all. In small furnaces, run without
much experience, you tend to get a small bloom. Second, blooms too large cannot
be refined by hitting them with muscle-powered hammers.
Now let's look how bloom size developed (in England) between about 500 BC and 1600 AD:
|Around 500 BC people in England and
Northern Europe started smelting iron in relevant quantities, Bloom sizes
tended to be rather small, probably limited by technology. With growing
experience, bloom size settled around 2 kg for quite some time. That is an
easy-to-work small size but large enough for making a few small object or a
knife blade or two. Iron itself was mostly traded in the form of
currency bars, the
latter with weights around 500 g.
Around 250 AD a "quantum leap" occurred. Bloom size increased about 5 fold to around 10 kg. New ways of forging must have been used. What we see is probably the Roman experience with running a well-organized iron industry. This allows, for example, to split a 12 kg bloom into 2 or 3 pieces while still hot. With enough smiths and hearth places around and in working conditions, the pieces of a large bloom can now be tackled.
A huge leap forward occurred around 1500 AD. Huge blooms of 100 kg and more appear routinely. The innovation in this case is the water-powered hammer that could deal with blooms this large. Look at the following picture to get an idea of what that means:
|This is a bloom weighing in at at around 40 kg. You could not impress it very much (in both meanings of the word) with an arm-wielded 2 kg hammer. It will, however, yield to that monster hammer that is powered by a substantial water-wheel.|
|Now let's look at some data describing the efficiency of smelting. The curves below show how much iron you get in various smelting experiments (A - E), and how much of that is left over after various forging steps, relative to the amount of charcoal used|
|If we look at curve C, for example,
we see that this experiment yielded a bloom of about 3.4 kg for about 45 kg
charcoal burned; a relation of 13 :1.
After refining the bloom, about 1.8 kg of iron are left, decreasing to 1 kg after forging a billet, 500 g for the bar, and just about 300 g left in the "artifact", a knife blade in this case.
Each heating and forging step looses iron because you cannot avoid losses by oxidation and flaking off. More experienced smiths might be able to keep losses low but your are definitely loosing more than 50 % of your original bloom weight to the necessary follow-up processes.
|Even for curve E representing the most efficient smelting, about 120 kg of chacoal were needed to produce a final product weighing 6 kg!|
|The last specific entry here I selected more or less at random. "For the development of iron production in Germany as a whole, the sites at Wetzlar-Dalheim offer a unique insight into changing production patterns and techniques over the best part of 1.5 millennia of bloomery iron production", to quote A. Schäfer from the University Bamberg (Germany). So where is Wetzlar? And why does it strike a chord in the heart of any individual remotely interested in photography and microscopy?|
|To answer the last question first: from Wetzlar
came the Leica, the most famous camera ever made.
It's home were the "Ernst Leitz Optische
Werke", Wetzlar. Leitz is still a big name in microscopy.
Wetzlar is smack in the middle of Germany, a bit to the West, in the river Lahn valley. Around 15 years ago it became clear that iron has been made and worked in the general area for quite some time, and it was decided to start major investigations.
The investigations are still going on but it is quite clear by now that "the Central Lahn Valley between the eastern fringes of the Westerwald and Taunus mountain ranges features rich iron ore deposits. Neolithic settlers, who cultivated the fertile loess terraces about 5.600 BC, already made use of the haematite deposits as a colouring agent. From the Latène Period onwards, local iron production can be traced at a number of findspots in the region. Especially at Wetzlar-Dalheim an agglomeration of sites has been detected by a combination of field walking, geomagnetic surveying, drilling programmes and C14-dating". 6)
|With a lot of work and detailed analysis of many thousand artifacts (and many known smelting / smithing places not yet dug up), the following picture emerged:|
|Iron was smelted and forged in this area just about from the very beginning of iron technology in Northern Europe up to the Middle Ages (and actually beyond) without any interruption.|
|Remains of smelters and smithies found indicate
that the technology hardly changed within the 2000 year time span covered. The
older furnaces were of the "slag-bottom" type, i.e. they were not
necessarily tapped for slag. Technological advances seem to have run towards
multiple uses of one furnace, i.e. providing some method to get the bottom-slag
cake out without completely destroying the furnace. The second furnace type was
of the "Lovosice (Tuklaty) type", whatever that means. My money is on
a strongly-blown slag-tapping type.
Looking more closely at the many artifacts unveils the influence of the Roman occupation and possibly also effects of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, when an alliance of Germanic tribes led by Arminius ambushed three Roman legions and their auxiliaries, killing about everybody, and halting Roman expansion for quite a while.
|What Did We Learn?|
|From all the above some insights
|1. It did take
quite some time for iron technology to get out of Anatolia / Cyprus / Palestine
(and possibly Iran). In most of Italy, Spain, and Egypt, plus pretty much all
of Northern Europe, iron did not come into frequent use before about 800 BC if
not a few centuries later. In Greek there are signs that iron was used around
1100 / 1000 BC but then "disappeare" for a few centuries, re-emerging
again around 700 BC.
Anything you could call "technology transfer" can't take that long. So what happened? Well, for technology transfer you need three ingredients: 1. A society that has the technology, 2. A society ready to receive the technology, and 3. Ways / people for transferring the technology. Sounds simple but the emphasize is on "A society ready to receive the technology". A "society" simply demands a state of organization far more complex than that needed for running a tribe or clan, and "ready" means just that. Look a than example from today. Germany does contain a highly organized society that can make microelectronic products or solar cells. I, personally, would be willing and capable to transfer the technology (for a small consideration, of course). Well-defined societies in (pick about any country / society in Africa / Arabia) do exist and might be eager to receive the technology. They are not ready, however.
I don't think it is an accident that "local" iron ages are associated with the rise of large-scale societies like the Etruscans, Celts or Romans.
|2. Emulating a smelting process that worked in Anatolia, or in some other place like Elba or the Noricum, most likely wouldn't work all that well. As we have seen in all cases, everything must be just right - for your local conditions. While you can learn about the basic process of smelting iron from listening to what some traveller has to say, you must optimize the process for your local conditions by trial and error. That is a tedious and costly process without any guarantee that you will make it.|
|3. Learning the art
of forging from hearsay - veything from working your bloom to actually making a
knife blade - is like learning to knit a sweater with a complex pattern or to
build a Stradivari from hearsay. It takes years of learning and practicing
under the supervision of a master before you can call yourself a blacksmith.
And an experienced blacksmith who had made it from Cyprus to England in 1000
BC, say, would not have found it easy to practice his craft: no iron, no
infrastructure for all the things he needs.
Transferring just knowledge, even in the form of experienced people, is not good enough. You need to transfer a whole infrastructure including a certain mind set of the people involved.
I was lying above. I could not transfer the technology of making solar cells to the Congo, say. Why, the people there don't even need me. They just need to buy a few books that contain all there is to know about making solar cells. You could buy those books and start to make solar cell. I bet you wouldn't be sucessful. OK, out of the goodness of my heart, I send you some PhD students who have deep hands-on experience in the business. You know what? You, together with these knowledgable foreigners, still won't be making solar cells. I'm quite sure of that.
Technology transfer is just not all that simple in other words.
|Assuming that some technology exists
somewhere, technology transfer only happens
as soon as some area / society is ready and connected to the rest of the world.
Then it will spread in a self-organized way and possibly even progress rapidly
beyond the level of the society where it first evolved. Witness the advent of
metallurgy in China and the Roman empire after these cultures were ready. Due to their then
unmatched organizational skills, they quickly turned smelting and metal working
from isolated artisan procedures to industrial activities.
So far so good. The problem we face now is
technology I mean:
|This is a tall order. It includes paraphernalia like recognizing phosphorous steel and knowing that it can't be hardened by quenching, being able to do all the forging without too much loss of material and carburizing / de-carburizing the outer layers, and being able to produce a longish object like a sword blade in a way that makes its structure rather uniform throughout the length even so you can only work a small part of it at a time. Nobody usually has a hearth more than a meter long, after all.|
|Note that finding some martensite in some old steel does prove that the smith has thrown the red-hot object into cold water, indeed. It does not prove, however, that this smith knew a thing about steel technology. He might have thrown all his finished products into cold water, just to safe time, not caring if he had wrought iron, phosphorous steel (both not given to hardening upon quenching) or proper carbon steel that would produce some martensite.|
well-defined and different grades of carbon steel is the key to steel
technology. You might get that by mastering smelting to a degree where you
could produced rather homogeneous blooms with a certain carbon concentration or
by picking various grades from a bloom with mixed compositions.
Let's see if looking into the iron / steel trade will help us there.
|1)||Susan Sherratt: "Commerce, iron and ideology: Metallurgical innovation in 12th-11th century Cyprus"; in: Karageorghis, Vassos, Cyprus in the 11th century B.C.: proceedings of the international symposium organized by the Archaeological Research Unit of the University of Cyprus and The Anastasios G. Leventis Foundation, Nicosia 30-31 October, 1993, 59-106, Athens: A.G. Leventis Foundation|
|2)||Radomir Pleiner: "Iron in archeology. The European bloomery smelter". Archeologicke Ustav AVCR. Praha, p. 400|
|3)||Gerhard Dobesch: "Zweierlei ferrum Noricum?", Mitteilungen des Montangeschichtlichen Vereins Hüttenberg - Knappenberg, Folge 18, Nov. 2011, p. 1|
|4)||H. Preßlinger, E. M. Ruprechtsberger and O. H. Urban: "Stahlwerkstoffe in der Kelten- und Römerzeit Teil 1 und 2"; BHM, 152. Jg. (2007), Heft 5, p. 146- 150, and BHM, 152. Jg. (2007), Heft 5, p. 232 - 234.|
|5)||Peter Crew: "Twenty-five years of bloomery experiments: perspectives and prospects", in D Dungworth and R Doonan (eds) 2013, Accidental and Experimental Archaeometallurgy  (London: Historical Metallurgy Society), p. 25-50|
|6)||Andreas Schäfer: "Zwischen Dünsberg und Waldgirmes. Wirtschaftsarchäologische Untersuchungen an der mittleren Lahn" in: Berichte der Kommission für Archäologische Landesforschung in Hessen, Vol. 10 (2010) p. 69 90 and in Abstracts of Second International Conference Plas Tan y Bwlch 17th 21st September 2007: Early Ironworking in Europe II, archaeology, technology and experiment.|
© H. Föll (Iron, Steel and Swords script)