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Who Were the Frisians?

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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.

Frisian Settlement

Frisian Settlement

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.

A 17th century depiction of the Frisian God of Law, Forseti.

A 17th century depiction of the Frisian God of Law, Forseti.

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.

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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


70 AD

Revolt of Batavi

War against Roman's

296 AD

Settled in Roman Germania

Invited as Serf/Colonists

400 AD

Settlement in Kent,England

Germanic movement

600 AD

Expanding Kingdoms into Holland and UK

North Sea rises

678 AD

Frisia Magna

Frisian High King created

734 AD

Converted to Catholism

Defeated by the Frank's

993 AD

Frisian Freedom

Counts of Holland weakness

1272 AD

Holland asserts control

Sporadic conflict

1524 AD

Becomes part of Holland

Loss of power

1568 AD

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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Andrew Stewart


Andrew Stewart (author) from England on February 01, 2013:

Jainismus, as weird as it may seem...It is possible they did move from the Indian area and made their way into what is now Russia, Turkey and parts of the middle East. These groups split and headed into different area's of the world. We know that we Human's love to move around and the Frisians could have originated from the Northern Area of India and spread westwards.

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on February 01, 2013:

I heard that the Fresians originally were from India. Is it true?

Andrew Stewart (author) from England on January 28, 2013:

Ah yes, it is funny how similar but different the Germanic languages can be :)

Ghaelach on January 28, 2013:

Andy, I really do believe you. In fact, it is in that place that is an outcast from Lancashire. What's it called! Oh yeh Todmorden and my wife laughs as I say the name of the town where a friend of mine was born (poor sod) as in Germany the name of the town is called "Dead Murders." Tod in German is dead and morden is murders.

Not a very nice name for a town, but we can put it down to the "Ostfriesen's." lol

LOL Ghaelach

Andrew Stewart (author) from England on January 28, 2013:

Thank's for the comment, UnnamedHarald. I personally believe that the area I grew up in Yorkshire, was settled by the Frisian's after the Roman withdrawl. Maybe my family line has a bit of the Frisian's running through it.

David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on January 28, 2013:

Another very interesting hub-- and again, though I've heard of the Fresians, I knew next to nothing about them. Thanks for the education!

Andrew Stewart (author) from England on January 28, 2013:

And Robin Hood was buried in Yorkshire lol

Ghaelach on January 28, 2013:

Hey Andy.

About Richard.

Robin of Locksley buried him there. just before they built Tesco's. lol

LOL Ghaelach

Andrew Stewart (author) from England on January 27, 2013:

Yes at first I knew more of their cow's and horse's than the actual tribe!! Thanks for stopping by Charmike4.

Michael Kromwyk from Adelaide, South Australia on January 27, 2013:

I just saw a documentary on the German uprising around 10 AD and they mentioned the Frisians/Fresians...and I thought that these were just a good milking cow! Thanks for enlighting me on their history. Cheers Michael

Andrew Stewart (author) from England on January 27, 2013:

Ah now the War of the Rose's, that is a subject and a half. In fact it is one that gets very little attention in the modern world but is used to excess when describing Sporting Rivalries!!

As soon as I have cleared my backlog of Hubs I will take a look at doing the subject some justice. I see they believe they have found Richard III in a Car Park!

Ghaelach on January 27, 2013:

Hi there Andy.

I have a few friends that live or come from Yorkshire.

The problem you have now, is because you are a history fanatic and I'm a Lancashire lad you'll have to write me a hub on the "War of the Roses," ----- please.

LOL Ghaelach

Andrew Stewart (author) from England on January 27, 2013:

Morning there Ghaelach, Very glad you enjoyed the hub. I am from the East Yorkshire are of England and am a bit of a History fanatic. The area I grew up in is constantly in danger of the North Sea reclaiming the land that the Norse and Germanic settler's stole from it a thousand year's ago. A lot of the Germanic place names remain and a few can be attributed to the Frisian's. There was a settlement that was named after the Frisian's but the North Sea destroyed it by the 1600's.

Thank you for commenting and reading


Ghaelach on January 27, 2013:

Morning Asp52.

This is for me a very interesting article.

I've lived in Germany (Dusseldorf) for the last 20 years and had the chance 2 years ago to take a holiday in Werdum, Ost (east) Friesland, and about ten miles from the coast.

A lovely part of Germany, but one can see straight away that they have a different life or way of living. That is more than likely a lot to do with having the North Sea on their door step.

Land and housing is affected by this situation. Houses and land is cheap because of the threat of flooding, which happens often. One of the requirements for buying a house or land, is that they must keep the water ditches around their land free from blockage and overgrowing of nature. Thus allowing the sea or river water to flow back and forth unhindered without flooding the land, most of the time.

Great hub.

LOL Ghaelach

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