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The Frisians are an ethnic group of Germanic people living in coastal parts of The Netherlandsmarker, Denmarkmarker and Germanymarker. They are concentrated in the Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningenmarker and, in Germanymarker, East Frisia and North Frisia. They inhabit an area known as Frisia. They have a reputation for being tall, big-boned and light-haired people and they have a rich history and folklore.


Pre-Roman times

The Frisian origins are obscure. Archeologically, Frisians share a local development with other people in northwest continental regions, dating to the Elp culture (1800-800 BC). The Elp culture shows local continuity, starting with the emergence of the neolithic Corded Ware culture (2900 BC onwards until 2450) and running through Bell-Beaker culture (2700–2100), Bronze Age Barbed Wire Beakers (2100-1800 BC). The Elp Culture itself began with a Hügelgräber phase, showing a close relationship to other Northern European Hügelgräber groups (sharing low-quality pottery called "Kümmerkeramik"). This phase transitioned smoothly and locally to Urnfields (1200-800 BC). Apparently, the local tradition was only broken around 800 BC, by the Iron Age Hallstattmarker culture and later by La Tenemarker, which originated south and south east of Central Europe. It was thought that this change was caused by immigration, but it is now attributed to a local development stimulated by external influences. The Hallstatt elites may have had little social influence in Frisia, because there is no evidence of royal burials there.

Social stability and international contacts became disturbed by power shifts towards the southern Hallstatt regions in the C-period. This caused a decay in the superstratum elite in the D-period that thus never achieved the same privileged and dominant position like in SW Germany and Eastern France. The same process of quick decay was observed at the subsequent intruding La Tene elite. Archeologically, this Iron Age period continued without breaks towards Roman times, showing that continental Germanic cultures participated in an otherwise Celtic European culture. Thus it is not clear whether most Northern European Iron Age findings are from Celtic or Germanic tribes.

About 750 BC, the coastal flood plains were populated for the first time, when adjacent higher grounds (Drenthe) became more populated and their soil was exhausted. The Frisian ancestors may have immigrated in the Iron Age from Germanic areas to the north or even Scandinavia, but archeological evidence is ambiguous. Genetic evidence points to a close relationship between all Germanic groups, including Frisians, although a possible Scandinavian link is hard to prove with the occurrence of genetic drift, local developments and eastern additions confined to Scandinavian areas.

The Frisians emerge as a Germanic tribe named by Roman writers. Nowadays the region shows one of the few examples in prehistory of Bronze Age culture to have continuity with recent building practices as demonstrated by Elp culture influences in present day Frisian and Low Saxon territory.

Roman times

The Frisians were able to form a treaty with the Romans at the River Rhine in 28 AD, thus avoiding conquest. But sixteen years later, when taxes became repressive, they hanged the tax collector and defeated the Romans under Tiberius at the Battle of Baduhennawood. The Frisii were known and respected by the Romans and written about by several sources. Tacitus wrote a treatise about the Germanic peoples in 69, describing the habits of the Germanic people, as well as listing numerous tribes by name. Of the many tribes he mentioned, the name 'Frisii' is the only one still in use to refer unequivocally to the same ethnic group.

Friesland had been settled early, with evidence of terp-building, the distinctive raised settlements, starting in 700 BC. Frisii were mentioned by Roman historian Tacitus and earlier by Pliny the Elder. According to inscriptions found in Roman Britain some of them served the Roman Army and used Frisiavones as a synonym. Expansion to the south-west occurred probably as early as 70 AD, when the westernmost parts of the rivermouth were abandoned by the Canninefates in the aftermath of the Batavian revolt by Julius Civilis. Emigration to Flanders and Kentmarker happened peacefully within Roman jurisdiction and probably reached a height in the 250s, due to heavy flooding. Around 290 AD Constantius Chlorus mentioned Frisians among the pirates that were raiding Roman Britain, but in the records the Saxons took over this reputation in the fourth century. This coincides with archeological evidence that habitation of the original area remained scarce for about 150 years and only recovered in the 400s. It has been suggested that by then a part of the Frisians had already merged with the Saxons, to whom they were closely related. The Frisian languages remain the closest surviving languages to English.

The Roman historian Tacitus, in his Germania, mentioned the Frisians among people he grouped together as the Ingvaeones. Tacitus mentions two types, or classes of Frisians—the maiores Frisii and the minores Frisii—divided by the soil of their farmlands. The maiores Frisii or Clay Frisians populated fertile clay soil, increasing the size of their harvests, livestock and even their posture. The small and relatively unhealthy minores Frisii (Sand Frisians) farmed on sand lands, so their crops were smaller and fewer than those of the maiores Frisii. The armies of the maiores were also larger and better equipped.

They were probably a people of seafarers, the North Seamarker spanning from Britainmarker to Eastern Denmarkmarker, was referred to as the Mare Frisia at that time. Small groups of Frisians settled the surrounding lands and their settlements have been traced to Englandmarker, Scotlandmarker, Norwaymarker, Germanymarker, Belgiummarker, Francemarker, and obviously in Denmark and The Netherlandsmarker.

Their territory followed the coast of the North Sea from the mouth of the Rhinemarker river up to that of the Ems, their eastern border according to Ptolemy's Geographica. Pliny the Elder states in Belgica that they were conquered by the Roman general Drusus in 12 BC, after several uprisings that were mentioned by Tacitus. The most noted of these is their partaking in the Batavian rebellion. Thereafter the Frisians largely sank into historical obscurity, until coming into contact with the expanding Merovingian and Carolingian empires.

In the 5th century, during this period of historical silence, many of them no doubt joined the migration of the Angles and Saxons who went through Frisian territory to invade Great Britainmarker, while those who stayed on the continent expanded into the newly-emptied lands previously occupied by the Anglo-Saxons. By the end of the sixth century the Frisians occupied the coast all the way to the mouth of the Weser and spread farther still in the seventh century, southward down to Dorestadmarker and even Brugesmarker and West Flandersmarker. This farthest extent of Frisian territory is known as Frisia Magna.

The empire that came in to being after the fall of the Western Roman Empire was governed by a king or a duke. The earliest document referring to an independent state ruled by a king is dated 678. Early attempts to Christianize Frisia were unsuccessful in converting the fiercely pagan Frisians, and various monks were murdered or banished, such as the legendary example of the murder of Saint Boniface near Dokkummarker. King Radbod was even able to beat the mighty Charles Martel in 714 to preserve independence. Twenty years later Charles Martel got his revenge and effectively subjugated the entire Frisian empire. Christianity was also enforced by the Christian Franks and in Utrecht a Bishop was installed to see to Christian affairs in Frisia. Not until the early 800s did they fully reclaim their independence from the Frankish grip.Christianity had however taken root and had been adopted by most Frisians. Benedictine monk Saint Willibrord is considered to be the "Apostle of the Frisians".

Kings or Dukes of Friesland

The Frisian Realm
The princes of the Frisians in the early Middle Ages were: The last three were certainly historical figures. The first four may be only legendary. What their exact title was depends on the source. Frankish sources tend to call them dukes; other sources often call them kings.

Friesland in the Middle Ages

Freedom of the Frisian People, Frisian Law

In the 8th century, Charlemagne freed the people of Friesland from swearing fealty to foreign overlords "That all Frisians would be fully free, the born and the unborn, so long as the wind blows from heaven and the child cries, grass grows green and flowers bloom, as far as the sun rises and the world stands".

This is from a 12th century law text written in Old Frisian using the poetic saga-style of Scandinavian epics. There are a substantial number of existing Frisian law texts and some of these have yet to be studied. There is currently a Frisia Project at the University of Amsterdammarker that is studying the ancient history of Friesland.

But the bits of Frisian history that are already known reveal a people not much given to making their mark on history, except when provoked, and then fighting with a fierceness to protect their freedom.

Frisian Migrations

The Frisian people also migrated to other areas in Europe. It has been proposed that Frisian migrations to Great Britain occurred, after the Romans left Britain, during the early Middle Ages (along with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes); and that these peoples founded England or Angla-lond. There are certain studies that purport to prove Frisian involvement in this. Linguistics for example: that the Old Frisian language is that which is most closely related with Old English; archaeology: that brooches found in Kent are most likely to be from Frisia. And genetics: that Frisian men share a strong genetic background with men from East Angliamarker and the northern midlands of England.

In the Faroesemarker island of Suðuroymarker people refer to 'Frísarnir í Akrabergi' (the Frisians of Akraberg), indicating that the Frisians might have had some sort of settlement there.

It's somehow believed the Frisians had settled across Scandinavia, Polandmarker, the Baltic States and farther inland across Central Europe. Frisian seafarers may been invited to Irelandmarker, the Spanishmarker provinces of Asturiasmarker and Galiciamarker near Portugalmarker and the few might joined the Normans when they occupied Sicily in Southern Italy.

Modern history

The modern remnants of Frisia Magna are small and scattered. Most of it became dominated by its expanding neighbours: the Saxons (who were moving north and west) and the Franks (who were pushing north and east). Western and Middle Frisia are solidly within the modern state of the Netherlandsmarker, which now includes the "heartland" of the Frisians from the North Sea coast from Alkmaarmarker in the modern province of North Holland, along the coasts of the modern provinces of Friesland and Groningenmarker, and up to the mouth of the Ems. Culturally, it has shrunk down to the province of Friesland alone. The West Frisian language is now spoken there and in parts of the Wadden Sea islands of Terschellingmarker and Schiermonnikoogmarker, Saterland Frisianmarker is spoken in the German municipality of Saterlandmarker just south of East Frisia, and North Frisian is spoken in the German region of North Frisia (within the Kreis of Nordfrieslandmarker) on the west coast of Jutland. The North Frisian language is under heavy pressure from Low German and Standard German and faces possible extinction. A total of 29 schools in Southern Schleswig offer courses in Frisian.Frisian is not spoken in Denmarkmarker any more. The East Frisian Low Saxon (a dialect of the Low Saxon) is spoken in East Frisia.

Genetics Y-DNA

Based on Y-DNA studies, it is believed the Frisian Y-DNA Haplogroup to be from the Haplogroup U106/S21 and its downstream subclades. Reference Haplogroup R1b . U106 is defined as R1b1b2a1a by Family Tree DNA. U106 subclades include R1a1b1b2a1a1, R1a1b1b2a1a2, R1a1b1b2a1a3, and R1a1b1b2a1a4. Subclades are genetic mutations from their upstream parent, and can be connected with a specific geographical area which most likely caused the mutations to begin with. Having one's Y-DNA tested by such groups as FTDNA in America or others in Europe and joining the research project groups can assist one better in an understanding of DNA and its connection to specific people and geographical locations at a specific time period.

Notable Frisians

See also

External links


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