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  • Writer's pictureFrans Riemersma

The Boarn Supremacy

In the 8th century the Battle of the Boarn was fought. It was a huge battle between the Frisians and the Franks. The stakes were very high: the supremacy over the North of the Netherlands.

The boarn today. Click for source.

According to the sources it took place at the borders of the Boarn (Boorne) or the Bordine or both.

The Boarn is an old river. The river ends in the “Middelsea”. To make matters extra complex, before 1500 AD the Middelsea was called the Bordine, or sometimes Bordena.

Are you still with me? No? Let me help you. Bordine stands for “border”, as the Bordine was dividing the heartlands of the Frisians.

On this map you see the Westergoa island on the left and on the right a thin part of Eastergoa. The southern border of Eastergoa was marked by the Boarn river. A "goa" was a country subdivision. The word continues to exist in the Frisian word "gea".

The modest Boarn river still exists today, but the vast Middelsea has disappeared. In the 13th century the Frisians claimed the Middelsea by building dikes and preventing sea water from flowing in.

What really happened the day of the battle is unclear. As you can see, Wikipedia is using sources of outdated, already archived websites which do not share the original sources.

So we gave it a try and dug into it ourselves. Well, we found some great online sources. With the help of Atte Visser, we have translated the texts. Thanks a million.

This is what we know. Four books together cover the most important body of work about the history of the Franks and have been written in the 6th, 7th and 8th century.

The Chronicle of Fredegar is built upon the Liber Historiae Francorum. These chronicles have been written in the first half of the 7th century by an unknown author. Both manuscripts mention the Battle of the Boarn. We do not know if these are the only sources mentioning the battle.

About the chronicle, Wikipedia explains: “The chronicle begins with the creation of the world and ends in AD 642. There are also a few references to events up to 658. Some copies of the manuscript contain an abridged version of the chronicle up to the date of 642, but include additional sections written under the Carolingian dynasty that end with the death of Pepin the Short in 768.”

These manuscripts can be consulted online. We have done some research and found two quotes referring to the forgotten Battle of the Boarn. Both texts reveal the same battle but mention different facts. Exciting!

We have transcripted the original Latin texts and made a translation using Google. Yes, that sucks. That is why we need your help!

One thing is striking. The Lex Frisionum, written after 785, mentions the year 734 explicitely. Another source refers to 736. This source (Annales Mettenses priores) is written in the early 9th century. The earliest source (Fredegarii et aliorum Chronica from 736) does not mention a date at all.

Bizar, because online articles mention the year 734 AD as the year of the battle. We are officially confused now.

Another baffling thing is that the battle is called the 'Battle of the Boarn', referring to the river. In the manuscripts however, the author(s) refer to the 'Bordine fluvio'. 'Fluvio' means indeed 'river'. So far, so good. But the Bordine is in reality a sea. That is quite a big contradiction, as one carries sweet water, while through the other flows salty water. In the 19th century historians have tried to deciphere the Bordine and called it 'Boorne'.

I end up with three options for the location of the battle. Did the battle take place at the...

  1. banks of the river Boarn?

  2. banks of the Bordine, a.k.a. Middelsea?

  3. intersection of the river Boarn and the Bordine?


Need some data input? Check it out for yourself. Here is the raw data. Eat your heart out ;-)

P.S. Small advice to the authors of the two manuscripts: please shorten your sentences; use 'full stops' more often. Your texts make horribly long tweets...

The summary of what happened that faithful day

In 736 (or 734) the Frisian people rebelled and tried to bypass the treaty with Charles Martel. In order to battle Poppo, Charles Martel raised expenses to equip his naval army.

He arranged a large group of ships, sailed to the open sea, and reached all the way to Wistramchi and Austrachia (Westergoa and Eastergoa), the islands of the Frisians.

He made camp on the river Bordin, and killed Poppo, the leader of the pagans and defeated the Frisian army.

They destroyed and burned the Frisian sacred places with the permission of Christ. Charles returned with great loots back to the kingdom of the Franks.

Historical sources

The summary is based upon three historical sources.

  1. Itemque, quod superius praetermissimus,

  2. gentem dirissimam maritimam Frigionum nimis crudeliter rebellantem,

  3. praefatus princeps audacter navale evectione praeparat;

  4. certatim alto mare ingressus, navium copia adunata, Unistrachia et Austrachia insulas Frigionum penetravit,

  5. super Bordine fluvio castra ponens.

  6. Bubonem gentilem ducem illorum fraodolentum consiliarium interfecit,

  7. exercitum Frigionum prostravit,

  8. fana eorum idolatria contrivit atque conbussit igne;

  9. cum magna spolia et praeda victor reversus est in regnum Francorum.

English Translated text

  1. And, what we did not tell before,

  2. The cruel Frisian people of the sea brutally rebelled,

  3. The before mentioned leader boldly raised naval expenses

  4. He arranged a large group of ships, sailed to the open sea, and reached all the way to Wistramchi and Austrachia (Westergoa and Eastergoa), the islands of the Frisians.

  5. Putting camp on the river Bordin,

  6. Killing Bubo, the pagan leader who initiated his clever plans.

  7. Defeating the Frisian army

  8. Breaking and burning down the temples

  9. Returning with great loots back to the kingdom of France.

  1. Frisia media inter Fli et Laubachi sita.

  2. Hanc Frisiae partem vivo rege Radbodo vel antea unquam regibus Francorum fuisse subiectam , nullum habemus testimonium .

  3. Chronica et annales Francorum tradunt , Francos inter annos 729 et 734 Frisiam inter Fli et Laubachi sitam debellasse , et quae narrant , ita interpretor , ut subiectio eius effecta sit victoria Karoli Martelli , anno 734 a Popone Frisone reportata .

  4. Legas verba Fredegarii continuati in capitulo 109 : In gentem dirissimam maritimam Frisionum nimis cru victor exstitit , fugatoque Ratbodo duce cum Frisionibus qui evaserant , idem Pippinus cum multis spoliis et praeda reversus est.

English translation

  1. Frisia was located between the Vlie and Lauwers.

  2. In this part of Frisia lived the king Radbod, or was previously subject to the Frankish kings, but we have no evidence.

  3. The chronicles and records of the Franks tell that the Franks conquered Frisia between Vlie and Lauwers between 729 and 734 years, as a victory of Charles Martel in the year 734 reported on the Frisian Popo.

  4. The words read in the Fredegarii Continuatori in Chapter 109: The sea-fearing Frisian people was defeated, and the leader Ratbodo flight and had escaped with the Frisians from Pepin, who returned home with many plundered loot.

  1. Anno ab incarnatione Domini DCCXXXVI.

  2. Perfida gens Frigionum fidem, quam dudem Carolo promiserat, fraudare conatur.

  3. Contra quos Carolus navali evectione preparat exercitum.

  4. Altum mare ingressus, navium copia adunata ad Wistramchi et Austrachia insulas pervenit,

  5. super Bordine fluvio castra ponens,

  6. Bobbonem gentilem ducem

  7. illorum interfecit exercitum prostravit,

  8. fana eorum destruxit et cum innumerabililbus spoliis Christo auspice

  9. ad propria est reversus.

English Translated text

  1. In the year of our Lord 736,

  2. the treacherous Frisian people tried to bypass the treaty with Charles.

  3. In opposing them, the army of Charles raised naval expenses.

  4. He arranged a large group of ships, sailed to the open sea, and arrived at the Wistramchi and Austrachia (Westergoa and Eastergoa).

  5. Putting camp on the river Bordin,

  6. He killed the pagan leader Bubbo (Poppo?)

  7. And defeated his army

  8. Their sacred places were destroyed under auspices of Christ.

  9. And returned to his land.

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