On 11 November 2020, as part of the Year of Germany in Russia 2020/21, the exhibition “The Iron Age. Europe without Borders. The First Millennium BC” will open in the State Hermitage. This large-scale scholarly project represents the latest step in the sphere of collaboration between museums in Russia and Germany.
The display in the Manege of the Small Hermitage presents more than 1,600 exhibits from the archaeological collections of the State Hermitage, the State Historical Museum, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (part of the Berlin State Museums). The exhibition is unique in the breadth of the material featured: the Iron Age in Italy, the Hallstadt Culture, antiquities of Celtic culture, the famous treasures of Scythian burial mounds in the steppes, artefacts from the Classical World, well-known hoards, antiquities of the Koban culture of the Northern Caucasus and of the cultures of the Eastern European forest belt.
The exhibition “The Iron Age. Europe without Borders” continues many years of cultural collaboration, in which the foremost place is allotted to joint research efforts between Russian and German museums, and also the “reuniting” of archaeological complexes to be displayed together. The beginnings of the museums’ joint research were laid by the exhibitions “The Treasure of Troy: Heinrich Schliemann’s Excavations” in the Pushkin Museum in 1996 and “Schliemann – Petersburg – Troy” in the Hermitage in 1998. Those were followed by exhibitions devoted to the theme of a Europe without borders – “The Age of the Merovingians” (2007) and “The Bronze Age” (2013–14), both major successes. While “The Age of the Merovingians” presented artefacts from the early Middle Ages, and “The Bronze Age” featured antiquities dating from the 4th millennium to the early 1st millennium BC, the present exhibition, “The Iron Age. Europe without Borders”, closes the chronological gap between the two previous ones, without, however, exhausting the potential for further collaboration between museums.
The Iron Age is the term used in archaeology for the period in human history that came after the Bronze Age. It was marked by people mastering methods of obtaining iron and beginning to make artefacts from the metal that then entered into widespread use. This would be one of humanity’s most important achievements, leading to a rapid expansion of productive forces. The advance of iron-forging gave a certain impetus to the working of other materials – wood, bone, ivory and leather. The most efficient work tools – the iron plough-share, large sickle, scythe and iron axe – made it possible to develop agriculture on a broad scale, including in the forest belt.
The introduction of iron allowed the improvement of various types of offensive weapons – iron daggers, different arrow heads and darts, and swords, as well as a warrior’s protective gear. The Iron Age had an influence on all of subsequent history. Iron still remains the basis and mainstay of present-day technologies, without which it is absolutely impossible to imagine modern life. It was the Iron Age specifically with its technical, ideological and spiritual discoveries and achievements that laid a firm foundation for today’s European culture.
The aim of the exhibition “The Iron Age. Europe without Borders” is to use the archaeological material to show elements of the culture, economy, daily and ceremonial life of Europeans in that period. The display is organized along chronological and geographical lines with several thematic sections corresponding to the archaeological cultures that came into being across the extensive territory from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to the Ural Mountains in the East. The artefacts featured are arranged according to regional groups of cultures and archaeological complexes that include burial sites, settlements, hoards and chance finds.
Of particular significance are the objects whose fate was altered due to the tragic events of the Second World War. The display includes a large number of exhibits that belong to what are termed “displaced collections” which were removed to the USSR as trophy art. Because of their status, for many years they remained unavailable for study. This makes it all the more valuable that, against a background of still continuing controversy over the ownership of these archaeological collections, their joint presentation in the exhibition demonstrates the potential for friendly co-ordinated work between museum staff from Russia and Germany.
A richly illustrated scholarly catalogue has been produced for the exhibition in Russian and German: Zhlezny vek, Evropa bez granits. Pervoe tysiacxheletie do n.e. / Eisenzeit. Europa ohne Grenzen. 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. (Chisty List publishing house, 2020 – 720 pp., ill.) The publication is devoted to current issues in the study and history of Iron Age artefacts. As well as exclusive scholarly information, the catalogue stands out for the interesting presentation of the material, the diversity of the illustrations, the colourfulness and the depth with which it explores the period. The catalogue will be of interest not only to specialists, but also to a wide circle of readers. The texts have been written by leading European and Russian scholars.
The exhibition “The Iron Age. Europe without Borders” has been organized with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and the Commission for Culture and the Media of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The holding of the exhibition and the publication of the catalogue were made possible through the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of the Federal Republic of Germany as part of the Year of Germany in Russia 2020/21.
The exhibition will run in the State Hermitage in Saint Petersburg until 28 February 2021 and then from 15 April to 15 July 2021 at the State Historical Museum in Moscow.
The exhibition curator is Andrei Yuryevich Alexeyev, head of the State Hermitage’s Department of the Archaeology of Eastern Europe and Siberia.
The authors of the concept for the exhibition at the State Hermitage are Andrei Yuryevich Alexeyev, head of the State Hermitage’s Department of the Archaeology of Eastern Europe and Siberia, and Manfred Nawroth, coordinator of research projects with Russia and Eastern Europe for the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, with the participation of Yury Yuryevich Piotrovsky, deputy head of the State Hermitage’s Department of the Archaeology of Eastern Europe and Siberia.
All information credit to the State Hermitage Museum official website.