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Friezen (West)
Fresken/Frasche (North)
Flag of Frisia.svg Interfrisian Flag.svg
Interfrisian flags by the Groep fan Auwerk and the Interfrisian Council. [1] Since there is no official All-Frisian flag, these are the flag of the Groep fan Auwerk, claimed to be the Interfrisian flag and the flag of the Interfrisian Council. [2]
Frisians in Frisia
Total population
c. 530,000
Regions with significant populations
Frisian flag.svg  Friesland 350,000 [3] [lower-alpha 1]
Flag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands (excluding Friesland)120,000 [4] [lower-alpha 2]
Flag of Germany.svg  Germany 60,000 [5] [lower-alpha 3]
Frisian languages
Low Saxon ( Friso-Saxon dialects )
Dutch ( West Frisian Dutch and Stadsfries )
German ( Missingsch )
Danish ( Sønderjysk and Southern Schleswig Danish )
Protestant majority (Calvinists and Lutherans)
Roman Catholic minority
Related ethnic groups
Other Germanic peoples
(especially Afrikaners, Dutch, and Germans)

The Frisians are a West Germanic ethnic group indigenous to the coastal regions of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany. [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] 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 (which was a part of Denmark until 1864). [11] The Frisian languages are still spoken by more than 500,000 people; West Frisian is officially recognised in the Netherlands (in Friesland), and North Frisian and Saterland Frisian are recognised as regional languages in Germany.



The ancient Frisii enter recorded history in the Roman account of Drusus's 12 BC war against the Rhine Germans and the Chauci. [12] They occasionally appear in the accounts of Roman wars against the Germanic tribes of the region, up to and including the Revolt of the Batavi around 70 AD. Frisian mercenaries were hired to assist the Roman invasion of Britain in the capacity of cavalry. [13] They are not mentioned again until c. 296, when they were deported into Roman territory as laeti (i.e., Roman-era serfs; see Binchester Roman Fort and Cuneus Frisionum). [14] The discovery of a type of earthenware unique to 4th century Frisia, called terp Tritzum, shows that an unknown number of them were resettled in Flanders and Kent, [15] probably as laeti under Roman coercion.

From the 3rd through the 5th centuries Frisia suffered marine transgressions that made most of the land uninhabitable, aggravated by a change to a cooler and wetter climate. [16] [17] [18] [19] Whatever population may have remained dropped dramatically, and the coastal lands remained largely unpopulated for the next two centuries. When conditions improved, Frisia received an influx of new settlers, mostly Angles and Saxons. These people would eventually be referred to as 'Frisians', though they were not necessarily descended from the ancient Frisii. It is these 'new Frisians' who are largely the ancestors of the medieval and modern Frisians. [20]

By the end of the 6th century, Frisian territory had expanded westward to the North Sea coast and, in the 7th century, southward down to Dorestad. This farthest extent of Frisian territory is sometimes referred to as Frisia Magna . Early Frisia was ruled by a High King, with the earliest reference to a 'Frisian King' being dated 678.

In the early 8th century the Frisian nobles came into increasing conflict with the Franks to their south, resulting in a series of wars in which the Frankish Empire eventually subjugated Frisia in 734. These wars benefited attempts by Anglo-Irish missionaries (which had begun with Saint Boniface) to convert the Frisian populace to Christianity, in which Saint Willibrord largely succeeded. [21]

Some time after the death of Charlemagne, the Frisian territories were in theory under the control of the Count of Holland, but in practice the Hollandic counts, starting with Count Arnulf in 993, were unable to assert themselves as the sovereign lords of Frisia. The resulting stalemate resulted in a period of time called the 'Frisian freedom', a period in which feudalism and serfdom (as well as central or judicial administration) did not exist, and in which the Frisian lands only owed their allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor.

During the 13th century, however, the counts of Holland became increasingly powerful and, starting in 1272, sought to reassert themselves as rightful lords of the Frisian lands in a series of wars, which (with a series of lengthy interruptions) ended in 1422 with the Hollandic conquest of Western Frisia and with the establishment of a more powerful noble class in Central and Eastern Frisia.

In 1524, Frisia became part of the Seventeen Provinces and in 1568 joined the Dutch revolt against Philip II, king of Spain, heir of the Burgundian territories; Central Frisia has remained a part of the Netherlands ever since. The eastern periphery of Frisia would become part of various German states (later Germany) and Denmark. An old tradition existed in the region of exploitation of peatlands.

Migration to England and Scotland

Though impossible to know exact numbers and migration patterns, research has indicated that many Frisians were part of the wave of ethnic groups to colonise areas of present day England alongside the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, [22] starting from around the fifth century when Frisians arrived along the coastline of Kent. [23] [24] One study found the DNA of people tested in Central England to be "indistinguishable" from that of Frisians. [25]

Frisians principally settled in modern-day Kent, East Anglia, [26] the East Midlands, North East England, [27] and Yorkshire. Across these areas, evidence of their settlement includes place names of Frisian origin, such as Frizinghall in Bradford and Frieston in Lincolnshire. [28] [22]

Similarities in dialect between Great Yarmouth and Friesland have been noted, originating from trade between these areas during the Middle Ages. [29] Frisians are also known to have founded the Freston area of Ipswich. [30]

In Scotland, historians have noted that colonies of Angles and Frisians settled as far north as the River Forth. This corresponds to those areas of Scotland which historically constituted part of Northumbria. [31] [32]


As both the Anglo-Saxons of England and the early Frisians were formed from similar tribal confederacies, their respective languages were very similar, together forming the Anglo-Frisian family. Old Frisian is the most closely attested language to Old English [33] and the modern Frisian dialects are in turn the closest related languages to contemporary English that do not themselves derive from Old English (although the modern Frisian and English are not mutually intelligible).

The Frisian language group is divided into three mutually unintelligible languages:

Of these three languages both Saterland Frisian (2,000 speakers) and North Frisian (10,000 speakers) [34] are endangered. West Frisian is spoken by around 350,000 native speakers in Friesland, [35] and as many as 470,000 when including speakers in neighbouring Groningen province. [4] West Frisian is not listed as threatened, although research published by Radboud University in 2016 has challenged that assumption. [36]


Today there exists a tripartite division of the Frisians, into North Frisians, East Frisians and West Frisians, caused by Frisia's constant loss of territory in the Middle Ages. The West Frisians, in general, do not see themselves as part of a larger group of Frisians, and, according to a 1970 poll, identify themselves more with the Dutch than with the East or North Frisians. [37] Therefore, the term 'Frisian', when applied to the speakers of all three Frisian languages, is a linguistic, ethnic and/or cultural concept, not a political one.

See also

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 most often refers to:

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. 53% spoke Low Saxon or Low Saxon and Dutch at home and 71% could speak it. According to another study the percentage of speakers among parents dropped from 34% in 1995 to 15% in 2011. The percentage of speakers among their children dropped from 8% to 2% in the same period.


Frisia is a cultural region in Germany and the Netherlands, along the southeastern corner of the North Sea. The region is traditionally inhabited by the Frisians, a West Germanic ethnic group.

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.

West Germanic languages Group of languages

The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic family of languages.

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. 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.

Low German West Germanic language spoken mainly in northern Germany and the eastern part of the Netherlands

Low German or Low Saxon is a West Germanic language variety spoken mainly in Northern Germany and the northeastern part of the Netherlands. It is also spoken to a lesser extent in the German diaspora worldwide.

West Frisian language West Germanic language spoken in Friesland

West Frisian, or simply Frisian, is a West Germanic language spoken mostly in the province of Friesland in the north of the Netherlands, mostly by those of Frisian ancestry. It is the most widely spoken of the Frisian languages.

Saterland Frisian language

Saterland Frisian, also known as Sater Frisian or Saterlandic (Seeltersk), is the last living dialect of the East Frisian language. It is closely related to the other Frisian languages: North Frisian, spoken in Germany as well, and West Frisian, spoken in the Dutch province of Friesland.

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.

Anglo-Frisian languages Group of West Germanic languages

The Anglo-Frisian languages are the West Germanic languages which include Anglic and Frisian varieties. The Northumbrian Language Society also considers Northumbrian an Anglic language.

Frisii Germanic tribe

The Frisii were an ancient Germanic tribe living in the low-lying region between the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta and the River Ems, and the presumed or possible ancestors of the modern-day ethnic Frisians.

Languages of the Netherlands Overview of languages spoken in the Netherlands

The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, spoken by almost all people in the Netherlands. Dutch is also spoken and official in Aruba, Bonaire, Belgium, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten and Suriname. It is a West Germanic, Low Franconian language that originated in the Early Middle Ages and was standardised in the 16th century.

Frisian Americans are Americans with full or partial Frisian ancestry.

Dutch dialects are primarily the dialects that are both cognate with the Dutch language and are spoken in the same language area as the Dutch standard language. Dutch dialects are remarkably diverse and are found in the Netherlands and northern Belgium.

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.

Frisian Kingdom

The Frisian Kingdom, also known as Magna Frisia, is a modern name for the Frisian realm in the period when it was at its largest (650-734). This dominion was ruled by kings and emerged in the mid-7th century and probably ended with the Battle of the Boarn in 734 when the Frisians were defeated by the Frankish Empire. It lay mainly in what is now the Netherlands and – according to some 19th century authors – extended from the Zwin near Bruges in Belgium to the Weser in Germany. The center of power was the city of Utrecht. In medieval writings, the region is designated by the Latin term Frisia. There is a dispute among historians about the extent of this realm; There is no documentary evidence for the existence of a permanent central authority. Possibly Frisia consisted of multiple petty kingdoms, which transformed in time of war to a unit to resist invading powers, and then headed by an elected leader, the primus inter pares. It is possible that Redbad established an administrative unit. Among the Frisians at that time there was no feudal system.

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.


  1. Number is the number of native West Frisian speakers.
  2. Native West Frisian speakers excluding those in Friesland.
  3. Although only 12,000 are native speakers.
  1. "Groep fan Auwerk".
  2. "Interfriesische Flagge".
  3. Gooskens, Charlotte; Heeringa, Wilbert. "The Position of Frisian in the Germanic Language Area". Researchgate. University of Groningen. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  4. 1 2 Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version.
  5. "Die friesische Volksgruppe". Minderheitensekretariat der vier autochthonen nationalen Minderheiten und Volksgruppen (in German). Retrieved 6 January 2020. Geschätzt 60.000 Menschen sind ihrem Selbstverständnis nach Friesen. [an estimated 60,000 people self identify as Frisian]
  6. Danver, Steven L. (2015). Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures and Contemporary Issues. Routledge. p. 307. ISBN   978-1317464006 . Retrieved 30 March 2019. Frisians are a Germanic people that reside in Germany and the Netherlands
  7. Minahan, James (2000). One Europe, Many Nations: A Historical Dictionary of European National Groups. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 264. ISBN   0313309841 . Retrieved 30 March 2019. The Frisians are a Germanic people with historical and linguistic ties to the English,* Dutch, and Germans.* Closely related to the ancient Anglo-Saxons, the Frisians have maintained their unique culture from the time of Roman control in northern Europe, in all over 2,500 years.
  8. Minahan, James (2000). One Europe, many nations: a historical dictionary of European national groups. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 769. ISBN   978-0313309847 . Retrieved 30 March 2019. Germanic nations:.. Frisians...
  9. Homans, George Caspar (2017). Coming to My Senses: The Autobiography of a Sociologist. Routledge. p. 48. ISBN   978-1351527675 . Retrieved 30 March 2019. The English are ultimately of Germanic origin, as are the Flemish, Dutch, Frisians, Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, and Icelanders
  10. "Frisia". Encyclopædia Britannica Online . Retrieved 16 April 2019. Frisia is the traditional homeland of the Frisians, a Germanic people who speak a language closely related to English.
  11. "Herzlich Willkommen".
  12. Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus (229), "Book LIV, Ch 32", in Cary, Earnest (translator) (ed.), Dio's Roman History, VI, London: William Heinemann (published 1917), p. 365
  13. Potter, Timothy W.; Johns, Catherine (1992). Roman Britain. Exploring the Roman world. Berkeley: University of California. p. 190. ISBN   9780520081680.
  14. Grane, Thomas (2007), "From Gallienus to Probus - Three decades of turmoil and recovery", The Roman Empire and Southern Scandinavia–a Northern Connection! (PhD thesis), Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, p. 109
  15. Looijenga, Jantina Helena (1997), "History, Archaeology and Runes", in SSG Uitgeverij (ed.), Runes Around the North Sea and on the Continent AD 150–700; Texts and Contexts (PhD dissertation) (PDF), Groningen: Groningen University, p. 30, ISBN   978-90-6781-014-2 . Looijenga cites Gerrets' The Anglo-Frisian Relationship Seen from an Archaeological Point of View (1995) for this contention.
  16. Berglund, Björn E. (2002), "Human impact and climate changes—synchronous events and a causal link?", Quaternary International, 105, Elsevier (published 2003), p. 10
  17. Ejstrud, Bo; et al. (2008), Ejstrud, Bo; Maarleveld, Thijs J. (eds.), The Migration Period, Southern Denmark and the North Sea, Esbjerg: Maritime Archaeology Programme, ISBN   978-87-992214-1-7
  18. Issar, Arie S. (2003), Climate Changes during the Holocene and their Impact on Hydrological Systems, Cambridge: Cambridge University, ISBN   978-0-511-06118-9
  19. Louwe Kooijmans, L. P. (1974), The Rhine/Meuse Delta. Four studies on its prehistoric occupation and Holocene geology (PhD Dissertation), Leiden: Leiden University Press, hdl:1887/2787
  20. Bazelmans, Jos (2009), "The early-medieval use of ethnic names from classical antiquity: The case of the Frisians", in Derks, Ton; Roymans, Nico (eds.), Ethnic Constructs in Antiquity: The Role of Power and Tradition, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University, pp. 321–337, ISBN   978-90-8964-078-9, archived from the original on 30 August 2017, retrieved 24 June 2017
  21. Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "St. Willibrord"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  22. 1 2 Frisians in Anglo-Saxon England: A Historical and Toponymical Investigation (PDF), Fryske Nammen, Fryske Akademy, 1981, pp. 45–94, hdl:1887/20850, ISBN   9789061715979
  23. Schulz, Matthias (16 June 2011). "The Anglo-Saxon Invasion: Britain is More Germanic than It Thinks". Spiegel Online.
  24. "The History of the Frisian Folk".
  25. Weale, Michael E.; Weiss, Deborah A.; Jager, Rolf F.; Bradman, Neil; Thomas, Mark G. (2002). "Y Chromosome Evidence for Anglo-Saxon Mass Migration". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 19 (7): 1008–1021. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a004160 . PMID   12082121.
  26. Homans, George C. (1957). "The Frisians in East Anglia". The Economic History Review. 10 (2): 189–206. doi:10.2307/2590857. JSTOR   2590857.
  27. "The Frisians, their tribes & allies".
  28. Frisian Place-Names in England. PMLA. January 1918.
  29. Gooskens, Charlotte (2004). "The Position of Frisian in the Germanic Language Area". In Gilbers, D. G.; Knevel, N. (eds.). On the Boundaries of Phonology and Phonetics. Groningen: Department of Linguistics.
  30. "How I came face-to-face with East Anglia's 'twin'". Eastern Daily Press. 8 May 2018.
  31. Brown, Peter Hume (1911). History of Scotland to the Present Time. Cambridge University Press. p. 11.
  32. McLure, Edmund (1910). British place-names in their historical setting. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. p. 120.
  33. Kortlandt, Frederik (1999). "The origin of the Old English dialects revisited" (PDF). University of Leiden.
  34. "Die friesische Volksgruppe in Schleswig-Holstein" (in German). Diet of Schleswig-Holstein. Archived from the original on 4 October 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
  35. Matras, Yaron. "Frisian (North)". Archive of Endangered and Smaller Languages. University of Manchester.
  36. Menno de Galan & Willem Lust (9 July 2016). "Friese taal met uitsterven bedreigd? (Frisian language threatened with extinction?)". Nieuwsuur (in Dutch). NOS. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  37. Tamminga, Douwe A. (1970). Friesland, feit en onfeit [Frisia, 'Facts and Fiction'] (in Dutch). Leeuwarden: Junior Kamer Friesland.

Works cited

Further reading