What is the story behind the people who fought at the Tollense valley battle?


The Tollense valley battle is the oldest evidence of a large scale battle in Europe, dating to 1300-1200 BC. It was quite brutal, casualties are estimated to be 750 to 1000 and the total amount of warriors would have been around 4000 men. You can read more about it here or here if you prefer the TLDR version, as well as look at images of the bones and weaponry. Arrows embedded in bones, cracked skulls, bronze spear tips and wooden clubs were all found at this site. Some arrowheads were bronze while others were flint. Evidence of mounted combat has been found as well at this site.

What is interesting to me is that the battle seemed to happen at a border point between three newly emerging cultures; the Proto-Germanic peoples from the Nordic Bronze Age, The Urnfield culture that seems ancestral to the Celtic peoples and the Lusatian culture, a pre-Slavic culture which lived in what is now Poland. Genetic testing showed that the people who fought at this place were quite diverse, some people clustering with modern Scandinavians, some with central and southern Europeans and some with modern day Poles, I think this correlates quite well with the cultural regions. Isotropic evidence has shown that some people who died at this battle grew up eating millet, which was not a common crop in northern Europe at the time.

Some of the findings at this battle were not weapons, but golden and tin spiraled rings. Here is another publication from researchgate which discusses these rings in detail. I do not think these were ornamental, but rather ingots, and this publication seems to agree with me.

The Urnfield culture originated in Southern Germany and Austria, which are rich in metal ores, Tin in particular occurs in the Ore mountains which is on the Border of Saxony and Bohemia. I think this is why the Celtic culture was so widespread in early central Europe, as they had access to a lot copper and tin, which means that you can make bronze. Which is really good for trading, and it probably gave birth or accelerated their warrior elite social classes.

So essentially these Proto-Celts were the cool new kids on the block, with fancy shiny armor, weapons and ornaments. These people would go around and trade, and other people thought they were cool and wanted to be like them, so they did. This brings me to the Lusatians, the pre-Slavic Poles.

The Lusatians were heavily influenced by the Urnfield culture, as their ancestors, the Trzciniec (I had to google that), traded with the predecesors of the Urnfield culture, the Tumulus, which ultimately gave rise to the Lusatian cultures.

The third people in this story were the people of the Nordic Bronze Age, or the Proto-Germanic people. The ancestors of the Germanic tribes that would plague the Gauls, the Romans, the Britons, and not to mention the Norse, who raided across the entire world. Despite what the Romans, Arabs or the recently converted Anglo-Saxons and Franks would have you believe, the Germanic tribes were not just a bunch of brooding dumb barbarians and neither were their ancestors. The NBA people had extensive trade with both the Lusatians and the Urnfield cultures, since bronze artefacts are commonly found but tin had to be imported. We know that centuries later, the climate in Scandinavia seems to get tougher and since there already was limited farmland, these Germanic tribes start migrating southwards and push the Celtic peoples back.

so here is what I think happened:

A big trading caravan from southern central Europe makes it way up north to trade with the Lusatians. These were dangerous times, especially since Indo-European societies loved to raid for some reason. This caravan is therefore well protected by mercenaries from different parts of the Celtic sphere, some of them mounted on horseback. Professional soldiers with bronze weaponry. This trading caravan is travelling north to trade metals like gold, tin and bronze, and probably return with amber and furs, maybe slaves too. But while crossing the Tollense river, this caravan gets attacked by a giant warband of marauders, hailing from the north. These Proto-Germanic people probably were the ones responsible for the wooden clubs and flint arrowheads, although I do think the wealthier individuals had bronze weaponry with them.

Unfortunately not enough evidence has been found to indicate who won or lost this battle, however the amount of bronze weaponry we find is quite low. No swords have been found yet marks clearly made by swords have, so someone must have taken the swords from the battlefield. The bodies were also dumped into the river so I think it was pretty clear that they were pillaged after the battle. I do not think a big trading caravan in foreign land which just got attacked by a giant group of raiders would have any interest in collecting the bronze weaponry spread over the battlefield, but the people who attacked with flint arrowheads and wooden clubs would. But who knows, swords were pretty expensive at the time so maybe the figured it was best to at least bring back the swords since the trading excursion did not seem to work out.

This battle is really fascinating to me because I think that the battle probably set the stage for the early history of northern and central Europe. A prequel to the Germanic expansions into Celtic, and later, Roman lands.

Last but not least, here is some artwork which shows what the battle could have looked like:



So fellow history aficionados, what is your interpretation of the battle? Do you agree with my assessment or do you think something completely different happened?

Source: reddit post


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