Early Medieval - National Museum Cardiff
AD 410 – AD 1070s
What happened when Roman Imperial rule came to an end?
In Wales, small British kingdoms emerged to fill the power vacuum. Each competed to control people, land and resources.
People experienced great changes in society, politics and religion in the Early Medieval period. Regional loyalties and power dominated all aspects of their lives. These changes shaped a Welsh cultural identity differently from that of the rest of the British Isles.
The Smalls Sword Guard is the lower guard from a prized sword, and is one of the finest examples of the late Viking ‘Urnes-style’ metalwork from England and Wales.
Although made around AD 1100-25, after the first Norman incursions, it represented the last of the Viking-age art styles.
Each side is decorated with a pair of animals in profile, interwoven with snake-like beasts. Two further animals on the top bit the grip (handle).
Vikings began raiding Wales from the 850s, and soon dominated the seaways. Until the 700s, some Welsh kingdoms traded through links to France, the Mediterranean and North Africa, as well as Ireland.
Christianity had freedom to expand in Roman Britain after its adoption from AD 313 as an official state cult. Pagan beliefs continued for some time, not least among the powerful and rich. By 600, Christianity was central to the lives of most people in Wales.
Inscriptions and sculpture are of enormous importance for understanding early medieval society in Wales. Little else survives. The stones can tell us about individuals, their beliefs and burial practices, languages, art and technology – and exchanges between cultures.
They are by no means silent witnesses. Try reading the evidence.