Limits of Viking influence in Wales

Limits of Viking influence in Wales

Mark Redknap

British Archaeology, Issue 40 (1998)

Introduction: Historical sources record a series of terrifying attacks by Viking marauders on the coasts of Britain, France, and Ireland from the last decade of the 8th century. Wales also suffered raids, but to judge from the Welsh annals, Welsh armies avoided yielding large tracts of land to the newcomers.

Archaeology seems broadly to confirm that the Vikings failed to colonise Wales to any significant extent. Recent excavations at Llanbedrgoch on Anglesey have produced evidence of cultural and trading links with the Viking world – and possible later Viking settlement. One or two other places have been claimed as sites of Viking occupation, while a few Viking burials and hoards around the coastline, and increasing numbers of stray Viking finds, suggest occasional contact. But there is little else.

The first recorded raid on Wales was in 852, and sporadic incursions occurred until about 919. Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great), ruler of Gwynedd from 844-77/8, led the initial resistance, his successes being noted in Ireland and at the court of Charles the Bald at Liège. In 903 Dublin Vikings led by Ingimund came to Anglesey after expulsion from Ireland. Expelled again by the Welsh, they sailed east to Chester, which marked an important development in the settlement of North-West England.

The second phase of raiding started about 950, following the death of Hywel Dda, king of Gwynedd and Deheubarth (South-West Wales). There were numerous raids on the coastal lowlands, and in particular on religious centres, such as Penmon and Caer Gybi (Anglesey), Clynnog Fawr (Caernarfonshire), Tywyn (Merionethshire), St David’s, which was attacked 11 times between 967 and 1091, and St Dogmaels (Pembrokeshire), Llanbadarn Fawr (Cardiganshire), Llantwit Major and Llancarfan (Glamorgan). However, in comparison with the fate of churches in Ireland, Wales appears to have suffered lightly, which may in part be a reflection of poorer documentary records. Following another relatively peaceful period, a third phase of raiding commenced during the second half of the 11th century, linked to events leading up to the Norman Conquest.

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