This document is an edited version of the author's original which may be found on The Friesland Homepage. Editing has been confined to English language correction of spelling, syntax, and thought organization. Also insertions have been made of definitions for non-common terms, and editorial comment [Both marked - WM]. The informational content has not been altered.
The origins of the Frisians lies in an area that roughly covers South Scandinavia, Denmark and the Weser/Oder region. In the period between 1750 and 700 BCE they were still part of a larger group of peoples called the Germanics. This larger group was mainly of the Nordic race (dolichocranic) [Having an elongated head or face - WM]. (Among the Nordics there also lived a smaller group of brachycranics [Having a BROAD skull, or face - WM] whom had the position of slave). After 1400 BCE an expansion of the Germanics into southern Europe took place.
Around 800 BCE, the original Germanic group had split into Western (Vandals), Eastern (Goths) and North Germanic groups (Scandinavians), traceable through language and culture. At the end of the Bronze Age, around 700 BCE, the expansion of the West Germanics had reached the coastal areas of northwest Germany (currently the province Hannover).
The West Germanics can be divided along religious lines into three tribegroups: The Inguaeones; Istuaeones; Irminones. The Frisians belong to the Inguaeones.
The name Inguaevones is derived from the god Inguz from whom the Frisians believed they had decended. Inguz is another name for the Germanic god Freyr [Among the Norse, Freyr is revered as the brother of Feya, or Frigga - wife of Odhin]. Other tribes belonging to the Inguaeones were the Jutes, Warns, Angles, and the Saxons. Of these tribes the Saxons were closest in kin to the Frisians. All Inguaeones lived in the coastal areas along the North Sea. The Chaukians, also a tribe that lived along the North Sea, belong to the Irminones.
[The name "Friezen" (Frisians) can be traced back to the end of the first century A.D.. The Roman writers Plinius and Tacitus wrote about the so called Frisii.
The Germanic word Freisias (Frisians) comes from the Indo-European Preisios. Preisios is a derivation of the root-word prei-, which means: to love.
Freya is the Germanic goddess of fertility and love. Thus the meaning of the name Friezen can be explained as sons of Freya. (From The Frisian Homepage) - WM]
[The Irminones formed the religious group most associated with the Norse. Irmin is an alternate OHG name for the God Tiu, a war god. (Interestingly, the name is presented in the FEMININE gender). Tiu (or masculine TiWaz) is associated linguistically, and characteristically with the early Norse High God Tyr, who was later supplanted by Odhin. Irmin yields the derivation of the name of one of the largest groups, or kindreds of A'satru', the modern Norse religion. It is known as the "Irminsul Aetir". - WM]
[Istuaeones is much more obscure, and I could find no definitive references. However, Istuan is a common first name in Hungary. Hungary has considerable connection with Norse and Germanic migrations. - WM]
From Northwest Germany, to be exact, the coastal areas around the mouths of the rivers Eems and Weser, the Inguaeones colonized the coastal clay-districts of the current Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen (700 - 600 BCE).
Between 700 and 600 BCE the forefathers of the Frisians colonized the coastal clay-districts of the current Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen. The largest group came from the Eems/Weser region. Later, people came from the higher sandy regions to the east of Friesland (currently called Drenthe).
Between 700 and 400 BCE one cant speak of a seperate Frisian group, since there is still one homogenic Germanic culture between Texel (Netherlands) and the Weser (Germany).
Between 400 and 200 BCE significant cultural changes took place. From Leiden in the south, to Delfzijl in the north, a Proto-Frisian culture was evolving. In 200 BCE a distinctly Frisian culture can be found between the river Eems (Germany), and Wijk-bij-Duurstede (Netherlands). For the first time the Frisians are an ethnic entity!
To the north of the Eems lived a tribe called the Chaukians. An interesting fact is that the Chaukians belonged mainly to the Falian race (Brachycranic - with a broad face) . The Frisians mainly to the Nordic race (Dolichocranic with narrow face). In the region currently known as the province of Groningen there was a melting together of both races. There was also a small group of brachycranic people living among the Nordic Frisians, but of a non-Germanic origin. They inhabited the Netherlands before the Germanic-invasion, and were probably of pre-Indogermanic origin.
Two centuries after the colonization of the clay-district the sea level stared to rise. To counter the periodic flooding of their homesteads, the Frisians built earth-mounds known as terps. There were several periods of rising sealevels which were also accompanied by storm flooding. Consequentely, there are several seperate terp-building periods that coincide with the periods the sealevel rose.
There are three seperate terp-building generations: The first terp generation dates from 500 BCE; The second terp generation dates from 200 BCE till 50 BCE; The third terp generation dates from 700 CE.
In 250 CE, the rising sealevel and the coinciding storm flooding was so dramatic that almost all of the Frisians left the clay district, not to return until 400 CE.
Julius Ceasar conquered Celtic Galicia between 58 and 50 BCE (these are the current countries France and Belgium). In doing so, he moved the borders of the Roman Empire up to the river Rhine. At this point in history, the Frisians still lived north of the Rhine, and thus fell outside the borders of the Roman Empire. Under Emperor Augustus (28 BCE - 14 CE) the Romans wanted to make the river Elbe their most northerly border instead of the Rhine. The consequences would be that the entire Frisian Folk would fall under the influence of the Romans. The Frisians chose to collaborate whith the Romans. This happend when the Romand general Drusus and his army arrived at the Rhine in 12 BCE. The Frisians and Drusus negotiated a truce under which the Frisians had to regularly pay taxes in the form of cowhides.
Under Emperor Tiberius, the taxes became to high, and the Frisians could no longer comply with them. The result was that: First, the Romans would take their cattle; Next, take their land; Finally, their women and children were taken and sold into slavery. In 28 CE the Frisians rebelled, and hung the taxmen. To retalliate, the Romans sent their legions to punish and conquer Friesland. But, the Roman army was slain in a battle at the Baduhennawood. The name of the Frisians was now a feared one in Rome. There was no Roman reprisal, since Rome had its own internal problems, and for the next 20 years Friesland would remain free.
In 47 CE the Frisians made another truce with the Romans, this time with Corbulo. An agreement was made in which there was a mutual understanding that the Rhine was to be the border that both parties had to respect. Friesland would fall under a Roman sphere of influence, but it would no longer be occupied.
In 58 CE, Frisians colonized an uninhabited strip of land south of the Rhine, thereby breaking their agreement with Corbulo. Two Frisian leaders, Verritus and Malorix (these are Roman translations of their Frisian names), went to Rome to bid the Roman Emperor Nero to allow them stay. Alas, the Frisians were violentely extradited from the region below the Rhine.
In 69 CE the Batavians (a Germanic tribe situated in central Netherlands, and the southern neighbours of the Frisians) also rebel against the Roman occupiers. This region was the north-western cornerstone of the Roman Empire. The Frisians and the Canninifats (also a Germanic neighbor tribe of the Frisians in the west of the Netherlands) became the allies of the Batavians. Sadly the uprising failed. The Romans defeated the Batavians.
The Rhine remained the Roman border until the collapse of the Roman Empire in 410 CE.
Around 250 CE almost all Frisians disappeared from the Frisian coastal-clay districts. The rising of the sealevel made it impossible to live in the coastal areas of Friesland for the next 150 years (250 - 400 CE). In this period a fraction of the Frisians and the Chaukians (a Germanic tribe neighbouring north of Friesland) form a new tribal alliance called the Franks. This is the tribe that will emigrate south and form the Frankish Empire (currently known as France).
After 400 CE the rising of the sealevel halted. Frisian people and their nobility returned to the Frisian clay-district which had already been colonized by peoples from the Elbe and Sleeswick/Holstein region. These tribes assimilated and continued as the Frisian tribe we know today.
In 300 CE other smaller West Germanic tribes had also formed larger tribal groups known as: Allemans [Root of French and Spanish name for Germany - WM] , Saxons, Thuringers, and Bayerns [eventually, Bavarians - WM]. The Chaukian tribe dissapears alltogether. It has assimilated in the Frisian and Saxon tribes.
For two centuries (350 - 550 CE), the tide of the Migration of Nations sweeps over Europe. Germanic tribes migrate all over western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire, thereby forming new tribes in the newly conquerd areas. For the first time large organized Germanic states appear. In Europe, the major Germanic states were the Jutish, Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, Burgondish, West-Gothic, East-Gothic, Vandal, and Frisian.
Around 450 CE Angles, Saxons, Jutes and a Frisian fraction crossed the North Sea and established the Anglo-Saxon Empire (currently known as England). The Frisians colonized the county of Kent in south-east England.
Around 480 CE, Clovis established the Frankish empire (currently known as France). As said before, the Frankish tribe originated from the Chaukans and Frisians.
Around 400 CE, the Frisians started establising their Frisian Empire. In 500 and especially 600 CE there was a fast expansion and a strong increase in trade. At its peak, in the 7th century, this empire consisted of the coastal areas from north Belgium to southern Denmark. And it controlled a large part of the North Sea trade routes from Friesland to England, France, Scandinavia and north-west Russia [It is from this control we assume the Frisian/Norse contact arose - WM].
The Migration Period seems to have wittnessed only a slight change in racial characteristics.
In the sixth century the written sources begin to speak again about the Frisians. A Great-Friesland (Magna Frisia) has been created. This historical Great-Friesland consisted of a long narrow strip of land along the North Sea, from the Swin (Belgium) in the south, to the Weser (Germany) in the north. This historic Frisian Empire lasted from 500 CE to 719 CE. Its neighbors were the Saxons in the north and east, the Franks in the south and the Anglo-Saxons in the west across the North Sea in Britain.
Very little is kown about this period in history. There are no historical documents of Frisian origin, and a few documents of Frankish and Anglo-Saxon origin. The Frankish writings do not always present a historicaly just picture of the Frisians. Ever since the Frankish conversion to Christianity under Clovis (496 CE), the Heathen Frisians had become their major antagonists. As a result, the Frankish texts became colored for political and religous reasons. Clovis converted to Catholicism for power-politic reasons. The Gallo-Roman aristocracy in France, and the church in Rome, both of whose support Clovis needed during his empire-building period, were Catholic. Other Germanic tribes in the former sphere of the Roman empire (Goths and Vandals) had coverted to a form of Christianity more suitable to the Germanic soul, called Arianisme. The Germanic tribes in the north, including the Frisians, were still practicing the religous beliefs of there forefathers, currently known as Odinism or Asatru. In this article the generic term Heathen is used.
In becoming Catholic, the Franks automatically became the greatest antagonists of the Frisians [As a result of Christian belligerance and expansionism, not Heathen - WM].
Around 500 CE, Clovis had formed his Frankish empire which was to be the heir of the Roman Empire - with blessings of the Pope in Rome. The most northerly border of this empire was formed by the cities Utrecht and Dorestad, neighboring the Frisians. After the death of Clovis in 511 CE, the Frisians took advantige of the internal Frankish power struggle and captured Utrecht and Dorestad. Both cities would stay Frisian for over a hundred years (511 - 628 CE). The capture of these cities was of very great importance to the Frisians, since they were the gateways of trade from the Saxon and Frankish hinterlands to the North Sea. In the sixth and the seventh century the Frisians were the major traders on the North Sea. The North Sea was even called Mare Frisicum during this period.
From a religious point of view, Frisian Heathenism was no longer under threat of Frankish Christianity since the Franks had lost their sally-port, Utrecht [and thus could not engage them at sea, and we summize, they did not possess the might for a land campaign - WM].
In the year 628 CE the Frankish/Christian king Dagobert defeated a combined force of Saxons and Frisians (both Saxons and Frisians were Heathen). By doing so, the city of Utrecht fell to the Franks. Dagobert erected a church in Utrecht and ordered a bishop to start converting the Frisians. Christianity had become a tool in the hands of the Franks to destroy the Frisian independance north of the Rhine.
King Finn Folcwalding (early 6th century) - King Finn may have been a Frisian king in the sixth century. He is only named in Anglo-Saxons epics (Widsith, Beowulf and Finnsburg-fragment) which were written some 50 to 100 years later.
King Eadgils ( ? - 677 CE) - King Eadgils is the first Frisian king known by name. Two Christian scribes, Beda and Eddius, name him in their works. Under the rule of Eadgils, the Frisians and the Franks live in peace with one an other.
There are two reasons for this. First, the Franks were still in internal division as to whom was to be the heir of the Frankish empire Clovis built. Second, Eadgils let bishop Wilfried (a pawn of Rome and the Franks) preach Christianity freely in the Frisian regions. This peacefull time was to change drastically ten years later when Redbad became king of Friesland, and Pippin leader of the Franks.
King Redbad (679 - 719 CE) The heathen king Redbad is the greatest folk hero of the Frisians. He is the defender of the Frisian freedom both against the invaiding Frankish armies, and against the church of Rome. Redbad was a devout heathen. So, when the Franks were internally divided as whom was to rule, he attacked the Franks, conquerd Utrecht and distroyed the church. Christianity was then forcefully removed from the Frisian empire.
Pepin II - In 689 CE, Pepin II lead the Frankish conquest in the Frisian lands and took Dorestad. Between 690 and 692 CE Utrecht also fell into the hands of Pepin. This gave the Franks control of the important gateways of trade from the Frankish hinterland to the North Sea via the river Rhine.
In 714 CE Pepin died. Redbad took advantage of this and beat the Frankish armies under Charles Martel in 716 CE at Cologne, thereby winning back the Frisian Empire. King Redbad died in 719, leaving behind a Great and Heathen Friesland.
King Poppa (Hrodbad) (719 - 734) - Fifteen years after Redbads death, Charles Martel reached the peak of his power, and saw the oppertunity to deal with Friesland. In 734 CE he sent his forces to Friesland. In the heart of the Frisian land, on the river Boorne (Middelsea), the decisive battle was waged, with Poppo (in full, Hrodbad) at the head of the Frisian land and sea forces. Poppo was the son of Redbad, but not as succesful as his father. He was killed in battle, and the Frisian forces (in disaray) were slain. Friesland, up to the Lauwers, was incorporated in the Frankish Empire. It lost its freedom and The Church got a foothold.
Abba (749 - 775 CE) - The son of Poppa, Abba (in full, Alfbad), became the first Frisian count under Frankish rule. East-Friesland (east of the Lauwers) was conqeured 50 years later. The East-Frisians had bonded with their Heathen neighbours the Saxons.
Martels son, Pepin the Short, was unable to defeat this coalition. Only under the leadership of Martels grandson, Charlemagne (Charles the Great), is the Saxo-Frisian alliance defeated in 785 CE. This Saxo-Frisian heathen alliance was led by the legendary Widukind.
During the eighth century, the Frisian language was born. This birth can be traced by sound changes in the language, thereby setting the Frisian language apart from other Inguaeonish languages.
At this point, 785, the Frisian History, as an independent arm of the "Norse Ancestral Clan" has come to an end. What follows for them is their evolution, and absorbtion into the Frankish, and the greater European (Christian) community. That very interesting story is included on the page linked to below.
I've chosen to break here, and offer to return you to the main body of our subject since almost all Frisian relation to, and effect upon NORSE Pre-History ends at this point.
However, there is one more possible contribution from the Frisians that might encourage you to follow their story further. There is an apochriphal note in Encyclopedia Britannica to the effect, "...the Viking raids began after contact with the Frisians." Other articles on this site will attempt to confirm and explain that causality, if it can, in fact, be documented at all.