The Viking challenge

Wales was not heavily colonised by Vikings, though they did settle in South West Wales areas including St David's, Haverfordwest and the Gower.

Some places, among them Anglesey, Bardsey, Milford and Fishguard, were given Scandinavian names, and Swansea is said to have been founded by Sweyne Forkbeard, who was shipwrecked in the bay there.

Names of Norse origin can be found in the Gower Peninsula, including Worms Head - worm was the Norse word for dragon, and the Vikings believed that the island was a sleeping dragon.

Tusker Rock, an island in the Bristol Channel just off the coast at Ogmore-by-Sea, took its name from Tuska, a Danish Viking who inhabited the fertile Vale of Glamorgan with his fellow warriors. The names of Skokholm (Norse for 'wooded island'), Ramsey, Grassholm and Skomer islands also betray Viking origins.

The Scandinavian Norsemen's attacks on rich and defenceless monasteries helped to explain the decline in the vitality of the Celtic Church.

However, the Vikings never took control of Wales or overcame the powers of the Welsh kings. Notably Rhodri The Great, ruler of Gwynedd, defeated the Danes in 856, a famous victory which earned him the epithet 'the Great'.

Conversely, in England, Scotland and Ireland, the Vikings established settlements and even kingdoms. They would, from the 780s until 1100, be a significant factor in the politics of all four countries.

The Viking invasions eventually smashed the state system of the English. Wessex survived and, in the reign of King Alfred (d. AD 899) a campaign began to bring the whole of England under the rule of the Wessex dynasty.

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