The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion

Recognising the contribution of Wales in contemporary society

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home > Transactions > Volume 19 - 2013 > Reflections on Early-Medieval Wales

Reflections on Early-Medieval Wales

The six hundred and fifty-four years between the conventional end-date of Roman Britain, AD 410, and the killing of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn in 1064 saw the shaping of the territory of Wales more or less as we know it. The process was one of loss of territory, a loss to which the Welsh were never reconciled.1 In 400, what we know as Wales was merely a projection of the land-mass of Britain into the Irish Sea, a projection far more mountainous than the open plains further east. Those encomia of the opulence of Britain composed by Roman and Post-Roman writers certainly did not apply to the highlands of Wales, even though those highlands were partially surrounded by more fertile country, as in Dyfed in the south-west, or Anglesey and Llŷn in the north-west; and even though the river valleys brought some good land far into the central mountains and moors.2 In the early middle ages the Britons of Wales remembered that their forefathers cultivated all Britain, not just this western projection into the sea. They were the Britons, and even the preeminent English historian, Bede, acknowledged them as the original inhabitants of the island.3 To understand this period in the history of Wales we need to examine it in a perspective suited to the period, not one just lifted unconsciously from the present. I shall pursue three themes through this long period: First, the relationship of the Britons of Wales with other Britons; secondly, differences between North and South Wales in the Post-Roman period, 400–600; and thirdly, differences between North and South Wales once the Vikings had come to dominate the sea-lanes between Ireland and Britain.

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