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The historical settlement and language area of ​​the Frisians

The Frisians are a group of people living on the North Sea coast in the Netherlands and Germany . In both countries the Frisians are recognized as a national minority . In Germany the term ethnic group is applied to the Frisians without affecting their status as a national minority. A Germanic tribe of the Frisians (Latin: Frisii , Greek: οι Φρίσσιοι or Φρείσιοι) has been documented since ancient times.

Linguistic similarities and knowledge of a Frisian history are important for today's international context . While West Frisian is an official language alongside Dutch in the Dutch province of Friesland, the status of Frisian languages ​​in Germany is weaker.


No text sources have survived from the earlier history of Friesland, but there are finds that z. Some date back to the last interglacial period. Finds from the area of ​​the Brockzeteler Moors have been preserved from the Mesolithic period . With the Neolithic Age , the number of finds increased: stone axes and other tools, cups, urns and other things have been preserved. Among other things, one of the oldest known plows in the world was found in the Georgsfeld moor . Initially in the 4th millennium BC, later (in the 1950s) in the late Neolithic Age (around 2000 BC), recent measurements date the plow to the early Bronze Age (1940 to 1510 BC). 300 BC at the earliest. The terps or Wurten emerged on the Frisian coast .

The great siltation that occurred in the 1st century BC Began, resulted in a large wave of settlements initially in the marshland . The fact that land was also settled that was covered by the flood twice a day, as Pliny the Elder claimed, is more of a misunderstanding, because Pliny seems to depict the situation after a devastating storm surge .

Roman times

Roman Gaul and Germania on the right bank of the Rhine around AD 70.

The ancient Frisians ("Frisii") were assigned by the Roman historian Tacitus (~ 58 to 120 AD) in his Germania to the group of Ingaevones , to which the Chauken and Saxons were also counted. The land of the Frisians lay on the coast of the North Sea from the mouth of the Rhine to around the Ems . According to Roman information, the Chauken settled east of the Ems. The first mention of the Frisians comes from Pliny the Elder and is related to the Drusus campaigns (12 to 8 BC). In the year 12 BC Drusus found allies in the Frisians. But already in the years 28 to 47 the Frisians revolted against the exploitation by the Romans, as Tacitus reports. In his annals he reported about the year 28: “In the same year the Frisians, a people across the Rhine, broke the peace, more as a result of our greed than out of spite of our rule. In consideration of their meager circumstances, Drusus had imposed a moderate toll on them: They were supposed to supply cattle hides for military purposes. ”Although the cattle of the Frisians were small at that time, the Roman officials demanded skins the size of aurochs . Tacitus explains: “The condition that other peoples could only have fulfilled with difficulty was all the more oppressive for the Frisians; for though their forests are rich in mighty monsters, their tame cattle are small. So in the beginning the Frisians delivered their cattle; then they also had to pay tribute to their wives and children, or both. ... The Roman soldiers who came to Friesland to raise the tribute were therefore attacked by the Frisians and nailed to the cross. ”In connection with this uprising, Flevum , the north-westernmost Roman garrison in continental Europe , was also attacked by the Frisians.

As a result, the Roman legions succeeded in suppressing the uprising, but both the campaign and the decisive battle that had been won resulted in extraordinary losses. So near the sacred grove of the Frisians, Baduhenna , some Roman associations were ambushed and wiped out, whereby 900 Romans were reported to be killed. Members of another group of 400 legionnaires were also trapped and most of them killed themselves by throwing themselves on their swords when their situation was hopeless. Tacitus reports: "Since then, the name of the Frisians has had a bright ring to the Teutons."

The presence of a large Roman army on the Ems in the area of the Bentumersiel site near Jemgum is also assumed for the year 16 .

The sources on the Frisians are very thin from the 4th to 7th centuries. Archaeological finds suggest that the population had fallen sharply around 300, but jumped again around the year 500. In connection with these events, it is assumed that the Frisians had a strong influx from the surrounding Anglo-Saxon tribal groups around this time. It is still not entirely clear whether the “original Frisians” were of Germanic origin at all or were only “Germanized” when they moved in, but in return put their stamp on the newcomers. A continuity of the "Frisii" of Tacitus to the Frisians from the year 500 is only given to a very limited extent. In addition, Saxon and Franconian residents were not uncommon in the outskirts of Friesland .

The Frisians receded into the light of history when they came into contact with the Merovingians and Carolingians .

Time of the Great Migration

For the 5th century, the sources of which are not mentioned by the Frisians, it is assumed that parts of them took part in the raids and conquests of the Angles and Saxons . Until around 1950, therefore, the opinion was also held that Frisians had settled with the Jutes in Kent . As justification representatives served this thesis that the "Kentish" ( Engl. Kentish ) today is very similar to the West Frisian have. Today this thesis is no longer tenable and is hardly supported any more.

However, historically it has been handed down that the Jutes invaded Britain via what was then Friesland , which also explains their southeastern settlement area there. The shortest route was via the coastal areas of today's provinces of South and North Holland . Historically, these belong to the former settlement area of ​​the Frisians. Today, based on findings in the ground, it is certain that the Jutes settled south of the later town of Dorestad and lived there for a long time. During their stay at the mouth of the Rhine, the Jutes are likely to have adapted linguistically to their Frisian neighbors, which explains the similarity between Kentish and modern West Frisian.

At the end of the 6th century the Frisians occupied the coast up to the mouth of the Weser . In doing so, they assimilated or expelled the Chauken tribe . In the south, Frisians founded the Dorestad settlement in the 7th century and from there they extended the Frisian sphere of influence to Bruges .

Rule of the Franks

In the year 734 Karl Martell conquered the western part of Friesland, and the last overall duke of the Frisians Poppo fell in a battle against a Frankish nobleman. This largest extension of the Frisian territory is known as Frisia Magna . What is left of Frisia Magna today is small and scattered. Most of it has been conquered by the expanding neighbors, by the Saxons who advanced north and west and the Franks who occupied the north and east.

In 785, after defeating the Saxons, Charlemagne conquered all of Friesland, including the eastern areas up to the Weser, for the Frankish Empire . He advocated a policy that guaranteed the individual tribes in the empire a certain degree of autonomy . For this reason he had the traditional Germanic tribal laws recorded towards the end of the 8th century, including the Lex Frisionum , the old law of the Frisians.

Frisian colonization of the southwest coast of Schleswig / South Jutland (in yellow) between around 800 and 1100 AD.

Around 800, Frisians settled what is now the North Frisian Islands between Eiderstedt and Sylt . The Frisians living in the Uthlanden were directly subordinate to the Danish crown as royal Frisians . Much later, probably in the 11th century, the west coast of South Jutland (the later Duchy of Schleswig ) between the rivers Eider and Vidå was settled in a second wave . Possibly there was a connection with the expansion of the Frankish rule, because the North Frisians settled outside the Carolingian sphere of influence, which ended on the Eider.

Under the rule of the Franks, the Frisians were Christianized in the old heartland. The upper class had converted to Christianity by the year 800, and the process took significantly longer for the common people. The Frisians who emigrated to the Jutian coast in Schleswig did not become Christians until the 11th century, after the acceptance of this religion no longer automatically meant submission to Frankish rule for them. Under Charlemagne, the Frisians were freed from military success (i.e. from Franconian military service) and now only had to pay the church tenth .

The Frisian Zealand around 1300

After the Frisians were finally able to drive out the counts appointed by the Franconian kings, the often romantically exaggerated but nevertheless remarkable period of the Frisian freedom began . This form of Frisian self-government meant a clear difference to other territories in Europe. In Friesland from the Zuidersee to the Weser, numerous small regional communities were formed, which were often organized in a liberal and cooperative manner and had their own council constitutions. The Frisians invoked civil liberties which, according to legend, were granted to the Frisians by Charlemagne, but in fact by one of his successors. In contrast to the rest of Europe, no feudal system was established .

After Charlemagne

Statue of Pier Gerlofs Donia , a Frisian warrior, in Kimswerd

After the disintegration of the Franconian Empire under the heirs of Charlemagne, the Frisian area belonged to the Middle Kingdom of Lothar I from 843 and, after its defeat, to the East Franconian Empire . There they were loosely assigned to the Duchy of Lower Lorraine .

Frisian freedom

The time of the Frisian freedom lasted approximately from the 12th to the 14th century. The state communities, symbolically called the seven Frisian Zealand countries , were directly imperial and therefore subject only to the emperor. The delegates from the regional parishes met once a year at the Upstalsboom .

Modern times

With the death of the East Frisian prince Carl Edzard , the Cirksena house, the last native Frisian family that could establish a rule on Frisian soil, went out in 1744. Subsequently, East Friesland was taken over by Frederick the Great for Prussia.

Economic history

Until the rise of the Hanseatic League , the Frisians were the most important trading and seafaring people on the North Sea coast.

The oldest report on the economy on the North Sea coast comes from Pliny the Elder , who took part in the year 47 as a cavalry officer in the Corbulus campaign against the Chauken , the eastern neighbors of the Frisians on the North Sea coast. This description of the Chauken certainly gives an exact picture of the Frisian economy.

The mudflats: fishing and life on the terp, rushes and reeds, peat cutting

Pliny: “In the north we saw the people of the Chauken, called the larger and the smaller. Twice in the period of each day and each night the sea pours in great motion over an infinite surface and reveals an eternal struggle of nature in an area in which it is doubtful whether it belongs to the land or to the sea. There a lamentable people inhabit high mounds of earth which are built with their hands according to the measure of the highest tide. In their built huts they resemble seafarers when the water covers the land around them, and castaways when it has retreated and their huts lie there like stranded ships alone. From their huts they hunt down fish that have stayed behind. They are not allowed to keep cattle like their neighbors, not even to fight with wild animals, since there is no bush. They weave ropes from reeds and rushes to make nets for fishing. And by drying the mud that has been grasped with their hands more in the wind than in the sun, they warm their food and the limbs frozen by the north wind through earth. ”So cooking and heating was done with peat .

Salt production in the mudflats

Kantje with salted herring were sold domestically in large quantities

In addition to fish and amber , which is also found in the North Sea , salt extraction provided a valuable and important commodity for the inhabitants of the tidal flats. For this purpose, salty peat was dried, burned, the residual salt dissolved and filtered and the brine evaporated by means of peat fires, whereby the "Frisian salt" was obtained, which was a sought-after and expensive commodity from Roman times to the end of the Middle Ages. Later it also became the basis for the export of salted herring .

Agriculture and livestock farming, peasant textile industry in the marshes

According to archaeological findings, barley and oats , beans and rapeseed were grown in the marshes and cattle , horses , goats and sheep were raised . Because of the cold and the wind, the Frisians used a lot of effort on the wool of goats and sheep to good threads to ver spin to and dense fabrics weave . In addition to salt and dried or salted fish, fabrics and coats became an important export item for the Frisians. Even the Romans were customers for Frisian wool coats. This gave the Frisians three self-produced goods they were looking for for long-distance trade.


In addition to the self-produced commercial goods, the Frisians, as fishermen and coastal residents, had excellent shipbuilding and a lot of experience, including with rough seas, which had grown over the centuries. This gave them the means to bring their export goods home to customers and traders. Since they were also very defensive, like the Greeks and Phoenicians in the Mediterranean in the past and later the Portuguese in India trade, it was not easy to steal the valuable commodities, all the prerequisites for the lucrative business of trade were given.

The Frisians built a different shape of ship than their competitors, the Vikings . The Roggenstede ship, found in a low south of Dornum-Westeraccum in 1891, was built flat (to lay dry at low tide ), 1.37 meters wide and eight meters long. It was built sturdy from strong oak . Later, the continued low rise in the fuselage Frisian ship to high-sided Kogge, with the rudder amidships, and the forerunner of which was Hanseatic cogs .

In the 7th century the Frisians began not only mounds to build on individual farms, but also built an arc along in coves and creeks Dorfwarften as trading posts for traders and craftsmen as boat builders , coopers , sail makers . These trading posts , laid out as street villages, were called Wik .

North Sea East Sea

Initially, the Frisians traded all over the North Sea coast, especially with Jutland and Ireland . In the course of the next hundred years they also gained a leading position in the Baltic Sea trade via the stopover in Haithabu . Furs were obtained from there . Like the Vikings, the Frisians also traded via Gotland , Novgorod and the Russian rivers as far as Byzantium, and from there they obtained silk that had come from China via the Silk Road , and pepper that was obtained from Arab intermediaries and came from the Spice Islands .


The largest wik was Dorestad at the fork of the Old Rhine and the Lek , which stretched 1000 meters along the flat bank and was 90 to 150 meters wide. The street ran in a north-south direction and was densely built up with houses on the west side. Above all, cloth and woolen coats in different colors, salt and food, especially grain and dried fish, were traded. To the north, to Denmark , Norway and Sweden , highly valued goat hair rugs from Frisian production were sold there. Byzantine merchants sold silk and bought Frisian cloth. Unless goods were exchanged, silver in pieces of wire or coins was the main means of payment. The coins minted by Dorestad themselves were recognized everywhere and testify to the extensive trade relations of the Frisians throughout Europe. Another important trade route ran across the Rhine to Germany and further over the Alps .

Rhine route, Germany, Alps, Rome and Italy

Frisian coats were held in high regard. Charlemagne sent these cloaks as gifts, also to Hārūn ar-Raschīd , for example . Franconian court officials received a coat from Friesland every year as part of their remuneration. Large customers such as the Fulda Abbey purchased 700 to 800 coats a year for the monks and for resale. The properties of the Werden monastery had to pay their tithes in wool, goat hair blankets and coats. The "frieze" was a cloth measure recognized everywhere in the north.

The Frisians imported tuff for church building, madder to dye the wool red and wine from the Palatinate and Alsace via the Rhine from the Brohl valley near Andernach . There were trading offices of the Frisians in all cities on the Rhine up to Strasbourg and Basel . In Speyer, for example, the central wine trading point in the Palatinate and the center of a large madder cultivation, in the 11th century traders in the cathedral immunity sector consisted of Frisians and Jews . See also: History of the Jews in East Friesland .

On the route across the Alps, the Frisians settled above Bern in the Haslital . The place names there are reminiscent of Friesland and especially Jeverland. The Frisians were also represented in Rome very early on . In 854, the Brotherhood of the Frisians in Rome (Schola) helped the Pope to defend Rome against the Saracens . In Trani in central Italy, the Frisians hid the bones of St. Magnus and buried them in the Friesian Church of St. Michaelis and St. Magnus next to St. Peter's Square. The act of rescue was noted in the church on a marble plaque. Later the relics of St. Magnus were brought to Friesland and buried in a shrine in the St. Magnus Church in Esens , which has been attested since 1150.

Bremen, cruise ships, Westphalia, Flanders

On July 9, 1220, a regular trade agreement was concluded between Rüstringen and Bremen . Rüstringen delivered slaughter cattle, hides, sheep, cheese, eggs, while Bremen delivered beer. The Harlinger Land also participated in this trade.

During the time of the Crusades, the Frisian shipyards equipped many ships and even entire fleets, the Frisians also provided seafarers and soldiers. Frisian crusaders were present on October 21, 1147 when Lisbon was retaken. Bishop Popted Ulvinga fell . In 1187, Frisian and Danish crusaders set off with 50 ships, conquered the Portuguese city ​​of Silves on the way and reached Acre in 1189 .

Friesland also remained an agricultural export country. For example, in 1383 it delivered horses, cattle, sheep, butter and herrings to Westphalia via Oldenburg traders . In the port of Damme am Zwin , the port of Bruges in Flanders , Frisian cattle dealers have been attested since 1252. According to a document from 1394, Damme expressly requested the visit of merchants from Norden and Harling . At the request of Bruges, Ghent and Ypres, Count Ludwig von Mele promised free trade with Flanders for three years. On the way back, cloth was imported from Flanders, the new center of the cloth industry.

The cities of eastern Friesland (especially Emden) refused to join the Hanseatic League despite an offer of admission and thus lost an important opportunity to influence long-distance trade, especially to the neighboring Hanseatic cities of Groningen and Bremen.

The Frisians today

Today there are still three areas where Frisians traditionally can be found. The Frisians living in the Netherlands between the IJsselmeer (the former Zuiderzee ) and the Lauwers are called West Frisians in Germany . Their self-designation is only Friesen or Westlauwers'sche Friesen , since the region called West Friesland lies in today's province of Noord-Holland and is not identical with the province of Friesland (Fryslân). Most of the Westlauwers'schen Frisians live in this province, which has around 600,000 inhabitants.

The second group lives on the coast of the German state of Lower Saxony , from the Dutch border to beyond the Weser ( East Friesland ). Because of their history, these Frisians are very fragmented in terms of territory. Traditional Frisian areas in which the Frisian identity is more or less pronounced are East Frisia and Oldenburger Friesland , Saterland , Butjadingen and the Land Wursten . The actual number of Frisians in Lower Saxony is difficult to estimate; over 500,000 people live in all of the areas mentioned. Their assignment is also difficult because “Friezes” “nowadays is less an ethnic-genetic than a cultural-historical category of personal determination and regional assignment”. Although predominantly used with adjacent Friesen, only the in the area of the former denote County East Friesland derived Friesen fully as Ostfriesen . The other groups prefer names in connection with their territorial affiliation, such as Wurtfriesen or Saterfriesen .

The third group are the North Frisians in Schleswig-Holstein . They live on the coast and on the islands and Halligen of North Friesland (located in the west of the North Friesland district). As a rule, the Heligoland Frisians are also counted among them . It is officially assumed that around 50,000 people count among the North Frisians. Due to the nationalization of the border area and the referendum in Schleswig about belonging to Denmark or Germany in 1920, the North Frisians split ideologically into German-minded and national Frisians , who spoke out in favor of joining Denmark. After the Frisian settlement area remained largely with Germany, the national Frisians emphasized the independence of the Frisians as a people and pursued an active minority policy, while the German-minded Frisians saw the maintenance of Frisian culture best under the umbrella of Germanism and the Frisians as national romantic "German tribe" considered. This ideological rejection was intensified by National Socialism. It was not until the late 20th century that the associations that had emerged from these groups began to approach each other again, which is reflected, among other things, in the work of the Nordfriisk Institute .

It is undisputed, however, that Frisians are usually citizens of the state in which they live. In this respect, national Frisians living in Germany are also German citizens .

Culture and language

In Germany and the Netherlands, the Frisians are recognized as a national minority or as a separate ethnic group. How many members this ethnic group has, however, cannot be precisely determined, as the commitment to a minority is free and cannot be queried by the state.

However, the narrowest definition of the minority is that which defines itself purely through language. According to this, only those people are considered Frisians who speak one of the Frisian languages . These "language Frisians" can be found today mainly in the Dutch province of Friesland . Around 400,000 people still speak West Frisian there , on the mainland and on the Wadden Sea islands of Terschelling and Schiermonnikoog .

In Schleswig's North Frisia , on the other hand, there are only an estimated 10,000 people (as of 1970) who speak one of the North Frisian dialects , especially on the North Frisian islands of Sylt , Amrum and Föhr and near the German-Danish border, especially around Risum-Lindholm . However, there is no current empirical study of how many people in North Frisia still speak or understand Frisian today. In 2004, the Friisk Gesäts created a legally clear status for Frisian in Schleswig-Holstein .

In Eastern Friesland , the East Frisian language has almost died out. To this day only Sater Frisian , an East Frisian dialect spoken by 2000 people , has survived in Saterland .

The few people who still speak Frisian today also use related languages ​​such as Dutch , Low German , High German or Danish in everyday life . Like many other small minority languages ​​in Europe, Frisian is acutely threatened with extinction.

Many Frisians no longer speak Frisian today. But especially in East Friesland, which has been completely Low German for centuries , the Frisian identity has survived the decline of the Frisian language. The East Frisian Platt is also a variant of Low German that is still relatively strongly influenced by Frisian . In East Friesland, it creates a similar identity to the Frisian languages ​​in North and West Friesland and clearly stands out from other Lower Saxony dialects . In the Dutch province of Friesland, in addition to Frisian, Lower Saxon is also traditionally spoken in some areas. Dutch-Frisian mixed dialects can also be found there ( Stadt Frisian , Bildts ).

Numerous historically Frisian areas are no longer included in Friesland today. The main area of ​​the Frisians, West and Central Frisia, which today belongs to the Netherlands , stretched from Alkmaar in the province of Noord-Holland along the coast of the provinces of Friesland and Groningen ( Ommelande ) to the mouth of the Ems. However, Frisian identity is hardly present in North Holland and Groningen today.

There are also some descendants of the Frisians on the coast of Jutland . These are some places between the German-Danish border and the river Wiedau . The islands of Rømø and Fanø are geographically part of the North Frisian Islands, but were never settled by Frisians. On the Baltic coast only Flensburg housed an important Frisian minority for a long time, as many North Frisians moved to the city in the 17th and 18th centuries to hire seamen there. Today there is little left of this past. In the middle of the 12th century, Frisians were settled in and around Süsel by Adolf II (Schauenburg and Holstein) .

The science of the language, literature and regional studies of the Frisians is called Frisistik .


The Frisian ethnic group, together with the Danes and Sorbs as well as the Roma and Sinti living in Germany, is one of the four nationally recognized national minorities residing in Germany. The legally recognized Danish minority party, the South Schleswig voter association , also works with the current of the national Frisians in North Frisia together. Thus, the SSW also advocates Frisian interests. In the Netherlands there is the Frisian National Party, which has been established for decades, and since 2006 a party called “DeFriezen”. In East Friesland there are Frisian interest groups and the political party The Frisians . In addition to the political parties, there are several groups that campaign for Frisian issues, including the separatist Groep fan Auwerk .

The Frisians from West, East and North have come together in the Inter-Frisian Council .

Dukes of Friesland

See also


Web links

Commons : Frisians in Germany  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Friese  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ North Frisian Association: The History of the Frisians ( Memento from July 15, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  2. Nordfriisk Instituut: Map of the North Frisian language and settlement area
  3. ^ NDR Frisian program: History, geography, economy and culture of North Frisia - some basic features
  4. Dirk Hecht: The cord ceramic settlement system in southern Central Europe. A study on a neglected genus of finds in the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age (PDF; 34.2 MB). Dissertation. Heidelberg 2007. p. 197.
  5. ^ Franz Kurowski: The Frisians. The people by the sea. Türmer Verlag 1987.
  6. Pliny: Naturalis historia. XVI 1, 2-4.
  7. Bernd Rieken : "The North Sea is Mordsee". Storm surges and their significance for the history of mentality in the Frisians. Nordfriisk Instituut Volume 187. Münster 2005; P. 118.
  8. Tacitus: Annals 4.72
  9. Tacitus: Annals 4.74
  10. a b Wolfram Euler: The West Germanic from its development in the 3rd to its breakdown in the 7th century - analysis and reconstruction. Verlag Inspiration Un Limited 2013, ISBN 978-3-9812110-7-8 , pp. 22-23.
  11. ^ Salt exhibition ( Memento from January 25, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  12. ^ Günter Stein: City on the river, Speyer and the Rhine. Zechner, Speyer 1989, ISBN 3-87928-892-5 , pp. 35–36 (mention of Frisians and Jews as long-distance traders in the high Middle Ages)
  13. ^ Hajo van Lengen: Settlement area of ​​the Frisians in northwestern Lower Saxony with today's administrative boundaries. Definition of the settlement area of ​​the Frisians in north-western Lower Saxony (with the exception of the Sater Frisians), which enables the Federal Government to describe and map this settlement area for the purpose of applying the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities with the help of administrative boundaries . Report by the “Feriening Frysk Underwiis” for the Federal Ministry of the Interior, 2011, p. 46.
  14. ^ Thomas Steensen: The North Frisians between Kiel, Bonn, Copenhagen, Berlin and Strasbourg. In: Heinrich Schmidt et al. (Ed.): Tota Frisia in partial views. Aurich 2005.
  15. Ibid. Page 500