When the Vikings invaded North Wales

Historical records tell us of a series of terrifying attacks by Viking invaders on the coasts of Britain, France and Ireland in the last decade of the 8th century. Archaeological evidence show that these invaders may not have been as brutal as records claim.

The first recorded raid on Wales occurred in 852, and we know of attacks by

Vikings on Anglesey and Gwynedd from 854 onwards. Rhodri Mawr, ruler of Gwynedd (844-78), led resistance to these early onslaughts, killing the Danish leader Gorm in 855.

In 903 Vikings came to Anglesey after being driven out of Dublin. According to both Irish and Welsh records they failed to gain a foothold in Wales, and sailed on to Chester. Again in 918, Anglesey was ravaged by Vikings.

Frequent attacks occurred on the island during the second half of the 10th century on the island; Olaf of Dublin built a castle known as 'Olaf's Castle' or 'Castell Bon y Dom' about the year 1000.

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

The nature of Viking settlement in Wales remains one of the mysteries of early medieval archaeology, none more so than on Anglesey. This is emphasised when the Viking measurement of 'a day's sail' is plotted from the Isle of Man, Dublin, Chester and the Wirral, for they all intersect in Anglesey waters.

10th-century fragments of silver ingots and arm-rings

10th-century fragments of silver ingots and arm-rings

The Vikings name Anglesey

Physical evidence of the Vikings in Wales is even less definite. Certainly, we know that the Vikings were familiar with Anglesey because of the place-names of Scandinavian origin which have been given to prominent coastal features as navigational aids: Onguls-ey itself, traditionally thought to incorporate a personal name - presumably a Viking leader, The Skerries, Piscar, Priestholm (prestaholmr) and Osmond's Air near Beaumaris, from Asmundr & eyrr, a gravel bank near the sea.

Uncovering evidence of Vikings in Wales

For a more realistic picture of Viking Wales, we have to turn to archaeology. Most Viking silver found in Wales has been discovered in coastal areas. St Deiniol's monastery in Bangor has produced two hoards, one dated to around 925, and a small group of coins deposited about 970. The

Bryn Maelgwyn hoard of coins near Llandudno was deposited in the mid-1020s, and may be Viking booty rather than local savings; and a remarkable hoard of five complete Viking silver arm rings of were found in the 19th century at Red Wharf Bay, Anglesey.

The Viking Age settlement at Llanbedrgoch

One of the most intriguing archaeological sites belonging to the Viking period is to be found at

Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey and research by Amgueddfa Cymru has helped reveal the nature of Viking Age life which has puzzled scholars for decades.

Comments (6)

Malcolm Jones
10 June 2021, 18:14
Both me and my sister have suffered with vikings disease and at the moment we still have it in either of our hands. Our Father was born in Menai Bridge Anglesey and his Mother was born in Pentraeth, Anglesey in 1877. Our Father past away in his 60's but I remember him complaining about sinews thickening in the palms of his hands. My sister and I are both in our 80s
30 September 2019, 12:10
30th Sept 2019
Today is Gary Hocking's birthday and was looking up info about his birthplace and whether Vikings settled there as I think I have roots. Told my spouse about the disease and he said that he has it n showed me how his pinky finger is curling up! He is Swedish!
Happy Birthday Gary Hocking..

Andrew Weare
8 October 2017, 20:10
Same hand features for myself also that designates a "Northern European" according to the diagnostics... Anglesey or Ongul's Ey' name of the Viking "Ongul" and his "Ey" or isle of. -- was repeatedly raided by Vikings..landing at Red Wharf bay, and near Bangor, Rhyls and etc. The famed Rhodri Fawr repelled the Vikings from North Wales rather efficiently and my guess is that the Welsh learnt strategies from the far past with the Romans..?
3 October 2017, 21:13
I know someone else who had this. Lives just outside Llangollen.
I also have an hereditary illness called antitrypsyn deficiency.. Alpha-1 for short. It's known as the Viking disease. As they say it was a mutant gene which they bought over. Which affects lungs, and also liver.
14 February 2017, 19:57
Is there any descendants from the Vikings in Wales
Sylvia Balch
16 January 2017, 21:38
I find the viking history very interesting as I have Dupytrons (a Viking disease where the fingers curl up) My grandfather was born in Llanidloes, Wales and my mother and her relations also have Dupytrons. I was interested to know if you have any information on this disease (I have been told that I have a strong connection) and any info on an invasion in Llanidloes. I have been told that this area has a lot of people with this Viking disease.

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