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Coordinates: 53°15′00″N7°00′00″E / 53.25000°N 7.00000°E / 53.25000; 7.00000


Location Frisia.svg

Frisia in Northwestern Europe

Stateless nation Frisians
Independence None*
Area 13,482.73 km2 (5,205.71 sq mi)
Population 2,655,391
Density 197/km2 (510/sq mi)
Languages West Frisian
North Frisian
Saterland Frisian
Low Saxon (Friso-Saxon)
Dutch (West Frisian Dutch, Stadsfries)
German (Missingsch)
Danish (Sønderjysk)
Main religion Protestant (Catholic in Saterland)
Time zone
 • Summer
Internet TLD .frl
* Integrated parts of the Netherlands and Germany respectively, but with varying degrees of autonomy for the Frisian population.

Frisia (West Frisian : Fryslân, Dutch and German : Friesland, [1] Old English :Freslond) is a historical coastal region along the southeastern corner of the North Sea in what today is mostly a large part of the Netherlands (Nederland), including modern Friesland, and smaller parts of northern Germany. Frisia is the traditional homeland of the Frisians, Germanic people who speak Frisian languages, which together with Anglic languages (English and Scots) form the Anglo-Frisian language group.


The names for "Frisia" in the local languages are (by direct translation and written in the related orthographic system):

The traditional meaning of these terms in the particular varieties rarely refers to the region Frisia as it is discussed in this article. Usually it is restricted to the local area and sometimes to something else, e.g. for the people of the North Frisian islands, Frisia and the Frisians are the area and the people on the mainland and in the Saterland the term Fräislound especially denotes to East Frisia. [2]

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 West 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. North Frisia was until the Second Schleswig War of 1864 part of Denmark or the Danish Duchy of Schleswig.

SectionSenseDivisionsFlagAreaPopulationPopulation density
East Frisia Narrow District of Aurich Flag of East Frisia.svg 3,142 km2 (1,213 sq mi)465,000148/km2 (380/sq mi)
Urban district of Emden
District of Leer
District of Wittmund
Wide Peninsula of Butjadingen Butjadingen peninsula flag.svg 423.05 km2 (163.34 sq mi)45,726108/km2 (280/sq mi)
District of Friesland Landkreis Friesland flag.svg 714.91 km2 (276.03 sq mi)172,821242/km2 (630/sq mi)
Urban district of Wilhelmshaven
Municipality of Saterland Saterland flag.svg 123.62 km2 (47.73 sq mi)13,187107/km2 (280/sq mi)
Municipality of Wurster Nordseeküste (Land Wursten) Land Wursten flag.svg 182.08 km2 (70.30 sq mi)16,79992/km2 (240/sq mi)
North Frisia Archipelago of Heligoland Flag of Helgoland.svg 1.7 km2 (0.66 sq mi)1,356798/km2 (2,070/sq mi)
District of Nordfriesland Kreis Nordfriesland flag.svg 2,047 km2 (790 sq mi)162,20379/km2 (200/sq mi)
West Frisia Province of Friesland Frisian flag.svg 3,349 km2 (1,293 sq mi)646,305193/km2 (500/sq mi)
Province of Groningen ( Ommelanden ) Flag Ommelanden.svg 2,325 km2 (898 sq mi)582,640251/km2 (650/sq mi)
Historical region of West Friesland West-Friesland vlag.svg 1,174.37 km2 (453.43 sq mi)549,354468/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. 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 which have a Frisian substratum known as Friso-Saxon, especially in East Frisia, where the local dialects are called Oostfreesk ('East Frisian') or Oostfreske Plattdüütsch (East Frisian Low Saxon). In the Provinces of Friesland and Groningen, and in North Frisia, there are also areas where Friso-Saxon dialects are predominantly spoken, such as Gronings. In West Frisia, there are West Frisian-influenced dialects of Dutch such as West Frisian Dutch and Stadsfries.



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. [3] 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

The Frisian Realm during its great expansion Frisia 600-734-la.svg
The Frisian Realm during its great expansion
The Frisian kingdom, 6th - 8th century. Frisian kingdom.gif
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 the descendants of 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. [4] 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 Great Britain: Angles, Frisians and Britons, [5] 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 manorialism and other social institutions. [6] 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. [6] (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 scholars.

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". [6] (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 Danish 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). The former were occupied by the count of Holland in 1289, and 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 Grotepier TN.JPG
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 Hollandic authorities, but he died as a farmer in 1520. According to the legend he was seven feet tall. A statue of Grutte Pier by Anne Woudwijk  [ fy ] was erected in Kimswert in 1985.

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.

Contemporary 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 West 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 East 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 North 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 Flag of Frisia.svg
Interfrisian flag of the Groep fan Auwerk
Interfrisian flag of the Interfrisian Council Interfrisian Flag.svg
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 a 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. [7]

This flag was not accepted by the Interfrisian Council. [8] But the council adopted the idea of an interfrisian flag and created an own design, containing elements of flags of the council's three sections. Neither flag is 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. [6] (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. [6]
  4. This is part of the evidence for a duodenary system, counting by multiples of twelve. [6] (204 and passim)

Related Research Articles

Frisian languages Group of Germanic languages

The Frisian languages are a closely related group of West Germanic languages, spoken by about 500,000 Frisian people, who live on the southern fringes of the North Sea in the Netherlands and Germany. The Frisian languages are the closest living language group to the Anglic languages; the two groups make up the Anglo-Frisian languages group and together with the Low German dialects these form the North Sea Germanic languages. However, modern English and Frisian are not mutually intelligible, nor are Frisian languages intelligible among themselves, due to independent linguistic innovations and foreign influences.

Friesland Province of the Netherlands

Friesland, historically known as Frisia, is a province of the Netherlands located in the northern part of the country. It is situated west of Groningen, northwest of Drenthe and Overijssel, north of Flevoland, northeast of North Holland, and south of the Wadden Sea. As of January 2020, the province had a population of 649,944 and a total area of 5,749 km2 (2,220 sq mi).

Frisian usually refers to:


The Frisians are a West Germanic ethnic group indigenous to the coastal parts of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany. They inhabit an area known as Frisia and are concentrated in the Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen and, in Germany, East Frisia and North Frisia. The Frisian languages are still spoken by more than 500,000 people; West Frisian is officially recognised in the Netherlands, and North Frisian and Saterland Frisian are recognised as regional languages in Germany.

West Low German Group of Low German dialects

West Low German, also known as Low Saxon is a group of Low German dialects spoken in parts of the Netherlands, northwestern Germany and southern Denmark. It is one of two groups of mutually intelligible dialects, the other being East Low German dialects. A 2005 study found that there were approximately 1.8 million "daily speakers" of Low Saxon in the Netherlands.

East Frisia Coastal region in the northwest of Germany

East Frisia or Eastern Friesland is a coastal region in the northwest of the German federal state of Lower Saxony. It is the section of Frisia in between West Frisia and Middle Frisia in the Netherlands and North Frisia in Schleswig-Holstein.

Northern Low Saxon is a subgroup of West Low German dialects of Low German. As such, it covers a great part of the West Low German-speaking areas of northern Germany, with the exception of the border regions where Eastphalian and Westphalian are spoken, and Gronings dialect in the Netherlands.

East Frisian Low German or East Frisian Low Saxon is one of the Northern Low Saxon dialects, a West Low German dialect spoken in the East Frisian peninsula of northwestern Lower Saxony. It is used quite frequently in everyday speech there. About half of the East Frisian population in the coastal region uses the language. By the speakers it is often called Plat, or Ōstfräisk. A number of individuals, despite not being active speakers of Low Saxon, are able to understand it to some extent. However, both active and passive language skills are in a state of decrease.

North Frisian language Minority language of Germany, spoken mostly by people in North Frisia

North Frisian (nordfriisk) is a minority language of Germany, spoken by about 10,000 people in North Frisia. The language is part of the larger group of the West Germanic Frisian languages. The language comprises 10 dialects which are themselves divided into an insular and a mainland group.

East Frisian language West Germanic language

East Frisian is one of the Frisian languages. Its last surviving dialect is spoken in Saterland in Germany.

<i>Terp</i> Raised ground to provide a refuge from flooding

A terp, also known as a wierde, woerd, warf, warft, werf, werve, wurt or værft, is an artificial dwelling mound found on the North European Plain that has been created to provide safe ground during storm surges, high tides and sea or river flooding. The various terms used reflect the regional dialects of the North European region. In English sources, terp appears to be by far the most common term used.

North Frisia

North Frisia or Northern Friesland is the northernmost portion of Frisia, located primarily in Germany between the rivers Eider and Wiedau/Vidå. It includes a number of islands, e.g., Sylt, Föhr, Amrum, Nordstrand, and Heligoland.

Frisian history

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

East Frisians

East Frisians are, in the wider sense, the inhabitants of East Frisia in the northwest of the German state of Lower Saxony. In the narrower sense the East Frisians are the eastern branch of the Frisians, a distinct Germanic ethnic group, and are one of the nationally recognized ethnic minorities in Germany, along with the Danes, Sorbs, Sinti and Romanies. They are closely related to the Saterland Frisians, who come from East Frisia and moved from the coastal region to the interior. The East Frisians are also related to the North Frisians and the Westlauwers Frisians.

North Frisians

North Frisians are the inhabitants of the district of Nordfriesland in the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Used in a narrower sense, the term also refers to an ethnic sub-group of the Frisians from the region of North Frisia, which lies primarily on the German North Sea coast, and on the island of Heligoland.

East Frisian Peninsula

The East Frisian Peninsula refers to the North Sea coastal region of Germany between the bays of Dollart and Jade. It is distinct from East Frisia (Ostfriesland) which is a historic and cultural region that forms the western and central sections of the peninsula.

The Saxon feud was a military conflict in the years 1514–1517 between the East Frisian Count Edzard I, 'West Frisian' rebels, the city of Groningen, and Charles II, Duke of Guelders on the one hand and the Imperial Frisian hereditary governor George, Duke of Saxony – replaced by Charles V of Habsburg in 1515 – and 24 German princes. The war took place predominantly on East Frisian soil and destroyed large parts of the region.

The term West Coast in Germany refers to the North Sea coast of continental Europe, including the following regions:

Interfrisian Council

The Interfrisian Council is a geopolitical organization that represents the common interests of the Frisians. The organization consists of three regional councils or "sections": North Frisia, East Frisia and West Frisia. Every three years, the presidency of the Interfrisian Council is handed over to another section. The council was established in 1956.

Groep fan Auwerk is a political activism organization that advocates for an independent Friesland (Frisia) state.


  1. Grattan, Thomas Colley (1831). "The history of the Netherlands". Carey & Lea: 26. friesland 1000.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. cf. Fort, Marron Curtis (1980): Saterfriesisches Wörterbuch. Hamburg, p.45.
  3. Bos, Jurjen M. (2001). "Archaeological evidence pertaining to the Frisians in the Netherlands". In Munske, Horst H.; Århammar, Nils R. (eds.). Handbuch des Friesischen = Handbook of Frisian studies. Tübingen: Niemeyer. pp. 487–492. ISBN   9783484730489 . Retrieved 2009-01-11.(p480)
  4. "Frisian language". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-11-13.
  5. Procopius (1914). The Wars. 8.20.11-46
  6. 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. JSTOR   2590857.
  7. Description of the Interfrisian flag
  8. Press release from the Interfrisian Council