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Background - Friend or Foe?

Viking Warrior

Historical sources record a series of terrifying attacks by Viking marauders from the last decade of the 8th century on the coasts of Britain, France and Ireland. In contrast to the other areas of Britain, Wales successfully resisted yielding land to these invaders. The first recorded raid occurred in 852 and annals record attacks by Vikings on Anglesey and Gwynedd from 854 onwards. We even know the names of some of the Vikings.

The Viking leader Gorm was killed by Rhodri Mawr (ruler of Gwynedd 844-78) in 855. In 903 Ingimund led Vikings to Anglesey after they had been forcibly expelled from Dublin. According to both Irish and Welsh annals these Vikings were again expelled, and forced to sail on to Chester. The second half of the 10th century also witnessed frequent attacks on the island.

Viking Boat

The one-sided historical record of Vikings terrorising the land, perpetuated by the Victorian romantic reinvention of the Vikings, has now been transformed by archaeology. Viking contact was certainly hostile and brutal at times, but often opportunist. In some areas, the Norse rapidly settled as peaceful farmers, and archaeology has provided evidence for them as colonisers, merchants and skilled craftsmen.


Viking familiarity with Anglesey is demonstrated by the place-names of Scandinavian origin which have been given to prominent coastal features as navigational aids: Anglesey itself (Önguls-ey, 'Önguls-island'), traditionally thought to incorporate a personal name - presumably a Viking leader, The Skerries (sker, 'isolated rock'), Piscar, Priestholm (presta, 'priest'-holmr, 'island') and Osmond's Air near Beaumaris (Asmundr- eyrr, a gravel bank near the sea).