1.1 Origins of the Frisians (1750 BCE - 700 BCE)
The origins of the Frisians lies in an area that roughly covers South Scandinavia, Denmark and the Weser/Oder region. In the period between 1750 and 700 BCE they were still part of a larger group of peoples called the Germanics. This larger group was mainly of the Nordic race (dolichocranic) [Having an elongated head or face - WM]. (Among the Nordics there also lived a smaller group of brachycranics [Having a BROAD skull, or face - WM] whom had the position of slave). After 1400 BCE an expansion of the Germanics into southern Europe took place.
Around 800 BCE, the original Germanic group had split into Western (Vandals), Eastern (Goths) and North Germanic groups (Scandinavians), traceable through language and culture. At the end of the Bronze Age, around 700 BCE, the expansion of the West Germanics had reached the coastal areas of northwest Germany (currently the province Hannover).
The West Germanics can be divided along religious lines into three tribegroups: The Inguaeones; Istuaeones; Irminones. The Frisians belong to the Inguaeones.
The name Inguaevones is derived from the god Inguz from whom the Frisians believed they had decended. Inguz is another name for the Germanic god Freyr [Among the Norse, Freyr is revered as the brother of Feya, or Frigga - wife of Odhin]. Other tribes belonging to the Inguaeones were the Jutes, Warns, Angles, and the Saxons. Of these tribes the Saxons were closest in kin to the Frisians. All Inguaeones lived in the coastal areas along the North Sea. The Chaukians, also a tribe that lived along the North Sea, belong to the Irminones.
[The name "Friezen" (Frisians) can be traced back to the end of the first century A.D.. The Roman writers Plinius and Tacitus wrote about the so called Frisii.
The Germanic word Freisias (Frisians) comes from the Indo-European Preisios. Preisios is a derivation of the root-word prei-, which means: to love.
Freya is the Germanic goddess of fertility and love. Thus the meaning of the name Friezen can be explained as sons of Freya. (From The Frisian Homepage) - WM]
[The Irminones formed the religious group most associated with the Norse. Irmin is an alternate OHG name for the God Tiu, a war god. (Interestingly, the name is presented in the FEMININE gender). Tiu (or masculine TiWaz) is associated linguistically, and characteristically with the early Norse High God Tyr, who was later supplanted by Odhin. Irmin yields the derivation of the name of one of the largest groups, or kindreds of A'satru', the modern Norse religion. It is known as the "Irminsul Aetir". - WM]
[Istuaeones is much more obscure, and I could find no definitive references. However, Istuan is a common first name in Hungary. Hungary has considerable connection with Norse and Germanic migrations. - WM]
From Northwest Germany, to be exact, the coastal areas around the mouths of the rivers Eems and Weser, the Inguaeones colonized the coastal clay-districts of the current Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen (700 - 600 BCE).
1.2 The Heathen period in Friesland (700 BCE - 800 CE)
Between 700 and 600 BCE the forefathers of the Frisians colonized the coastal clay-districts of the current Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen. The largest group came from the Eems/Weser region. Later, people came from the higher sandy regions to the east of Friesland (currently called Drenthe).
Between 700 and 400 BCE one cant speak of a seperate Frisian group, since there is still one homogenic Germanic culture between Texel (Netherlands) and the Weser (Germany).
Between 400 and 200 BCE significant cultural changes took place. From Leiden in the south, to Delfzijl in the north, a Proto-Frisian culture was evolving. In 200 BCE a distinctly Frisian culture can be found between the river Eems (Germany), and Wijk-bij-Duurstede (Netherlands). For the first time the Frisians are an ethnic entity!
To the north of the Eems lived a tribe called the Chaukians. An interesting fact is that the Chaukians belonged mainly to the Falian race (Brachycranic - with a broad face) . The Frisians mainly to the Nordic race (Dolichocranic with narrow face). In the region currently known as the province of Groningen there was a melting together of both races. There was also a small group of brachycranic people living among the Nordic Frisians, but of a non-Germanic origin. They inhabited the Netherlands before the Germanic-invasion, and were probably of pre-Indogermanic origin.
Two centuries after the colonization of the clay-district the sea level stared to rise. To counter the periodic flooding of their homesteads, the Frisians built earth-mounds known as terps. There were several periods of rising sealevels which were also accompanied by storm flooding. Consequentely, there are several seperate terp-building periods that coincide with the periods the sealevel rose.
There are three seperate terp-building generations: The first terp generation dates from 500 BCE; The second terp generation dates from 200 BCE till 50 BCE; The third terp generation dates from 700 CE.
In 250 CE, the rising sealevel and the coinciding storm flooding was so dramatic that almost all of the Frisians left the clay district, not to return until 400 CE.
1.2.2 Contact with The Romans
Julius Ceasar conquered Celtic Galicia between 58 and 50 BCE (these are the current countries France and Belgium). In doing so, he moved the borders of the Roman Empire up to the river Rhine. At this point in history, the Frisians still lived north of the Rhine, and thus fell outside the borders of the Roman Empire. Under Emperor Augustus (28 BCE - 14 CE) the Romans wanted to make the river Elbe their most northerly border instead of the Rhine. The consequences would be that the entire Frisian Folk would fall under the influence of the Romans. The Frisians chose to collaborate whith the Romans. This happend when the Romand general Drusus and his army arrived at the Rhine in 12 BCE. The Frisians and Drusus negotiated a truce under which the Frisians had to regularly pay taxes in the form of cowhides.
Under Emperor Tiberius, the taxes became to high, and the Frisians could no longer comply with them. The result was that: First, the Romans would take their cattle; Next, take their land; Finally, their women and children were taken and sold into slavery. In 28 CE the Frisians rebelled, and hung the taxmen. To retalliate, the Romans sent their legions to punish and conquer Friesland. But, the Roman army was slain in a battle at the Baduhennawood. The name of the Frisians was now a feared one in Rome. There was no Roman reprisal, since Rome had its own internal problems, and for the next 20 years Friesland would remain free.
In 47 CE the Frisians made another truce with the Romans, this time with Corbulo. An agreement was made in which there was a mutual understanding that the Rhine was to be the border that both parties had to respect. Friesland would fall under a Roman sphere of influence, but it would no longer be occupied.
In 58 CE, Frisians colonized an uninhabited strip of land south of the Rhine, thereby breaking their agreement with Corbulo. Two Frisian leaders, Verritus and Malorix (these are Roman translations of their Frisian names), went to Rome to bid the Roman Emperor Nero to allow them stay. Alas, the Frisians were violentely extradited from the region below the Rhine.
In 69 CE the Batavians (a Germanic tribe situated in central Netherlands, and the southern neighbours of the Frisians) also rebel against the Roman occupiers. This region was the north-western cornerstone of the Roman Empire. The Frisians and the Canninifats (also a Germanic neighbor tribe of the Frisians in the west of the Netherlands) became the allies of the Batavians. Sadly the uprising failed. The Romans defeated the Batavians.
The Rhine remained the Roman border until the collapse of the Roman Empire in 410 CE.
Around 250 CE almost all Frisians disappeared from the Frisian coastal-clay districts. The rising of the sealevel made it impossible to live in the coastal areas of Friesland for the next 150 years (250 - 400 CE). In this period a fraction of the Frisians and the Chaukians (a Germanic tribe neighbouring north of Friesland) form a new tribal alliance called the Franks. This is the tribe that will emigrate south and form the Frankish Empire (currently known as France).
After 400 CE the rising of the sealevel halted. Frisian people and their nobility returned to the Frisian clay-district which had already been colonized by peoples from the Elbe and Sleeswick/Holstein region. These tribes assimilated and continued as the Frisian tribe we know today.
In 300 CE other smaller West Germanic tribes had also formed larger tribal groups known as: Allemans [Root of French and Spanish name for Germany - WM] , Saxons, Thuringers, and Bayerns [eventually, Bavarians - WM]. The Chaukian tribe dissapears alltogether. It has assimilated in the Frisian and Saxon tribes.
1.2.3 Migration Period (350 - 550 CE)
For two centuries (350 - 550 CE), the tide of the Migration of Nations sweeps over Europe. Germanic tribes migrate all over western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire, thereby forming new tribes in the newly conquerd areas. For the first time large organized Germanic states appear. In Europe, the major Germanic states were the Jutish, Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, Burgondish, West-Gothic, East-Gothic, Vandal, and Frisian.
Around 450 CE Angles, Saxons, Jutes and a Frisian fraction crossed the North Sea and established the Anglo-Saxon Empire (currently known as England). The Frisians colonized the county of Kent in south-east England.
Around 480 CE, Clovis established the Frankish empire (currently known as France). As said before, the Frankish tribe originated from the Chaukans and Frisians.
Around 400 CE, the Frisians started establising their Frisian Empire. In 500 and especially 600 CE there was a fast expansion and a strong increase in trade. At its peak, in the 7th century, this empire consisted of the coastal areas from north Belgium to southern Denmark. And it controlled a large part of the North Sea trade routes from Friesland to England, France, Scandinavia and north-west Russia [It is from this control we assume the Frisian/Norse contact arose - WM].
The Migration Period seems to have wittnessed only a slight change in racial characteristics.
In the sixth century the written sources begin to speak again about the Frisians. A Great-Friesland (Magna Frisia) has been created. This historical Great-Friesland consisted of a long narrow strip of land along the North Sea, from the Swin (Belgium) in the south, to the Weser (Germany) in the north. This historic Frisian Empire lasted from 500 CE to 719 CE. Its neighbors were the Saxons in the north and east, the Franks in the south and the Anglo-Saxons in the west across the North Sea in Britain.
1.2.4 Frisian Expansion under Heathen kings (400 CE-719 CE)
Very little is kown about this period in history. There are no historical documents of Frisian origin, and a few documents of Frankish and Anglo-Saxon origin. The Frankish writings do not always present a historicaly just picture of the Frisians. Ever since the Frankish conversion to Christianity under Clovis (496 CE), the Heathen Frisians had become their major antagonists. As a result, the Frankish texts became colored for political and religous reasons. Clovis converted to Catholicism for power-politic reasons. The Gallo-Roman aristocracy in France, and the church in Rome, both of whose support Clovis needed during his empire-building period, were Catholic. Other Germanic tribes in the former sphere of the Roman empire (Goths and Vandals) had coverted to a form of Christianity more suitable to the Germanic soul, called Arianisme. The Germanic tribes in the north, including the Frisians, were still practicing the religous beliefs of there forefathers, currently known as Odinism or Asatru. In this article the generic term Heathen is used.
In becoming Catholic, the Franks automatically became the greatest antagonists of the Frisians [As a result of Christian belligerance and expansionism, not Heathen - WM].
Around 500 CE, Clovis had formed his Frankish empire which was to be the heir of the Roman Empire - with blessings of the Pope in Rome. The most northerly border of this empire was formed by the cities Utrecht and Dorestad, neighboring the Frisians. After the death of Clovis in 511 CE, the Frisians took advantige of the internal Frankish power struggle and captured Utrecht and Dorestad. Both cities would stay Frisian for over a hundred years (511 - 628 CE). The capture of these cities was of very great importance to the Frisians, since they were the gateways of trade from the Saxon and Frankish hinterlands to the North Sea. In the sixth and the seventh century the Frisians were the major traders on the North Sea. The North Sea was even called Mare Frisicum during this period.
From a religious point of view, Frisian Heathenism was no longer under threat of Frankish Christianity since the Franks had lost their sally-port, Utrecht [and thus could not engage them at sea, and we summize, they did not possess the might for a land campaign - WM].
In the year 628 CE the Frankish/Christian king Dagobert defeated a combined force of Saxons and Frisians (both Saxons and Frisians were Heathen). By doing so, the city of Utrecht fell to the Franks. Dagobert erected a church in Utrecht and ordered a bishop to start converting the Frisians. Christianity had become a tool in the hands of the Franks to destroy the Frisian independance north of the Rhine.
King Finn Folcwalding (early 6th century) - King Finn may have been a Frisian king in the sixth century. He is only named in Anglo-Saxons epics (Widsith, Beowulf and Finnsburg-fragment) which were written some 50 to 100 years later.
King Eadgils ( ? - 677 CE) - King Eadgils is the first Frisian king known by name. Two Christian scribes, Beda and Eddius, name him in their works. Under the rule of Eadgils, the Frisians and the Franks live in peace with one an other.
There are two reasons for this. First, the Franks were still in internal division as to whom was to be the heir of the Frankish empire Clovis built. Second, Eadgils let bishop Wilfried (a pawn of Rome and the Franks) preach Christianity freely in the Frisian regions. This peacefull time was to change drastically ten years later when Redbad became king of Friesland, and Pippin leader of the Franks.
King Redbad (679 - 719 CE) The heathen king Redbad is the greatest folk hero of the Frisians. He is the defender of the Frisian freedom both against the invaiding Frankish armies, and against the church of Rome. Redbad was a devout heathen. So, when the Franks were internally divided as whom was to rule, he attacked the Franks, conquerd Utrecht and distroyed the church. Christianity was then forcefully removed from the Frisian empire.
Pepin II - In 689 CE, Pepin II lead the Frankish conquest in the Frisian lands and took Dorestad. Between 690 and 692 CE Utrecht also fell into the hands of Pepin. This gave the Franks control of the important gateways of trade from the Frankish hinterland to the North Sea via the river Rhine.
In 714 CE Pepin died. Redbad took advantage of this and beat the Frankish armies under Charles Martel in 716 CE at Cologne, thereby winning back the Frisian Empire. King Redbad died in 719, leaving behind a Great and Heathen Friesland.
King Poppa (Hrodbad) (719 - 734) - Fifteen years after Redbads death, Charles Martel reached the peak of his power, and saw the oppertunity to deal with Friesland. In 734 CE he sent his forces to Friesland. In the heart of the Frisian land, on the river Boorne (Middelsea), the decisive battle was waged, with Poppo (in full, Hrodbad) at the head of the Frisian land and sea forces. Poppo was the son of Redbad, but not as succesful as his father. He was killed in battle, and the Frisian forces (in disaray) were slain. Friesland, up to the Lauwers, was incorporated in the Frankish Empire. It lost its freedom and The Church got a foothold.
Abba (749 - 775 CE) - The son of Poppa, Abba (in full, Alfbad), became the first Frisian count under Frankish rule. East-Friesland (east of the Lauwers) was conqeured 50 years later. The East-Frisians had bonded with their Heathen neighbours the Saxons.
Martels son, Pepin the Short, was unable to defeat this coalition. Only under the leadership of Martels grandson, Charlemagne (Charles the Great), is the Saxo-Frisian alliance defeated in 785 CE. This Saxo-Frisian heathen alliance was led by the legendary Widukind.
During the eighth century, the Frisian language was born. This birth can be traced by sound changes in the language, thereby setting the Frisian language apart from other Inguaeonish languages.
1.3 The Frankish Period (785 CE- 925 CE)
Charlemagne ruled his Frankish empire in a strong centralized manner. Frisians had to serve in his armies. They served under the Franks in the war against the Wilts (789 CE) and against the Avars (791 CE). When in 800 CE the first Scandinavian Viking attacks upon Friesland under Karolingian rule start, the Frisians are discharged from militairy service abroad. Instead they are left to organize their defenses against the Heathen Vikings.
After Charlemagne defeated the Saxons in 785 CE, the Frankish Empire borderd in the north to the Danish Empire. The Danes were very well aware of the terrible atrocities Charlemagne, in name of the Church, had inflicted on their Heathen kin-folk the Frisians and the Saxons.
The Danish/Viking raids on Charlemagnes empire and on the wealthy churches and monastries in it, can be seen as a heaten reprisal.
Next to the Franco/Christian invaders, another enemy of the Frisians reared its ugly head. In the Christmas of 838 CE an enormous stormflood flooded nearly all of Friesland, drowning lots of people and livestock.
1.3.1 Friesland Becomes a County of Frankish Empire (749 - 840 CE)
After Charlemagne's victory in 785 CE the entire Frisian Empire became a County of the Frankish Empire. As seen before, the grandson of the legendary Redbad, Abba, became the first Frisian Count under Frankish rule (749 - 775 CE) over Friesland west of the Lauwers. The two main duties of a Count were: To maintain the rule of law; To organize the conscripts for the Frankish armies. From 734 until 1100 CE Frankish Emperors (and after them, German Kings) have been represented by Counts. These Counts were feudal tennants. Very little is known about these Counts. East, West, and Middle Friesland have probably each had their own Count.
The Counts of Middle Friesland:
The Counts of West Friesland:
There is nearly no trace of the Counts of East Friesland.
1.3.2 Frankish Christianity (688 - 734/785 CE)
The conversion of Heatens to Christianity could only be realized in areas that were under Frankish rule.
West Lauwers, Friesland became a Frankish County in 734 CE The entire Frisian empire came under Frankish rule in 785 CE.
The Christianization of Friesland started in 688 CE when Wigbert preached in Friesland and was completed in 800 CE when Friesland was firmly in the grip of Frankish ruler Charlemange. In 800 CE the Friesians "seem" to be converted. However, only the ruling elite, the Counts and other Frankish vassals, have become Catholic. Large portions of the population are still Heathen, and will remain so for a long time. But, under the Christian dominance of the ruling class, the voices of the Frisian Heathen priests and Frisian skalds of the epic poems (like Beowulf) are silenced, their songs forbidden. Thereby, the chain of the oral tradition that connects the Frisians with their Heathen past was broken, and Christianity, in the end, wins.
Some (tragic) dates:
Highlights in Heathen terms are:
In 793 CE Liudger met the only remaining Frisian skald, Bernlef. Bernlef sang epic songs of the Frisian Heroic Age (like Beowulf).
1.3.3 Viking Raids and Danish Rule (800 - 1014 CE)
In 807 CE a war started between Charlemagne and the Danish king Godfried. Godfried raided Friesland with a fleet of 200 ships, mocking the Frankish defenses. Shortly thereafter Godfried died (810 CE). After Godfrieds death, the Danish raids concentrate mostly on the British Isles and less upon Friesland.
After the death of the Frankish emperor Lewis the Pious in 840 CE, the Carolingian defense of Friesland had collapsed. Since there was no Frisian King to organize a defensive force, the Danish raids on this Carolingian outpost intensified. Consequently, the rest of the 9th century the Frisians frequently lived under Danish rule and had to pay taxes to the Danish feudal lords.
The Danes forced the weakend Carolingian Kings to give them Friesland as a feudal estate.
Feudel lords in Friesland were:
In 885 the last Scandinavian ruler of Friesland, Godfried the Norwegian, was murderd and the ruling Danes were evicted from Friesland by the Frisians. The great tidal-waves of Heathenistic Viking raids (sometimes acompanied with occupation) in Friesland, came to an end. Smaler raids still took place uptill 1014 CE when the Christian Knut the Great became king of Denmark, Norway and England.
1.4 The German Period (925 CE - 1498 CE)
In 843 CE, Lotharius II became ruler of Friesland. In 925 CE, most of the Lotharingian rulers accepted Henry I of Germany as king. Friesland became part of the "Heilige r+mische Reich deutscher Nation". The executive power was, untill 1217 CE, in the hands of feudal lords (Counts).
After 1217 CE, Middle-Friesland did not have a Count, no feudal lord, almost no knights, no unfree, and only a few cities. They were a people of farmers, fishermen and bargemen. Since there was no overruling authority, indigenous administrative organs developed everywhere. It was a booming period; agriculture and trade flourished and raised prosperity. Frisian cities joined the "Hanze" (West-European trade alliance). But allready dark clouds were drifting over, which would eventually (1498 CE) end the Frisian Freedom.
1.4.1 Dyke Building (starts circa 1000 CE)
After the terp building, which was in fact a defensive measure against the sealevel rising, the Frisians went on the offensive and started taking land out of the reach of the sea by dike building. Around 1000 CE, larger parts of land were surrounded by dykes. This happend in Friesland on both sides of the Lauwers.
Between 1000 and 1100 CE, large parts of Friesland were protected by dykes, and there were extensive regulations concerning maintenance of dykes and watering sluices.
These first dykes had a height of 1.50 meters above field level. Behind the dyke there were roads with a width of approximately 4 meters, so that in case of an emergancy, two wagons could pass one an other. In terms of total earth movement nessecary for the dyke building, one can speak of a world wonder.
These large dyke building projects were first organized by so-called skeltas. In the 13th century the dykes became the responsibility of grietmannen and asegas.
Despite the dyke building, frequently, there were storm floods that broke the dykes and flooded Frisianlands with all the tragic concequences.
1.4.2 Opstalboom (circa 1000 - 1327 CE)
To the south-west of Aurich, in East-Friesland, on a burial mound dating from the Bronze Age, lies a place called the Opstalboom (Opstalsboom; Upstallboom; Upstalesbame (Old-Frisian)). In the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, an alliance called the "Opstalboom" gathered on the burial mound. The alliance consisted of representatives of the 7 Frisian "Zeelanden" (lands by the sea). These representatives gatherd once a year (on the Tuesday after Whit Sunday) and drew up rules of law. The alliance also joined forces if one of the individual of the 7 members was attacked.
1.4.3 Struggle against the Dutch Counts (993 - 26 september 1345 CE "Slag bij Warns")
The end of the West-Frisian freedom
After the period of the Scandinavian/Viking rule, the Counts of the "House of Holland" become the ruling elite in the lands along the North Sea, south of West-Friesland. These Counts of the House of Holland were of Frisian origin. But, after the birth of the province of Holland in 1075 CE, the Frankish influences dominated the Frisian. At this time, a deep rift developed between the Frisians in West-Friesland and the Counts of Holland. Several attempts were made by these Counts to forcefully submit the West-Frisians.
Count Arnulf undertook a military expedition and was killed in 993 CE.
Count Willem II attacked West-Friesland in the winter of 1256 CE. He fell through the ice while on horseback and was beaten to death by Frisians.
Floris V, son of Willem II, was bent on revenging his fathers death, and attacked and defeated West-Friesland. Around 1200 Frisians diee in the battle. The de-Friesing of West-Friesland then began.
After the death of Floris V, the West-Frisians arose again against Jan I. His succesor, Jan II, defeated the West-Frisian uprising, killing 3000 Frisians. Middle-Friesland sent troops to aid the West-Frisians, but they came to late. West-Friesians lost their freedom, and in the coming centuries, also the Frisian language (their mother tongue)
Battle of Warns
After the defeat of West-Friesland, the Counts of Holland set their eye on Middle-Friesland.
In 1345 CE, Count Willem IV set out on a militairy expedition to conquer Middle-Friesland. With a large fleet, and with the help of French and Flemmish knights, he sailed over the "Zuiderzee". The approach of the aggressor united the Frisian fractions (the Upstallboom played a role in this unification). On 26 September, 1345 CE, Friesland had its finest hour. Willem IV and the cream of the Hollandish, Flemmish and French knights were in the forefront of their army, and near Warns, they were surrounded by Frisian landfolk and were beaten to death. In disarray the rest of the army fled, leaving the body of Willem IV behind.
The 26th of September became an annual festal day in Middle-Friesland.
1.4.4 Schieringers en Vetkopers (1217 - 1489 CE)
In 1392 we first hear of the "Schieringers" and the "Vetkopers".
These two infamous names indicate the end of the Frisian freedom. It came from the Frisian heart itself. The Schieringers and the Vetkopers were two rivaling parties of Frisian origin. They led Friesland into a civil war. Village fought against village, stins against stins and son against father.
It was Frieslands darkest hour, and it started in 1217 CE. At this time the rule of Charlemagnian Counts in Middle Friesland ends. This results in the lack of one overruling authority eventually a severe weakening of law and order ensues. The power of the civil service no longer came from above, but out of the community itself. The result of this was that the Grietman (judge) did not have anybody of authority to support him in his actions against disobedient people. In the 14th century this resulted in the partisanship of the Schieringers and Vetkopers.
The Frisians remained in this stalemate because of a character trait - their strong individuality. Their personal freedom was more valuable than the freedom of the people as a whole [This trait, inherent in the Frisian's predacecssor religious philosophy was shared by the Norse who retained that religious philosophy of personal freedom. The Norse would also suffer the same fate, and for the same reason - lack of unity - WM].
In 1489 CE, the aid of a foreign authority, Albrecht of Saxony, was accepted to end the catastrophic partisanship. Thus ended the Frisian freedom!
1.4.5 End of the Frisian freedom (1498 CE)
Albrecht of Saxony, on request of the Schieringers, created a centralist authority and installed Saxon civil servants. Law and order returned to Middle-Friesland, but culturally, Middle-Friesland impoverished. The language of civil service was German, which resulted in the de-Friesing of most cities. The de-Friesing was also hastend because after The Reformation in the 16th century, the Bible was translated into, and the preaching in churches was allowed only, in the Low German language.