Radbod (Friesland)

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The Frisian Empire in Radbod's time
Embroidery depicting the legend in which the Frisian King Radbod is ready to be baptized by Wulfram (replaced by Willibrord in this embroidery), but refused at the last moment - by the Catharijneconvent Museum in Utrecht

Radbod (also Ratbod , Redbad ) was a king of the Frisians (reign 679–719). The sources of his life and work are poor, so that many statements about Radbod cannot be conclusively proven and fall within the scope of legend. With the attempt to maintain Friesland's independence vis-à-vis the rival Franks and the associated vehement resistance to the Franconian proselytizing and Christianization efforts, Radbod left a lasting impression on the Frisian population.

Ruler of the Great Frisian Empire

Radbod ruled at the end of the 7th and beginning of the 8th century over the Great Frisian Empire, which was still completely independent at that time . His domain extended over a broad stretch of coastline of the North Sea from the Sinkfal River (today Het Zwin ) near Bruges to the Weser . The core area of ​​the empire was between today's IJsselmeer and the Ems . He ruled from the residences of Utrecht and Dorestad .

The possession of the mouth of the Rhine made the Frisians one of the largest trading peoples in Europe, which is proven by numerous coin finds. Documents show that Frisian slave traders themselves appeared in London ; Frisian skins and cloths were valued goods. Radbod was and is understood as a symbol of this golden age in Friesland. Tradition has it that this makes him a kind of counterpart to the later Frankish emperor Charlemagne .

Radbod's efforts to expand his empire south brought the Frisians into conflict with the neighboring Franks, who in turn were striving north. Radbod's predecessor Aldgisl , the first documented Friesian king, still had peaceful relations with the Franks, who had begun attempts at conversion in Austrasia and South Friesland (especially in Utrecht ) since the time of Dagobert I. In agreement with Dagobert II and in contrast to Neustria , Aldgisl had welcomed the Anglo-Saxon messenger of faith Wilfried in a friendly manner in 677, allowed him to sermon and publicly threw a letter from the Neustrian majordomo Ebroin into the fire. Radbod, on the other hand, broke ties with the Franks and took up the fight against them in 689 near Wijk bij Duurstede (Dorestad) on the banks of the Rhine.

Radbod was defeated at Dorestad by the Frankish housekeeper Pippin the Middle , ruler of the Franconian Empire and victor of Tertry , around 689 and lost West Friesland with the present-day provinces of Zeeland , South and North Holland to the Franconian Empire . He fled to the holy island of Foseteland, today's Heligoland , where, according to legend, he was buried in the Heligoland stone box .

Opponent of the Christian-Franconian proselytizing

During this time (from 690) the missionary efforts, initially limited to Central and East Frisia, also fall, which were undertaken in particular from Ireland by the bishops Willibrord of Utrecht (* approx. 658; † November 7, 739) and Wigbert . The Frisians resisted them because the ancient belief in their gods was deeply rooted in their culture. Furthermore, they saw the missionary efforts as just another means of submission to the Frankish Empire. A Neustrian missionary, Bishop Wolfram von Sens , entered Radbod's country and tried to win him over to Christianity. Radbod, however, defended himself against this and developed into a militant opponent of the Franconian missionary efforts and the Christian faith.

In 711 Radbod married his daughter Theudesinda to Grimoald the Younger , son of Pippin II. In 714 Grimoald was murdered. The later tradition that the murderer was a pagan Friesian who Radbod himself commissioned is no longer tenable based on current knowledge. A short time later, Pippin II himself died. Radbod used the double quarrel between Karl Martell and his stepmother Plectrudis and both of them at the same time with West France to regain the once lost territory.

Immediately after Pippin II's death on December 16, 714, Radbod's heralds called together all men of the country capable of military service until he had gathered a strong, Frisian army around him. With this he penetrated into his lost territory, where he had the churches torn down and pagan altars erected. Eventually he invaded Austrasia. In this way, Radbod managed to regain all the lost parts of the country during the reign of Chilperich II . An alliance with the Neustrians , who in turn launched an attack on the Eastern Empire, enabled him to penetrate deeper into the Frankish Empire. He began to fight his way towards Cologne by ship .

In 716 Radbod and his army stood before Cologne. Here he defeated Karl Martell and inflicted his first and only defeat in his tenure. The churches that had been erected in this room up to then were torn down or burned down, the priests and missionaries were driven out and the old groves of gods and temples restored. Cologne had to be ransomed against payment of a large sum of money.

Karl Martell attacked the Neustrians at Amel , defeated them at Vincy and pursued the refugees as far as Paris . The representation according to which he finally also defeated Radbod and subdued him again is not proven.


Radbod died in 719 with full ownership of his regained land and his independence. The circumstances of his death are unclear, as is where he is buried. According to a legend, his grave can be found on Radbodsberg in Dunum, East Frisia . According to other traditions, he is buried under a large stone in the Radbodsholz in Berumerfehn . There is also said to have been a Radbodsberg on the island of Helgoland and the submerged island of Bant .

Even after Radbod's death, the "Free Frisians" who had not yet been subjugated by the Franks did not want to know anything about Christianity and thus followed Radbod's example. As early as 716, an attempt at proselytizing by the "Frankenknecht" Bonifatius had failed because of Radbod's resistance. When Boniface reappeared in Friesland, he was killed in 754 and 755, which Franks and Christians interpreted as "martyrdom". Boniface's body was brought to Utrecht. After that, however, the national and religious resistance of the Frisians to Franconian rule and Christianity slowly ebbed. Christianity prevailed decades after Radbod's death. Although Karl Martell and Charlemagne were only able to subjugate the whole of Friesland gradually and after renewed battles, before the end of the century it formed an integrated part of the Frankish Empire, and the Friesians, like the other German tribes, made military service to their new king his campaigns.


In the East Frisian folklore there are many legends and stories about this king. One of the best-known is probably the story reminiscent of the Kyffhäuser legend, according to which Radbod is buried under the Radbodsberg near Dunum , a prehistoric tomb, or under the Plytenberg near Leer , guarded by the Erdmantjes , and waits for it, called in case of great need to come to the aid of the Frisians.

A literary mention of Radbod can be found in Wagner's opera Lohengrin . Lohengrin's pagan opponent Ortrud is introduced as "Radbods, offspring of the Frisian prince".

Several streets in East Frisia bear the name Conrebbersweg, probably derived from King Radbod . They lead to Rahe near Aurich , namely to the Upstalsboom, an early medieval meeting place for Frisian representatives. But the Upstals boom is not in Radbod's core area of ​​influence. There is also a Radbodsburg in Medemblik , the Netherlands. However, there is no direct evidence of a connection between the castle and the Frisian ruler. There is a Radbodstrasse in the small East Frisian town of Esens.

Archaeological excavations in the Dutch town of Wijnaldum near Harlingen did not unearth any new information about Radbod's manor.

Radbod colliery

The Radbod colliery , a former mine in the Bockum-Hövel district of the city of Hamm in Westphalia , is named after the Frisian ruler.


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Richard Wagner: Lohengrin . Romantic opera in three acts, text book as an online resource , in the Gutenberg-DE project , accessed on July 28, 2016.