The Black Heathen

Mark Griffiths

Thanks to Mark Griffiths who has kindly shared his new photographic project about the presence of Viking invaders in the southern regions of Wales. The Black Heathen or gentiles nigri was a name that the Welsh called Viking invaders. The term means a dark and unwanted presence that do not belong to a widely held religion.

A member of Gwerin Y Gwyr (The Gower Folk) a viking reenactment group based in Swansea, known as Oscar, is photographed at Swansea Bay where viking invasions occured on a regular basis. The group train with replica viking weaponary and reenact viking battles.

The Black Heathen were feared throughout the land and attacks along the Welsh coastline lasted for over 200 years from the first recorded incident in 795 AD. Wales was repeatedly raided, especially by the Norse from the Hiberno-Norse kingdoms of Dublin and Limerick.

Richard Taylor, a member of Y Blaeddau Ddu (The Black Wolves) a viking reenactment group based in Newport. The group train with replica viking weaponary and reenact viking battles.

Stephen Bryant, a member of Y Blaeddau Ddu (The Black Wolves) a viking reenactment group based in Newport, South Wales. The group train with replica viking weaponary and reenact viking battles.

Kings like Rhodri ap Merfyn, known as Rhodri Mawr (the great, 844 to 878 AD) and Hywel Dda (the Good, 900 to 950 AD) were able to rally large numbers of Welshmen to the defence of their lands with stubborn resistance, preventing the formation of large Norse kingdoms such as existed elsewhere in the British Isles.

A member of Blaeddau Ddu reenactment group holds a traditional viking axe. Perhaps the most common hand weapon among Vikings was the axe – swords were more expensive to make and only wealthy warriors could afford them.

Owning a sword was a matter of high honour. Persons of status might own ornately decorated swords with silver accents and inlays. Most Viking warriors would own a sword as one raid was usually enough to afford a good blade. Here a viking reenactment group known as ‘Blaeddau Ddu’ (Black Wolves) hold a replica sword which was for single-handed use to be combined with a shield, with a double edged blade length of up to 90 cm. Its shape was still very much based on the Roman spatha with a tight grip, long deep fuller and no pronounced cross-guard. It was not exclusive to the Vikings, but rather was used throughout Europe.

The places pictured in this series are sites where attacks were frequently recorded. Wales suffered heavily at the hands of “The Black Heathen” and blood was spilled along the shores, fields and forests in the southern regions from relentless attacks endured.

Clakkeston or “Klakkr’s Farm” is an area 5 miles from the capital city which is believed to be an area for Norse settlers. It is widely accepted that a colony of Scandinavians settled on both sides of the great fjord of Milford Haven in South Pembrokeshire. There may also have been a Norse colony in Gower, the peninsula that extends about 18 miles westward of Swansea. Another Scandinavian settlement in Wales was situated in the low-lying coastal plain between Neath, Cardiff, and Newport, which was a part of the kingdoms of Morgannwg and Gwent. In Glamorgan, the evidence of charters shows a significant number of Norse names, indicating a Scandinavian settlement in that area as well.

Skomer Island, also Skalmeye would have been used by Norse Viking invaders during 982 to 1000 AD as a settlement. The Island is only a few miles from St. David’s and its religious sanctuary (medieval Menevia) which became a special focus of Norse attacks.

To die on the sword of “The Heathen” was a fate of many Welshmen as the black tide of invaders came wave after wave.

Amroth Castle, located near medieval Eirwere was used as a passage to Colby woodland where suggested Viking settlments were probable.

Lydstep, also known as Loudshope straddles the border of Manorbier and Penally. The name means an inlet or bay and recalls Viking raids on this coast a thousand years ago or more. Here a starling murmuration is pictured over the headland at dusk.

Mark Griffiths is a photographer based in South Wales, U.K. He graduated in 2013 with a degree in photojournalism from the university of Wales/ Trinity St David. His work has been widely featured throughout the world and exhibited across the country. His clients include The Telegraph Magazine, Channel 4, The Smith Journal and The Financial Times among others. His work ‘The Healing Land’ received an honourable mention at the Moscow International Photography Awards and in addition the work was voted as one of the ten best features of the week by Fotografia magazine. He was highly commended at the British Life Photography Awards in the portrait category. And recently he has been selected for the final 30 at the Fotofilmic awards and will exhibit in L.A, Vancouver and Melbourne.