Who Were the Frisians?
The Frisians were a Germanic tribe of ancient Europe, who have often been overlooked in the history of Europe. They never really dominated any great extent of territory and were often subject to the aggression of other European tribes such as the Franks. The Frisian people still exist today as part of the peoples of Holland, Germany, Denmark and Belgium. Their original lands included parts of Denmark, Germany and Holland. It is estimated that there are around 1.5 million people making up the population of Europe, who possess some form of Frisian ancestry
The ancient Frisians battled against the Roman legions in the first century AD. Historical accounts tell us that the Frisians had settled in Roman lands by the third century. Towards the end of Roman supremacy of Europe, the Frisians were used as auxiliaries for the Roman legions.
A few centuries later, the Frisians suffered with the rising levels of the North Sea. This saw many of their settlements lost along the European coastline. It is thought that their population suffered due to the wetter conditions at the time. They also had to deal with encroachment by the Angles and the Saxons, who took much of the Frisian lands as their own through conflict. Other Germanic tribes would have intermingled with the remaining Frisians and created a similar culture that remained pretty close to the old Frisian's customs.
Conflict and Great Britain
The Frisians along with their fellow Germanic cousins, saw the exploitation of the relatively undefended British Isles as the answer to their continued survival. The Frisians were beginning to feel the pressure of the other Germanic tribes, as they vied for territory after the Roman Empire had collapsed. When King Clovis of the Franks were consolidating their hold on their embryonic empire, much of Frisia was swallowed up by the ambitions of the Franks.The northern ports along the coast offered the Franks the chance to increase their wealth and power.
Small groups of Frisians looked to escape the growing tensions and create a new life in the British Isles. Many safe havens along the Rivers Humber, Tees, Tyne and Forth were established. We know that the Frisians were a minor partner in the colonization of Great Britain but a few place names still offer slight evidence pointing to Frisian settlement.
One theory suggests that the Scottish town of Dumfries owes its name to "the town of the Frisians". We know that the Danes, Romans, Picts and Saxons all had staked a claim to the town over the years, so it is a possibility that the Frisians once had the rule of a Scottish enclave.
The influence of the Frisians was more keenly felt in the language of the British people, the Old English language was more closely related to the Frisian tongue than any of the other Germanic tribes. If a modern Frisian speaker were able to converse with an English peasant from the sixth century, they would be able to understand each other without too much trouble.
King Charlemagne's Vendetta.
The Frisians were a Germanic culture that worshiped the gods that we usually associate with the Viking period. One of the Norse Gods who was of particular interest to the Frisians was the god known as Forseti.
Forseti was the Norse God of Law and his legend among the Frisians is one of wise counsel. One Frisian legend tells of the Holy Roman King Charlemagne and his demands that the Frisians write down their own code of Laws. After a week of no progress the Christian King gave the Frisians a dire ultimatum, They could choose between death, slavery or being set adrift on the cruel North Sea until they could form one. The twelve lawmakers chose the last option and while they sat in the boat and prayed, a stranger with a golden axe came to their aid. He threw his axe and created a sacred spring on an Island off the Frisian coast. He then dictated to them a set of laws, so that they were able to appease King Charlemagne.
King Charlemagne disliked the idea of the pagan Saxons and Frisians along his Christian Empire's borders. For the majority of his twilight years, he was fanatical in either the conversion of them to his faith or the absolute defeat of these two troublesome tribes. It was Charlemagne who instigated the wide spread rejection of the old ways in favour of Roman Catholicism. The Frisians who were defeated in battle had little choice but to bow down before the victorious Christian King. Christianity was forced upon them and even their ancestors were converted to the faith even though they were long dead.
Timeline of the Frisians
Revolt of Batavi
War against Roman's
Settled in Roman Germania
Invited as Serf/Colonists
Settlement in Kent,England
Expanding Kingdoms into Holland and UK
North Sea rises
Frisian High King created
Converted to Catholism
Defeated by the Frank's
Counts of Holland weakness
Holland asserts control
Becomes part of Holland
Loss of power
Division of Frisia
The Dutch revolt
Due to Frisia losing its influence to the Lords of Holland in the thirteenth century. Their leaders also made unfavourable accords with rivals and treaties with allies which did little to preserve their way of life. The Frisian people were eventually separated and traded away. Their culture and heritage was systematically stripped from them to the point that three separate Frisian groups existed were one kingdom should have been. The western group had been assimilated into the progressive Dutch state and they embraced the security that the new union offered. The Germanic Frisians were also easily included in the many German states that they inhabited, their traditions and language were very similar to each other.
This has caused the Frisian culture to fragment and there is no real progressive movement for the Frisians to push for self determination at all costs like some other minority peoples are able to do. The majority of Frisians are bi-lingual and happy in their roles within their multicultural society.
Of the three Frisian groups of language, two of them are in extreme danger of disappearing. There are half a million speakers of the Western Frisian language but mere thousands of speakers of the two remaining styles of language. We are fortunate that the Frisian languages are similar to other Germanic languages and that there is enough of a population that has survived to continue Frisian rich heritage.
Other Hubs by the same author.
- The Anglo-Saxon Invasion of the British Isles.
The Saxons saw the British Isles as ripe for colonization, and with the attention of Rome occupied elsewhere the land of the Romano-British were just what the Saxons needed. Britain was desirable as it had good supplies of nature resources and had ve
- Great Britain and the Invasion of the Germanic Tribe...
The tribes of modern day Germany, drastically changed the ethnic and cultural make-up of the people who we refer to as the people of the British Isles.
- The Lost Roman History of East Yorkshire.
The settlements along the River Humber have long been isolated and thought of as irrelevant in terms of Britain's history. Is it not now time to start to look on the long ignored history of East Yorkshire?
© 2013 Andrew Stewart