A HISTORY OF ANCIENT WALES

By Tim Lambert

During the last ice age people hunted reindeer and mammoth in what is now Wales. When the ice age ended around 10,000 BC new animals appeared in Wales, such as red deer and wild boar. Stone age hunters hunted them both. They also gathered plants for food.

In about 4,000 BC farming was introduced into Wales, although the people still used stone tools. About 2,000 BC people learned to use bronze. Then, about 600 BC Celts migrated to Wales, bringing iron tools and weapons with them. The Celts were a warlike people and they built many hill forts across Wales. However they were also skilled craftsmen with iron, bronze and gold.

In 43 AD the Romans invaded Southeast England. They began the conquest of Wales about 50 AD, but it took several decades. In 78 AD the Romans captured Anglesey, the headquarters of the Celtic priests, the Druids. That effectively ended Celtic resistance.

Afterwards Wales was firmly under Roman rule. The Romans created a network of forts across Wales to control the Celtic tribes. Sometimes towns grew up outside the forts as the soldiers provided a market for the townspeople’s goods. The most important Roman town in Wales was Caerwent. To us it would seem tiny, with only a few thousand inhabitants but towns were very small in those days. Other Roman towns were Maridunum (Carmarthen) and Segontium (Caernarfon). The Romans also built a number of villas in Wales.

Christianity arrived in Wales in the 3rd century. We know that two Christians named Julius and Aaron were martyred at Caerleon. However persecution of Christians ceased in 313.

However in the 4th century the Roman Empire went into decline. The last Roman soldiers left Britain in 407 AD. Afterwards the Roman way of life slowly vanished. Wales split into separate kingdoms.

Meanwhile the Saxons invaded eastern England. They marched westwards and by the 7th century AD they had reached the borders of Wales. Centuries of fighting between Welsh and Saxons followed.

Then in the 9th century the Vikings began attacking Wales. However a man named Rhodri ap Merfyn or Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great) became king of Gwynedd in the northeast. In 855 he also became king of Powys in eastern Wales. In 856 he won a great victory over the Danes. However the Vikings continued to attack Wales, at intervals, until the end of the 10th century.

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