Early Britain: Iron Age

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13297

Iron Age Britain was ruled by the Celts. They made iron swords, wheeled carts, coins, fancy jewelry, and beautiful works of art. They were also skilled warriors. Discover life in Britain's Iron Age!


World, World Cultures

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Do you know what a torc is?
  • How about a broch?
  • And who were the Celts?

The Iron Age in Britain lasted from the end of the Bronze Age until the Roman invasion (700 BC to 43 AD). It was the time of the Celts.

The Celts were an ancient people who spread throughout north and central Europe during the Iron Age. The name Celt (pronounced "Kelt") comes from the Greek word keltoi, meaning barbarian. The Romans called them Gauls.

This map shows how far the Celtic people spread in Europe.

Celtic expansion in Europe

For a long time, historians believed that the Celts from eastern Europe invaded Britain during the Iron Age.

However, many now believe that Bronze Age Celts did not come as invaders but as sailors and traders from the Iberian Peninsula (now Spain and Portugal). They came to Britain for trade and decided to stay, spreading Celtic culture to the east.

Either way, the many different Celtic tribes had control of Britain for a long time.

The map below shows the Celtic tribes of southern Britain (but does not include the northern area that is now Scotland).

peoples of Southern Britain

Discovery of Iron and Other Technologies

While the Romans are famous for the roads that stretched across their empire, they may have learned road-building skills from the Celts. The Celts made long, straight roads through France, Britain, and Ireland, tracing the path of their sun god.

The Celts were among the first to use iron weapons!

The Iron Age is, of course, named for that metal which came to be used more widely during this period. Iron is stronger and more durable than bronze, so the Celts used it to make many things, including the following.

  • tools, such as plows for farming
  • household items, such as cooking pots
  • weapons, such as swords and spearheads

Look at several examples of Celtic swords and helmets.

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The British Celts were expert metal-workers with bronze and iron and gold and silver.

They were also able to construct large stone buildings known as brochs (pronounced "brocks"), meaning forts. Many of these Iron Age brochs can still be found all over Scotland.

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Besides building the brochs for protection, the Celts also built hill forts, or settlements on top of hills, which banks and ditches protected.

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Watch the video below for examples of Celtic hill forts, clothing, and weaponry.

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Homes and Daily Life

When it came to homes, the Iron Age Britons preferred to build roundhouses with thatched roofs.

  • What was it like living in those houses?

Watch the video below to learn more about roundhouses in the Iron Age.

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Most of daily life during the Iron Age would have been spent tending the crops (wheat, barley, rye, and oats) and caring for the livestock (cattle, sheep, and pigs). There were also horses to pull wheeled carts and dogs to help herd the livestock.

The dogs were also used for hunting. Hunting dogs bred in Britain were used all over the Roman Empire.

During leisure time, the Celts played board games and practiced the slingshot.


Watch the video below to learn how people in the Iron Age cooked their food and what they ate. Take notes on these questions.

  • How did they bake bread?
  • What went into the stew?
  • What were the bean cakes used for?
  • How was butter made?
  • How was their diet different from ours?

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Visit Celtic life in Iron Age Britain to scroll through a British Museum exhibition of Iron Age objects.

  • Which piece is your favorite?
  • What do you find interesting about it?


The Celts had a yearly pattern of religious festivals based on the year's seasons. Two major festivals happened at the beginning of spring (May 1) and fall (August 1). In November, they celebrated the beginning of a new year.

Their religious leaders were called Druids, and there is evidence that they sacrificed both humans and animals in some of their rituals.


The Celts appear to have cared a lot about their appearance. They wore bright colors with stripes or checks and added decorative items like brooches and pins. The women grew their hair long and braided it, while the men wore long beards and mustaches.

Celtic warrior with shield and spear

One decorative item that was very popular with the Celts was the torc. The torc was a gold, silver, bronze, or iron neck ring. Many have been found all over Britain.

The name torc comes from the Latin word for twisted. Many were made of twisted wire and decorated with patterns. Look at several examples of torcs.

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Now that you know what brochs and torcs are, move on to the Got It? section to test your knowledge of the Celts and design a virtual museum display!

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