This article is about the historical region. For other uses, see Frisia (disambiguation) and Friesland (disambiguation).

Coordinates: 53°15′00″N 7°00′00″E / 53.25000°N 7.00000°E / 53.25000; 7.00000

Frisia in Northwestern Europe
Stateless nation Frisians
Independence None*
Area 13,482.73 km2 (5,205.71 sq mi)
Population ± 2,655,391

Germany: 877,092
Netherlands: 1,778,299

Density 197/km2 (510/sq mi)
Languages Frisian (West Frisian, North Frisian, Saterland Frisian), Low German (East Frisian, West Low German, Gronings), Dutch, German, Danish
Main religion Protestant
Time zone
Internet TLD .frl
* Integrated parts of the Netherlands and Germany respectively, but with varying degrees of autonomy for the Frisian population.

Frisia or Friesland[1] is a coastal region along the southeastern corner of the North Sea in what today is mostly a large part of the Netherlands, including modern Friesland, and smaller parts of Germany. Frisia is the traditional homeland of the Frisians, a Germanic people who speak Frisian, a language group closely related to the English language.


The names for Frisia in the local languages are:

When the French occupied the Netherlands, the name for the Frisian department was Frise. In English, both terms, Frisia and Friesland are used.


Frisia is commonly divided into three sections:

  1. West Frisia in the Netherlands corresponds roughly to:
  2. East Frisia in Lower Saxony, Germany corresponds roughly to:
  3. North Frisia in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany corresponds roughly to:

The three groups of the Frisian Islands (the West, East and North Frisian Islands) stretch more or less correspondingly along these three sections of the German Bight coast.

West Frisia corresponds roughly to the Dutch province of Friesland (Fryslân), the northern part of North Holland province (the historical region of West Friesland, the westernmost portion of the traditional region of West Frisia), and also modern Groningen province, though the Western Frisian language is only spoken in Friesland proper. Dialects with strong Frisian substrates, including Low German and Low Franconian, are also spoken in West Frisia. In the northern province of Groningen, people speak Gronings, a Low Saxon dialect with a strong Frisian substrate. Rural Groningen was originally part of the Frisian lands "east of River Lauwers" and by law and language closer linked to East Frisia than to the west.

East Frisia includes areas located in the northwest of the German state of Lower Saxony, including the districts of Aurich, Leer, Wittmund and Friesland, as well as the urban districts of Emden and Wilhelmshaven, the Saterland, the Land Wursten and former Rüstringen ("Butjadingen peninsula"). East Frisia is also the name of a historical county in that region. Only people from that area consider themselves as East Frisians. The German name "Ostfriesland" distinguishes the former county from "Ost-Friesland", which means the whole eastern Frisian area.

The portions of North Frisia within the German state of Schleswig-Holstein are part of the district of Nordfriesland and stretch along the coast, including the coastal islands from the Eider River to the border of Denmark in the north. The North Sea island of Heligoland, while not part of the Nordfriesland district, is also part of traditional North Frisia.

Section Sense Divisions Flag Area Population Population density
East Frisia Narrow District of Aurich Flag of Eastern Friesland 3,142 km2 (1,213 sq mi) 465,000 148/km2 (380/sq mi)
Urban district of Emden
District of Leer
District of Wittmund
Wide Peninsula of Butjadingen Flag of Butjadingen 423.05 km2 (163.34 sq mi) 45,726 108/km2 (280/sq mi)
District of Friesland Flag of Oldenburger Friesland 714.91 km2 (276.03 sq mi) 172,821 242/km2 (630/sq mi)
Urban district of Wilhelmshaven
Municipality of Saterland Flag of Saterland 123.62 km2 (47.73 sq mi) 13,187 107/km2 (280/sq mi)
Municipality of Wurster Nordseeküste (Land Wursten) Flag of Land Wursten 182.08 km2 (70.30 sq mi) 16,799 92/km2 (240/sq mi)
North Frisia Archipelago of Heligoland Flag of Heligoland 1.7 km2 (0.66 sq mi) 1,356 798/km2 (2,070/sq mi)
District of Nordfriesland Flag of Northern Friesland 2,047 km2 (790 sq mi) 162,203 79/km2 (200/sq mi)
West Frisia Province of Friesland Flag of Friesland 3,349 km2 (1,293 sq mi) 646,305 193/km2 (500/sq mi)
Province of Groningen (Ommelanden) Flag of Groningen & Ommelanden 2,325 km2 (898 sq mi) 582,640 251/km2 (650/sq mi)
Historical region of West Friesland Flag of West Friesland 1,174.37 km2 (453.43 sq mi) 549,354 468/km2 (1,210/sq mi)


A half-million Frisians in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands speak West Frisian. Several thousand people in Nordfriesland and Heligoland in Germany speak a collection of North Frisian dialects that are often unintelligible to each other. A small number of Saterland Frisian language speakers live in four villages in Lower Saxony, in the Saterland region of Cloppenburg county, just beyond the boundaries of traditional East Frisia. Many Frisians speak Low Saxon dialects, especially in East Frisia, where the local dialects are called "Oostfreesk" ('East Frisian'). In the Province of Friesland and North Frisia are also areas, where Low Saxon dialects are predominantly spoken.



Main article: Frisian history

Frisia has changed dramatically over time, both through floods and through a change in identity. It is part of the supposed Nordwestblock which is a hypothetical historic region linked by language and culture.

Roman times

The people, later to be known as Frisii, began settling in Frisia in the 6th century BC. According to Pliny the Elder, in Roman times, the Frisians (or rather their close neighbours, the Chauci) lived on terps, man-made hills.[2] According to other sources, the Frisians lived along a broader expanse of the North Sea (or "Frisian Sea") coast.[lower-alpha 1]

Frisia at this time comprised the present provinces of Friesland and parts of North Holland and Utrecht.

Early Middle Ages

Main article: Frisian kingdom
The Frisian Realm during its great expansion
The Frisian kingdom, 6th - 8th century.

Frisian presence during the Early Middle Ages has been documented from North-Western Flanders up to the Weser River Estuary. According to archaeological evidence, these Frisians were not the Frisians of Roman times, but descendants from Anglo-Saxon immigrants from the German Bight, arriving during the Great Migration. By the 8th century, ethnic Frisians also started to colonize the coastal areas North of the Eider River under Danish rule. The nascent Frisian languages were spoken all along the southern North Sea coast. Today, the whole region is sometimes referred to as Greater Frisia or Frisia Magna.

Distant authors seem to have made little distinction between Frisians and Saxons. The Byzantine Procopius described three peoples living in Britain: Angles, Frisians and Britons,[3] and the Danish author of Knútsdrápa celebrating the 11th-century Canute the Great used "Frisians" as a synonym of "English".[lower-alpha 2] The historian and sociologist George Homans has made a case for Frisian cultural domination in East Anglia since the 5th century, pointing to distinct land-holdings arrangements in carucates (these forming vills assembled in leets), partible inheritance patterns of common lands held in by kin, resistance to manorialization and other social institutions.[4] Some East Anglian sources called the mainland inhabitants Warnii, rather than Frisians.

During the 7th and 8th centuries, Frankish chronologies mention the northern Low Countries as the kingdom of the Frisians. According to Medieval legends, this kingdom comprised the coastal seelande provinces of the Netherlands, from the Scheldt River to the Weser River and further East. Archaeological research does not confirm this idea, as the petty kingdoms appear to have been rather small and short-lived.

The earliest Frisian records name four social classes, the ethelings (nobiles in Latin documents) and frilings, who together made up the "Free Frisians" who might bring suit at court, and the laten or liten with the slaves, who were absorbed into the laten during the Early Middle Ages, as slavery was not so much formally abolished, as evaporated.[lower-alpha 3] The laten were tenants of lands they did not own and might be tied to it in the manner of serfs, but in later times might buy their freedom.[4](p202)

The basic land-holding unit for assessment of taxes and military contributions was - according to Homans - the ploegg (cf. "plow") or teen (cf. tithing, cf. "hundred"), which, however, also passed under other local names. The teen was pledged to supply ten men for the heer, or army. Ploegg or teen formed a unit of which the members were collectively responsible for the performance of any of the men. The ploegg or East Frisian rott was a compact holding that originated with a single lineage or kinship, whose men in early times went to war under their chief, and devolved in medieval times into a union of neighbors rather than kith and kin. Several, often three, ploeggs were grouped into a burar, whose members controlled and adjudicated the uses of pasturage (but not tillage) which the ploeggs held in common, and came to be in charge of roads, ditches and dikes. Twelve ploeggs made up a "long" hundred,[lower-alpha 4] responsible for supplying a hundred armed men, four of which made a go (cf. Gau). Homans' ideas, which were largely based on studies now considered to be outdated, have not been followed up by Continental scolars.

Main article: Frisian-Frankish Wars

The 7th-century Frisian realm (650-734) under the kings Aldegisel and Redbad, had its centre of power in the city of Utrecht. Its ancient customary law was drawn up as the Lex Frisionum in the late eighth century. Its end came in 734 at the Battle of the Boarn, when the Frisians were defeated by the Franks, who then conquered the western part up to the Lauwers. Frankish troops conquered the area east of the Lauwers in 785, after Charlemagne defeated the Saxon leader Widukind. The Carolingians laid Frisia under the rule of grewan, a title that has been loosely related to count in its early sense of "governor" rather than "feudal overlord".[4](p205)

During the 7th to 10th centuries, Frisian merchants and skippers played an important part in the international luxury trade, establishing commercial districts in distant cities as Sigtuna, Hedeby, Ribe, York, London, Duisburg, Cologne, Mainz, and Worms.

The Frisian coastal areas were partly occupied by Vikings in the 840s, until these were expelled between 885 and 920. Recently, it been suggested that the Vikings did not conquer Frisia, but settled peacefully in certain districts (such as the islands of Walcheren and Wieringen), where they built simple forts and cooperated and traded with the native Frisians. One of their leaders was Rorik of Dorestad.

Upstalsboom League

During the 12th century Frisian noblemen and the city of Groningen founded the Upstalsboom League under the slogan of 'Frisian freedom' to counter feudalizing tendencies. The league consisted of modern Friesland, Groningen, East Frisia, Harlingerland, Jever and Rüstringen. The Frisian districts in West Friesland West of the Zuiderzee did not participate, neither did the districts North of the Eider River along the Danish North Sea coast (Schleswig-Holstein). Former were occupied by the count of Holland in 1289, the latter were governed by the Duke of Schleswig and the king of Denmark. The same holds true for the district of Land Wursten East of the Weser River. The Upstalsboom League was revived in the early 14th century, but it collapsed after 1337. By then the non-Frisian city of Groningen took the lead of the independent coastal districts.

15th century

Statue of Pier Gerlofs Donia, known for his legendary strength and size

The 15th century saw the demise of Frisian republicanism. In East Frisia a leading nobleman from the Cirksena-family managed to defeat his competitors with the help of the Hanseatic League. In 1464 he acquired the title of count of East Frisia. The king of Denmark was successful in subduing the coastal districts North of the Eider River. The Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen remained independent until 1498. By then Friesland was conquered by Duke Albert of Saxony-Meissen. The city of Groningen, which had started to dominate the surrounding rural districts, surrendered to count Edzard of East Frisia in 1506. The city conveyed its remaining privileges to the Habsburg Empire in 1536. The district of Butjadingen (formerly Rüstringen) was occupied by the Count of Oldenburg in 1514, the Land Wursten by the Prince-bishop of Bremen in 1525.

Modern Age

In the early 16th century, the pirate Pier Gerlofs Donia (Grutte Pier) challenged Saxon authority in Friesland during a prolonged guerrilla war, backed by the Duke of Guelders. He had several successes and was feared by Holland authorities, but he died as a farmer in 1520. According to the legend he was seven feet tall. A statue dedicated to him has recently been installed in Kimswert.

In the 1560s many Frisans joined the revolt led by William of Orange against the Habsburg monarchy. In 1577 the province of Friesland became part of the nascent Dutch Republic, as its representatives signed the Union of Utrecht. The city of Groningen was conquered by the Dutch in 1594. Since then, membership of the Dutch Republic was perceived as a guarantee for the preservation of civil liberties. Actual power, however, was usurped by the landowning gentry. Protests against aristocratic rule led to a democratic movement in the 1780s.

Modern regionalism

During the late 19th and early 20th century, 'Frisian freedom' became the slogan of a regionalist movement in Friesland, demanding equal rights for the Frisian language and culture within the Netherlands. The Frisian language and its urban dialects are spoken by the majority of the inhabitants. In East Frisia, the idea of Frisian freedom became entangled with regional sentiments as well, though the Frisian language had been replaced by Low German dialects as early as the 15th century. In Groningen, on the other hand, Frisian sentiments faded away at the end of the 16th century. In North Frisia regional sentiments concentrate around the surviving Frisian dialects, which are spoken by a sizeable minority of the population, though Lower German is far more widespread.

Frisian territories


Interfrisian flag of the Groep fan Auwerk
Interfrisian flag of the Interfrisian Council

Although the Frisian regions have their own separate flags, Frisia as a whole has not historically had a flag of its own. A flag for an united Frisia, known as the Interfrisian Flag, was launched in September 2006 by the Groep fan Auwerk (English: Group of Aurich). This separatist group supports a united Frisia as a recognized country. The design was inspired by the Nordic Cross flag. The four pompeblêden (water lily leaves) represent the contemporary variety of the Frisian regions — North, South, West and East.[5]

This flag was not accepted by the Interfrisian Council.[6] But the council adopted the idea of an interfrisian flag and created an own design, containing elements of flags of the councils's three sections. Both flags are not in wide use.

See also


  1. A more extensive, though outdated review of Frisia in Roman times is Springer, Lawrence A. (Jan 1953). "Rome's Contact with the Frisians". The Classical Journal. Northfield, MN: The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. 48 (4): 109–111. ISSN 0009-8353. JSTOR 3292503.
  2. Ashdown, Margaret, ed. (1930). English and Norse documents : relating to the reign of Ethelred the Unready. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 138. OCLC 458533078. Noted by Homans.[4](p189)
  3. Homans describes Frisian social institutions, based on the summary by Siebs, Benno E. (1933). Grundlagen und Aufbau der altfriesischen Verfassung. Untersuchungen zur deutschen staats- und Rechtsgeschichte (in German). 144. Breslau: Marcus. OCLC 604057407. Siebs' synthesis was extrapolated from survivals detected in later medieval documents.[4]
  4. This is part of the evidence for a duodenary system, counting by multiples of twelve.[4] (204 and passim)


  1. Grattan, Thomas Colley (1831). "The history of the Netherlands".
  2. Bos, Jurjen M. (2001). "Archaeological evidence pertaining to the Frisians in the Netherlands". In Munske, Horst H.; Århammar, Nils R. Handbuch des Friesischen = Handbook of Frisian studies. Tübingen: Niemeyer. pp. 487–492. ISBN 9783484730489. Retrieved 2009-01-11.(p480)
  3. Procopius. The Wars. 8.20.11-46
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Homans, George C. (1957). "The Frisians in East Anglia". The Economic History Review. New series. Wiley. 10 (2): 189–206. doi:10.2307/2590857. ISSN 0013-0117.
  5. Description of the Interfrisian flag
  6. Press release from the Interfrisian Council


External links

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