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Title: Frisians  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: History of the Netherlands, Ethnic groups in Europe, Netherlands, Afrikaner, History of religion in the Netherlands
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This article is about the modern Frisians, for the ancient Germanic tribe also called Frisians see Frisii.
Total population
1,500,000 (est.)
Regions with significant populations
Frisia (comprising parts of the Netherlands, Germany)
Frisian, Dutch, German, Low Saxon
Indigenously Germanic paganism,
later Medieval Christian

Presently Protestant Christian, predominantly Calvinist and Lutheran Protestant; Catholic minorities, mostly diaspora; also free churches and non-religious group.
Related ethnic groups
Afrikaners, Dutch, English, Flemings, Germans

The Frisians are a Germanic ethnic group native to the coastal parts of the Netherlands and Germany.[1] They are concentrated in the Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen and, in Germany, East Frisia and North Frisia, that was a part of Denmark until 1864.[2] They inhabit an area known as Frisia. The Frisian languages are still used by 500,000 speakers; dialects of Frisian are recognized as official languages in both the Netherlands and Germany.


The ancient Frisii enter recorded history in the Roman account of Drusus' 12 BC war against the Rhine Germans and the Chauci.[3] They occasionally appear in the accounts of Roman wars against the Germanic tribes of the region, up to and including the Revolt of the Batavi around 70 AD. Frisian mercenaries were hired to assist the Roman invasion of Britain in the capacity of cavalry.[4] They are not mentioned again until c. 296, when they were deported into Roman territory as laeti (i.e., Roman-era serfs, see Binchester Roman Fort and Cuneus Frisionum). [5] The discovery of a type of earthenware unique to 4th century Frisia, called terp Tritzum, shows that an unknown number of them were resettled in Flanders and Kent,[6] probably as laeti under Roman coercion.

From the 3rd through the 5th centuries Frisia would suffer marine transgressions that made most of the land uninhabitable, aggravated by a change to a cooler and wetter climate.[7][8][9][10] Whatever population that the Romans had allowed to remain dropped dramatically, and the coastal lands would remain largely unpopulated for the next two centuries. When conditions improved Frisia would receive an influx of new settlers, mostly Angles and Saxons, who intermarried with what remained of the earlier population. These people would eventually be referred to as 'Frisians', though they were not necessarily descended from the ancient Frisii. It is these 'new Frisians' who are largely the ancestors of the medieval and modern Frisians.[11]

By the end of the 6th century, Frisian territory had expanded westward to the North Sea coast and, in the 7th century, southward down to Dorestad. This farthest extent of Frisian territory is sometimes referred to as Frisia Magna. Early Frisia was ruled by a High King, with the earliest reference to a 'Frisian King' being dated 678.

In the early 8th century the Frisian nobles came into increasing conflict with the Franks to their south, resulting in a series of wars in which the Frankish Empire eventually subjugated Frisia in 734. These wars benefited attempts by Anglo-Irish missionaries (which had begun with Saint Boniface) to convert the Frisian populace to Christianity, in which Saint Willibrord largely succeeded.[12]

Some time after the death of Charlemagne, the Frisian territories were in theory under the control of the Count of Holland, but in practice the Hollandic counts, starting with Count Arnulf in 993, were unable to assert themselves as the sovereign lords of Frisia. The resulting stalemate resulted in a period of time called the 'Frisian freedom', a period in which feudalism and serfdom (as well as central or judicial administration) did not exist, and in which the Frisian lands only owed their allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor.

During the 13th century however, the counts of Holland became increasingly powerful and, starting in 1272, sought to reassert themselves as rightful lords of the Frisian lands in a series of wars, which (with a series of lengthy interruptions) ended in 1422 with the Hollandic conquest of Western Frisia and with the establishment of a more powerful noble class in Central and Eastern Frisia.

In 1524 Frisia became part of the Seventeen Provinces and in 1568 joined the Dutch revolt against Philip II, king of Spain, heir of the Burgundian territories; Central Frisia has remained a part of the Netherlands ever since. The eastern periphery of Frisia would become part of various German states (later Germany) and Denmark. An old tradition existed in the region of exploitation of peatlands.


As both the Anglo-Saxons of England and the early Frisians were formed from largely identical tribal confederacies, their respective languages were very similar. Old Frisian is the most closely related language to Old English[13] and the modern Frisian dialects are in turn the closest related languages to contemporary English.

The Frisian language group itself is divided into three mutually unintelligible languages:

Of these three languages both Saterland Frisian (2000 speakers) and North Frisian (10,000 speakers)[14] are endangered. West Frisian is spoken by around 354,000 native speakers and is not threatened.[15]


Today there exists a tripartite division of the Frisians, into North Frisians, East Frisians and West Frisians, caused by Frisia's constant loss of territory in the Middle Ages. The West Frisians in general do not see themselves as part of a larger group of Frisians, and, according to a 1970 poll, identify themselves more with the Dutch than with the East or North Frisians.[16] Therefore the term 'Frisian', when applied to the speakers of all three Frisian languages, is a linguistic and to some extent cultural concept, not a political one.

Culturally, modern West Frisians and the (Northern) Dutch are rather similar; the main and generally most important difference being that West Frisians speak West Frisian, one of the three subbranches of the Frisian languages, alongside Dutch. Because of centuries of cohabitation and active participation in Dutch society, as well as being bilingual, these Frisians are not treated as a separate group in Dutch official statistics.

See also


  1. ^ Minahan, James (2000). One Europe, many nations: a historical dictionary of European national groups.  
  2. ^ Interfriesischer Rat / Ynterfryske Rie - Start
  3. ^  
  4. ^ Potter, Timothy W.; Johns, Catherine (1992). Roman Britain. Exploring the Roman world. Berkeley: University of California. p. 190.  
  5. ^ Grane, Thomas (2007), "From Gallienus to Probus - Three decades of turmoil and recovery", The Roman Empire and Southern Scandinavia–a Northern Connection! (PhD thesis), Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, p. 109 
  6. ^ Looijenga, Jantina Helena (1997), "History, Archaeology and Runes", in SSG Uitgeverij, Runes Around the North Sea and on the Continent AD 150–700; Texts and Contexts (PhD dissertation), Groningen: Groningen University, p. 30,  . Looijenga cites Gerrets' The Anglo-Frisian Relationship Seen from an Archaeological Point of View (1995) for this contention.
  7. ^ Berglund, Björn E. (2002), "Human impact and climate changes—synchronous events and a causal link?", Quaternary International 105 (1), Elsevier (published 2003), p. 10 
  8. ^ Ejstrud, Bo; et al. (2008), Ejstrud, Bo; Maarleveld, Thijs J., eds., The Migration Period, Southern Denmark and the North Sea, Esbjerg: Maritime Archaeology Programme,  
  9. ^ Issar, Arie S. (2003), Climate Changes during the Holocene and their Impact on Hydrological Systems, Cambridge: Cambridge University,  
  10. ^ Louwe Kooijmans, L. P. (1974), The Rhine/Meuse Delta. Four studies on its prehistoric occupation and Holocene geology (PhD Dissertation), Leiden: Leiden University Press,  
  11. ^ Bazelmans, Jos (2009), "The early-medieval use of ethnic names from classical antiquity: The case of the Frisians", in Derks, Ton; Roymans, Nico, Ethnic Constructs in Antiquity: The Role of Power and Tradition, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University, pp. 321–337,  
  12. ^  
  13. ^ Kortlandt, Frederik (1999). "The origin of the Old English dialects revisited".  
  14. ^ "Die friesische Volksgruppe in Schleswig-Holstein" (in German). Diet of Schleswig-Holstein. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  15. ^ Matras, Yaron. "Frisian (North)". Archive of Endagered and Smaller Languages.  
  16. ^ Tamminga, Douwe A. (1970). Friesland, feit en onfeit [Frisia, 'Facts and Fiction'] (in Dutch). Leeuwarden: Junior Kamer Friesland. 

Works cited

Further reading

  • Greg Woolf, "Cruptorix and his kind. Talking ethnicity on the middle ground", Ton Derks, Nico Roymans (ed.), Ethnic Constructs in Antiquity: The Role of Power and Tradition (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009) (Amsterdam Archaeological Studies, 13), 207-218.
  • Jos Bazelmans, "The early-medieval use of ethnic names from classical antiquity. The case of the Frisians", in Ton Derks, Nico Roymans (ed.), Ethnic Constructs in Antiquity: The Role of Power and Tradition (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009) (Amsterdam Archaeological Studies, 13), 321-329.

External links

  • The Frisian Meeting Place
  • Lex Frisionum in Latin, Dutch and English
  • History of the Frisian folk
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