From the assault on Lindisfarne, the Great Heathen Army, and the four Danish kings of England to the Norse domination of Orkney and Shetland in Scotland and the foundation of the settlements of Dublin and Cork in Ireland, the history is dramatic and often rich in detail.
In Wales, however, things become more difficult.
We know that the Vikings did travel there, and many of the place names even bear a distinctly Viking influence, including Swansea, Anglesey, Freystrop, and even Skokholm Island.
What is less clear, however, is the actual impact that the Norse had in Wales and the extent to which they may have settled the land.
This article explores the key sites and stories of Viking history in Wales while attempting to understand why their story remains so elusive in this region.
Despite coastal incursions and alliances between Welsh rulers and Viking chieftains during the Viking Age, the historical records and archaeological discoveries related to the Vikings in Wales are sparse. Photo: JKMMX / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
A hinted history
At the beginning of the Viking Age, Wales was not a united country – there was no major standing army and no truly dominant ruler to ward off invaders.
It should be no surprise that there were regular Norse coastal incursions in Wales from the middle of the 9th century.
Though the first recorded raiders are believed to have come from Norway, the Welsh Chronicles soon mention attacks from Danish Vikings, too.
It is believed that a number of alliances were soon formed between local Welsh rulers and Viking chieftains.
Maredudd ab Owain employed Norse warriors to attack Glamorgan in 992 – despite having his lands raided by the Vikings previously.
Other Welsh kings also frequently employed the Vikings as mercenaries to assist them with internal and external conflict, while historical documents show that in 1058, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, king of Gwynedd, allied with Magnus II of Norway.
After 1066, however, just like in England, Norman dominance led to a decline in the influence of the Scandinavians.
Regrettably, the number of contemporary Welsh written sources during the Viking Age is scarce.
Similarly, although there have been some archaeological finds that have been attributed to the Vikings, these are very isolated cases – there is certainly no richness of finds like in other parts of the British Isles, such as York or the Isle of Man.
For this reason, many of the locations in our list are long on natural beauty and tantalizing hints of Norse influence but short on archeological finds, historical records, and tangible monuments to a Viking presence.
Anglesey, located off the North Wales coast, experienced Viking presence in the 10th century, with archaeological proof such as Viking silver arm rings discovered at Red Wharf Bay. Photo: Jeff Buck / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Anglesey: Named by the Norse
Although they almost certainly raided the area previously, a group of Vikings is believed to have come to the island of Anglesey in larger numbers after being forced out of Dublin in the early tenth century.
Irish and Welsh records tell us that the Norse were soon driven out of Anglesey, too, and moved to Chester on the mainland.
They would, however, return to ravage the island in 918.
The name Anglesey is thought to be of Norse origin, composed from the name of a Viking leader, likely Ongl, and the Norse word for an island, "ey": "Ongl's ey."
Other names that appear to be of Norse origin in the area include the Skerries, Priestholm (now Puffin Island), and Osmond's Air.
There is also some archeological evidence of the Vikings in Anglesey, most notably a hoard of five complete Viking silver arm rings found in the 19th century at Red Wharf Bay, which was thought to be a popular landing area for the Norse.
More recent excavations at an adjacent site at Llanbedrgoch have revealed significant building of fortifications in the ninth and tenth centuries that may have been in response to Viking raids.
The site has also revealed several other objects associated with the Norse, including hacksilver, as well as evidence of trade.
Founded in the tenth century by Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard, Swansea, Wales's second-largest city, served as a crucial Viking trading post due to its strategic position along Swansea Bay. Photo: Red Media / Shutterstock
Swansea: Forkbeard's trading post
Wales's second-largest city is believed to have been founded by the Danish king, Sweyn Forkbeard, in the tenth century.
In fact, its name is thought to derive from Sweynsey or Sweyn's Island.
The records state that Forkbeard first encountered the area when his ship floundered in Swansea Bay, and he would raid the site several times before establishing a Viking trading post.
In this period, the mouth of the River Tawe became a site of trade.
Unfortunately, there are precious few remains of the Viking occupation today.
However, one recent piece of research based on topography suggests that the shape of the city's foundations – with the main street parallel to the river with lanes running back at right angles – is thought to mirror traditional Norse settlements.
Milford Haven, located alongside an estuary leading to the Irish Sea, is believed to have been a Viking shelter during raids along Britain's west and south coasts in the Viking Age. Photo: Richard Whitcombe / Shutterstock
Milford Haven: A place of shelter
Situated alongside an estuary that opens onto the Irish Sea, Milford Haven is believed to have been used by the Vikings to shelter during periods of raiding along the west and south coasts of Britain throughout the Viking Age.
The name is believed to be an anglicized version of Melrfjordr, "Melr" meaning sandbank, "fjordr" a fjord or inlet.
The records also state that a Viking chief, Hubba, spent the winter at Milford with 23 ships – today, the village of Hubberston bears his name.
Today, Viking enthusiasts can look forward to a walking route from Milford Waterfront that narrates the escapades of Viking raiders alongside tales of Henry Tudor, Oliver Cromwell, and Admiral Lord Nelson.
Ogmore Castle's 12th-century ruins in the Vale of Glamorgan hint at the area's history, with nearby Flat Holm and Steep Holm as potential Viking entry points. Photo: Richard Whitcombe / Shutterstock
The Vale of Glamorgan: A Viking entry point
In the south-east of Wales, the Vale of Glamorgan was a common target for Viking raids.
Two nearby islands, Flat Holm and Steep Holm, take the second part of their names from a Norse word meaning "island in an estuary."
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, a Danish woman and mother to Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, stayed at Flat Holm before traveling to France after the Norman conquest of England.
It is believed that the Vikings used the two islands as a base to raid the mainland, ravaging throughout the Vale of Glamorgan and beyond.
You can also take a trip to the charming village of Ogmore-by-Sea, where you can enjoy a view of Tusker Rock, named after Tuska, a Danish Viking who settled in the area.
Perhaps you can also visit nearby Wick, a town whose name is thought to come from the Norse word "vik," meaning bay.
Chirk Castle hosts an annual September reenactment event in which the Welsh army protects its lands from marauding Norse invaders. Photo: Phil Breeze / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Chirk: Where to find modern-day Welsh Vikings
Some linguists believe that the name of Chirk, a small town close to Wrexham, is thought to derive its name from the Old Norse or Old English word "kirk," though others have argued it takes its name from the adjacent River Ceiriog.
Either way, the settlement may have no other notable Viking connections, but Chirk Castle now hosts a special reenactment event every September, where the heroic Welsh army defends its lands from a horde of Norse invaders.
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