Welsh History

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Welsh History

Wales has a tumultuous and somewhat violent history. During the early years A.D., the country was in turmoil with the Roman invasions, and the biggest defenses that the Welsh had were the deep, dark hills scattered all over the country. Without the safety of these hills, Wales would certainly have been taken over by the Romans. After the Romans left Wales, the Vikings presented a new threat to the peaceful lands of Wales. The Romans also had a huge effect on the Welsh religion and language. Wales was affected both negatively and positively by these invasions.


In 55 B.C., Julius Caesar planned a series of exploratory expeditions into Wales, which were inspired by tales of large deposits of gold in the vast hills in North Wales. (Millet, 1995, p.187) These explorations prepared the ground for the arrival of the Roman armies (Cunliffe, 1990, p.203). In 43 A.D., the Roman army arrived on the shores of Wales to attempt a completion of their new Roman British empire (Tedesco, 178, p. 387). Wales had a strong military history that took a central role in society as far back as 1200 B.C. (Thompson, 1989, p.735). The old Roman boast Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) might have been applied to other places in their vast empire, but in Wales, their conquest was never complete (Johanson, 1979, p. 359). To help with the invasion, they constructed a city at Caerwent that introduced Roman notions of civilization to the natives. They also built a network of roads that connected their two bases at Chester and Caerwent with some small forts (Avery, 1975, p.687) During some expeditions into the hills of Pumpsaint, the Romans finally found the gold that they had been searching for (McQueen, 1985, p.982)
When the Romans left Wales in the 4th century, they left it unprotected against the Saxons, Picts and Irish Goidel tribes. The end of the Roman Empire meant the beginning of a Dark Age for Wales (Thomas, 1986, p. 13).
From the 9th to 11th centuries, a storm descended over the Welsh in the form of the Vikings – unquenchable in their desire for battle and war (McDonald, 1987, p. 439). The shores of Britain were terrorized by these warriors, who not only plundered and wreaked havoc along Britains coastline, but also invaded inland and destroyed native villages (Warner, 1992, p. 489). Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great), ruler of Gwynedd, had some success fighting off these terrible invaders, but was ultimately forced into exile in Ireland (McDowall, 1989, pp. 443-445). The Vikings had an incredible impact on Wales, but aside from place names such as Bardsey, Fishguard, Milford, Skomer, and Swansea, they left virtually no monuments in the Welsh landscape (Montgomery-Massingberd, 1993, p. 128). Although Rhodri Mawr did manage to create some unity in the 9th century, it was to prove short-lived. Provoked by the Anglo-Saxons interference and the Viking raids, the country remained politically frail and divided (Crowe, 1998, pp. 154-155). Although his laws long outlived his death, the unity brought about by Hywel Dda (Howell the Good), the grandson of Rhodri Mawr, was too delicate to remain after his death.


Before the Roman invasions, the religion of the Welsh people was a worship of nature, in which some animals were seen as gods. It somewhat resembled the Greeks and Latins in the way that they worshipped ideas instead of material items (Phillips, 1980, p. 298). By the end of the Roman occupation, most of the Welsh had become Christian, and the pagans were only found in remote villages (Perry, 1969, p. 532). Many native Welsh bishops condemned St. Augustine because he was a Saxon, and refused to be converted into Christians. This attitude nearly drove the Welsh church to schism, but this period of unrest was short-lived, and in the 9th century, Wales renounced their so-called unorthodox customs and grudgingly accepted the jurisdiction of Canterbury (Burke, 1983, pp. 195-196). After this, it was the boast of Welshmen that their country never swerved from their Catholic and Roman faith (Dunst, 1987, p. 429).


The Roman occupation had many effects on the Welsh culture, including the language. Ancient Welsh is very close to Latin in some ways, and has borrowed many of its vocabulary from Latin, although generations of Welsh people have modified the words to suit regional dialects. Most words in Ancient Welsh that have to do with religion or theology are derived from Latin (Morgan, 1985, p. 367) Welsh as a language is also very similar to the Celtic language, and is in fact almost the same except for some modifications and spellings. Welsh is also similar to Irish, Gaelic and Cornish, although it is a typically harder-sounding language than these. Although it is very guttural, it is also a very musical language and has been described by an English writer as a language half blown away by the wind.(Gates, 1987, p.297) During the Roman invasion, much of the Welsh language was changed to suit the Romans who came to live in Wales. The new religion and the changes in society had a drastic impact on the language and its native speakers (Montgomery-Massingberd, 1984, p. 287). Even with all the new changes, the native Welsh people managed to keep their language alive through their writing and stories.


The Welsh were greatly affected by the continuous invasions that swept through their peaceful land. The religion was changed to suit the Romans, as was the language and many of the landmarks and buildings. The Vikings changed many place names, as well as plundering the towns along the coastline. The vast hills, full of caves and tunnels, were one of the main defenses against the invaders, and if not for them, Wales would be a very different country today. Welsh history is turbulent and violent, but some of the things that made the history that way have had positive effects on the modern country.

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