Have a Frisians Cocktail
With the coming seasonal festivities at the end of the year, it is appropriate to serve you a flavorful cocktail. It is a cocktail from the list ‘Myths of Nations’, namely the ‘Frisians Cocktail’. Its recipe is not as old as some people thought it was, or would like it to be, but it is still a quite reasonable drink to serve before, during and after Christmas dinners, or as an aperitif on New Year’s Eve! What the, every Sunday morning with strawberries as breakfast. Be warned, though, some find it a bit too Saxic. Or, would you prefer a Anglo-Saxon cocktail? Anyway, try it yourself.
- Saxons (4 ounce)
- Angles (2 ounce)
- Jutes (1/4 ounce)
- Norwegians (1/4 ounce)
- Old-Frisians, before AD 325 (a dash)
- Chauci (1 drop)
- Celts (1 drop)
- Franks (to garnish)
- Samphire (few strands)
- Sea salt
- Long Drink glass
Start with mixing the Old-Frisians and the Celts together in a glass. Put it aside for a while.
Mix the Saxons and the Angles in a cocktail shaker. Shake it.
Then add the glass with the Old-Frisians, Chauci and the Celts.
Be careful with the Old-Frisians. Really just a tiny bit. Add crushed ice and shake it very well.
Pour it out in a glass. A standard Long Drink type is recommended.
Add the Jutes carefully via the back of a table spoon.
Do the same with the Norwegians afterwards. Don not stir!
Throw in some Franks with some grains of sea salt. Peat salt is OK too.
Finish it off with a few strands of fresh Wadden Sea samphire.
Make sure you do not use any Batavians. It spoils it and will turn it into a Bloody Mary.
1. Myths of Nations
Habitation at the terp region at the shores of the Wadden Sea dates back 2,600 years. Or, to formulate it more precisely, the European ‘terp culture’ is circa 2,600 years old. When the Romans arrived in these wet, peaty and swampy regions at the beginning of the common era, the peoples living on these terps (see note further below) were the Frisians, called the Frisii Maiores ‘Greater Frisians’ in the northwest of the Netherlands, and more to the east the Chauci Maiores, the area between the River Ems and the River Weser what is now the region Ostfriesland in Germany. Archaeological research shows differences in culture between the Chauci and the Frisii, but at the same time it shows intensive contacts existed between them too. It is unclear whether the area what is now province Groningen in the Netherlands belonged to the Frisii or to the Chauci.
The Frisii Minores ‘Smaller Frisians’ had their territory in what is today province Noord Holland. At the coasts more to the south, what is current province Zeeland today, south of the Limes Germanicus (‘border’) of the Roman Empire, lived the Frisiavones. The Frisiavones can be considered Romanized Frisians (IJssennagger 2017). Along the coastal area between the Frisavones and the Minores Frisii lived, from the first century AD, the Cananefates.
After the collapse of Roman Empire and after the dark Migration Period, light is shone again on these territories that had been redistributed between peoples. Guess what? Frisians everywhere! Frisians seemed like Gremlins who had multiplied after they had become wet. And plenty of water in this environment: rivers, swamps, salt marshes, sea and lots of rain. The Frisians were present from inlet the Zwin in northern Belgium, read out post The Frontier known as Watery Mess: the coast of Flanders, to the River Weser in the northwest of Germany, and soon after they would settle at region Nordfriesland too.
Note: Terps are artificial house platforms or dwelling mounds. Read our Manuel Making a Terp in 12 Steps to learn more about the phenomenon of terps or Warfts, its spreading, names and history.
It is therefore tempting to think the genes of the tribe of the Frisians are a continuum from the year 600 BC till this very day. Well, it is not. Actually, this cocktail has a different recipe, as you might have tasted already. Research, archaeological and toponymical, is pretty conclusive about the fact the tidal marshlands of the northern Netherlands, especially in present-day province Friesland (also called Mid Frisia or Central Frisia), were nearly abandoned during the period ca. 325-425.
Neither the collapse of the Roman Empire nor the arrival of the Huns in Europe or migration presure from the east and south, caused the coastal people of the salt marshes to move. Climate change, however, did. It was the deterioration of the environment that had a major impact on living conditions, especially in current province Friesland and, to a lesser extent, in region Ommelanden of present-day province Groningen, east of province Friesland. Because of climate change, the sea level rose in the fourth century. For settlements along the coast on the tidal marshlands the rising water as such was not a problem that could not be overcome. The marshlands would rise parallel with the rise of the sea level, and artificial house platforms, i.e. terps, could be heightened relatively easily. No, the real problem was that the rise of the sea level made drainage of sweet water from the hinterland difficult, which caused the hinterland to turn into malaria-infected swamps. Yes, malaria existed in this area. Even well into the twentieth century. An environment that was no longer suitable for agriculture, livestock and for living. People therefore emigrated from the hinterlands. The disappearance of inland habitation affected habitation at the sea shores as well, since village-networks were essential to survive (Nieuwhof 2016). As a consequence, the people of the salt marshes had to emigrate too. A house of cards falling.
Around the year 325 the north was almost empty and as some scholars put it
“you only could hear the seagulls cry”
Note - If interested in more information on these birds who have been the companion of the coastal dwellers of the southern North Sea, check our post Rats with wings, or Master of the sky.
Having said that, some terps in well-drained areas in present-day province Friesland show continuation of (modest) population throughout the Migration Period, like those of Driesum, Hatsum, Hoogebeintum, Jelsum, Marssum and Wijnaldum-Tjitsma. And, although habitation at terps like Dongjum and Peins discontinued, archaeological research has shown that these (higher and fertile) terps were still being used as arable land during this ’empty era’, indicating modest habitation somewhere in the area around it. It was especially the subregion Westergo within province Friesland that had depopulated strongest.
Habitation in region Ommelanden decreased strongly too, as the famous archaeological excavations of the terp Ezinge, the Sutton Ho of the Netherlands, have shown. But this region was lesser affected than the area of province Friesland. The reason for it was that is was blessed with a nearby, well-drained, hinterland where habitation could continue. Thus supporting the salt-marsh settlements with vital networks to survive, whereas the salt-marsh area of province Friesland became isolated. Region Ommelanden was, and is, namely bordered by the Hondsrug of northern Drenthe. The Hondsrug is a sand ridge formed during the Saale glaciation. With twenty meters above mean sea level, it is relatively high and was not affected during the climate change in the way it turned into a malaria-infected area. No surprise that on this elevated area habitation continued throughout the Migration Period, as archaeological research at the village of Midlaren-De Bloemert in province Drenthe has shown. Besides this more inland soci-economic network, the salt-marsh area of region Ommelanden was cultural more connected with the east, current region Ostfrielsland. Also this eastern network helped the settlements in Groningen to survive better.
At this place it is relevant to mention that the Frisii and the Chauci tribes were akin tribes, and there existed strong relations, already before the Migration Period, in the area from Noord Holland, Friesland, the Ommelanden, Ostfriesland and the northern part of province Drenthe. Not only they shared the terp culture and the similarities in pottery, but they also were brothers in arms when it came to the professionalisation of the raiding business. Read our post It all began with piracy. Furthermore, this network at the southern Wadden Sea coast also maintained relations with the wider North Sea area, all the way to the coast of Flanders for example. The close relations indicate also that the ‘Anglo-Saxon style’ culture of the peoples of both the salt-marsh area of the Ommelanden and of the Hondsrug sand ridge that developed in the fifth century, were not solely determined by (mass) migration but (also) through long-standing social and cultural exchange. However, although closely related, during the Roman period, within this area the people living in Noord Holland and Friesland were as group stronger related, i.e. the Frisii, and the people living in the Ommelanden, northern Drenthe and Ostfriesland were as a group stronger related, i.e. the Chauci (Nieuwhof 2021).
The environment of the Frisia territory (Minores Frisii) along the North Sea coast of province Noord Holland, what is more or less the present-day area of Kennemerland, region Westfriesland and the (former) islands Texel and Wieringen in the west of the Netherlands, deteriorated too in the fourth century. This was probably due to land-loss because of a North Sea moving east, combined with a period of drought, and thus a period of strong dune formation. All in all making the coastal zone mostly useless for agriculture. Strong dune formation was also the case in the area more to the south between the mouths of the rivers Old-Rhine and Meuse. It led to a significant decrease of population in these areas too (Dijkstra 2011). A habitation situation comparable to the area in the north of the Netherlands, as described above. But habitation continued along the North Sea coast modestly, for example as it did at Oosterbuurt near the town of Castricum, at Dorregeest near the town of Uitgeest, at Den Burg on the island Texel, and as it did close to the current town of Schagen. Pockets of original habitation more to the south remained also, like the in the area around the present-day town Rijnsburg, the mouth of the River Old-Rhine.
Besides rising sea-levels, periods of droughts and strong dune formation, there was another ecological factor that caused the environment along the southern shores of the North Sea to deteriorate strongly. This was the so-called Great Watering (De Klerk 2018). The deeper soils, ca. 25 meters deep, were still frozen eversince the Weichselian glaciation period that had ended ca. 10,000 years ago. Although the glaciation period had ended, the deep soils were still frozen and defrosted excruciatingly slow. Water takes more volume when it is frozen. So, when this ‘big meltdown’ started, the soils shrank. Causing the surface to decrease with on average in total two meters. This in turn caused the area to become wetter and wetter. Roman fortresses slowly sank into the soil and people had to move to higher grounds, mostly inland. It stimulated the migration process. The defrosting process was at it is height arround the year 400 and, as said, named the Great Watering.
Around 400-425, population slowly increased again in the nearly empty former territories of the Frisii. The reason was not because the remaining inhabitants suddenly became very fertile and productive. No, it was without discussion immigration. The Adventus Saxonium ‘the coming of the Saxons’. But, not only Saxons. Current archaeological research adopts a two-migration-wave theory during the end of the Migration Period.
The first wave was that of the Angles and the Saxons at the turn of the fourth and fifth centuries. Especially the rivers Elbe-Weser triangle in Germany was an important cradle of the new settlers, the later to be (new) Frisians. Probably they admixed with the very few original Frisians (Frisii) left. This first wave was in archaeological terminology a mass migration. Especially relatively spoken, since the tidal marshlands where these migrants settled were nearly empty indeed. Furthermore, these new settlers from the northwest of Germany were no real strangers. Cultural relations already existed before the Migration Period. Maybe even belonging to the same cultural group. It is this same first migration wave that also led to Britain: the Saxons following the River Thames from Kent to Oxfordshire, and the Angles migrated via the River Humber into the northern Midlands and Yorkshire (Kortlandt 2017).
The second migration wave followed closely behind the first, around the second half of the fifth century. It was composed of Jutes and of southern Norwegians. They arrived in no-longer empty lands. This is considered to have been an elite migration, meaning small in numbers but wielding cultural and political power (Nicolay 2005). Now we would consider them kinda colonials. They held strong ties with their homelands. But probably these Scandinavian elites mixed with the previous established admixture as well, eventually.
All these migrants over the course of a century filled the former, empty marshlands of the original Frisians and those of the Chauci with, as said, some small pockets of original Frisians still being there. But they were no more than a dash in the cocktail recipe. The originals, by the way, being a people of probably mixed Celtic and ‘Germanic’ influences. Be aware, that the term ‘Germanic’ was coined by the Romans without too much previous anthropological research. So, were the Frisii indeed a Germanic tribe, or not at all? Therefore, what were Germanic and what were Celtic tribes in general, is difficult to say now. Tribes belonging to Magna Germania just as well might have been Celts too.
To say a few more words about this Celtic origin, a (partly) Celtic heritage of the Frisians (Frisii and Frisiavones) could explain why according to language research Celtic vowel systems have survived in the Frisian language. Besides, passing on of a language or elements thereof, can be related with an ethnic or social group, but can just as well be passed on outside the original entity. Why do the Portugese and Romanians speak a Latin language, for example? If you want to know more about the Celtic connection, read our blog post Celtic-Frisian heritage: There’s no dealing with the wheel of Fortune. Scholars more and more assume the old Frisians were Celtic.
Two migration waves between ca. 400-500 (Nicolay, 2005)
Other archaeological research suggests Old-Frisian tribes from what is now the northern part of province Noord Holland, re-entered the empty tidal marshlands of the north around the year 400. As said, modest continuation of habitation in the region Noord Holland during the Migration Period has been proved. The same, as described earlier, is true for continuous habitation in the northern parts of Drenthe, at the higher Hondsrug sand-ridge area. Possible from here too, a secondary migration wave took place occupying the tidal marshlands of the Ommelanden. Whether these old Frisians and old Chauci re-migrating from provinces Noord Holland, the Ommelanden en northern Drenthe into the tidal marshlands of the southern Wadden Sea still considered themselves Frisians (and Chauci) is impossible to tell (Flierman 2021).
These (secondary) migration movements, however, do not exclude the two-migration-wave theory from overseas mentioned earlier. It might have been a mixture of both, namely: old/original Frisian (Frisii) tribes from the northern parts of modern province Noord Holland, and old Chauci from the northern parts of province Drenthe, together with new tribes from northwestern Germany and southern Scandinavia. Quite logical in way. As soon as the salt marshes and its hinterland were arable again, and the increased activity of the sea had settled as well, people from nearby and (later) from more afar knew the potential of these very fertile and productive lands. All re-populating the empty salt marshes, and giving the ancient terp culture a boost again. Or, should we say they ‘rebooted’ the salt-marsh culture?
The language the people spoke along the coast from West Flanders to northwest Germany is called Coastal Dutch or Frisian, and was very similar to the English spoken on the other side of the North Sea. According to linguistic research this language originates from the early-medieval period. A language born out of pirate settlers from the north, pirates known as the Saxones by the Romans (Schrijver 2014). This corresponds more or less with the theories based on archaeological research above. Read our blog post It all began with piracy to understand how a new cultural (pirate) identity was shaped at the southern coasts of the North Sea and of England in the Late Antiquity.
So, the result is that modern Mid-Frisians in province Friesland are a cocktail of old Celtic-Frisians (Frisii) and Chauci, Saxons, Angles, Jutes and southern Scandinavians (Norwegians). For the East-Frisians in Ostfriesland the story is comparable, but we need to dig deeper yet into what happened to the Chauci people, among other. Like the old Frisians, they probably also migrated south into Flanders in the third and fourth centuries, and perhaps also to Britannia.
When looking at the golden and silver artifacts the new Frisians produced, the style elements were influenced by those of the different peoples surrounding them. Resulting in the fibulae and pendants with so-called kidney shape. This is the two snake-like animal figures bowing to each other (see image below). The kidney motifs developed from mid-sixth century and found in the terp region. This suggests that over the course of the late sixth and beginning seventh centuries, a new identity was established (Nieuwhof 2018, Nicolay 2018). These new Frisians detached themselves politically from the dominant Scandinavian elite, i.e. the Jutes and the southern Norwegians.
It is also the century Frisia politically expanded, covering most of the Netherlands and all the way into the north of West Flanders, and far into the northwest of Germany. And because of their ambition, this new people had to deal with its, at the end too powerful, opponent in the south: the Franks. The Frisian assertiveness and the conflict with their neighbors, led to a period of social and political change and stress, resulting in more soil depositions and grave gifts, especially of swords and shields. A way to strengthen the warrior culture and the communication with the world of the gods.
Concerning the western coast of the Netherlands, migration contributed to the composition of the population here as well. Research in Oegstgeest, province Zuid Holland, on human remains shows that, although on limited numbers of individuals, besides migrants from the northwest of Germany and from Denmark, also migrants came from the east of the Netherlands or Germany, and from southern England. Many questions remain whether these people were immigrant/new settlers, traders or perhaps raiders. But it might indicated the early-medieval migration process was not solely from northeast to west, but also for example vice versa (Van Spelde 2016).
2. So, the Frisians are Saxons?
In a way, yes. They were the basic ingredient. Admixed with some other peoples as explained above with the cocktail recipe. It was even Emperor Lothar I who in the year 850 spoke of “gens Saxonum et Fresonum commixta” (‘mixed Saxon and Frisian people’), describing the people living in the north of his empire, and expressing there was, seemingly, not much different between the two tribes (Flierman 2021).
But who were these Saxons anyway?
The name Saxons started to appear in different Roman and Greek written sources from the middle of the fourth century (Dhaeze 2019). The Romans spoke, in the Late-Roman Notitia Dignitatum, about Saxon piracy along the Litus Saxonicum ‘Saxon shore’. From the mid-third century onward, the Romans even built a series of forts around the coast of Britain between Brancaster to Portchester: the Saxon shore-forts. The question is whether the word ‘saxon’ as used by the Roman and Greek writers implied there was also a Saxon people, a Saxon identity. This is difficult to answer. Things become complicated because the term ‘saxon’ was used both for individuals living in Great Germanica as for individuals living in Romania (viz. Transylvania). Early-medieval sources even spoke of Saxons in the southwest of Gaul and in Italy. That is all very diffuse, but makes evident the sources were not consequently talking about a tribe or a people.
An established theory is that the word ‘saxon’ originally was used to denote a group of individuals (like Vikings, being plundering and rowing men in war bands) or the name of a confederacy of pirating tribes, but not to denote a tribe or a people. An umbrella to denota Rauscharen or raiding parties (Springer 2003; Flierman 2021). Only later the word ‘saxon’ would become applicable for a tribe, a group-entity that (eventually) associated itself under this name. A similar example are the Normans of Normandy. Other theories exist about the origin of the word ‘(to) viking’ too. Read for this our post Foreign Fighters returning from Viking war bands.
If not a people or a tribe at first, what or who were ‘saxons’?
The answer: it were pirates, robbers, raiders coming by ship (Springer 2003). Another explanation for the word ‘saxon’ is that it meant warriors belonging to war bands (Steuer 2003). Anyway, both explanations -pirates or warriors- have in common it were rough types you prefer not to encounter on any time of the day. From the fourth until the middle of the fifth centuries, Saxons appeared as pirates plundering the coasts of Gaul, Britanny and of Britannia. In the sixth-century De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae ‘On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain’ the Saxons -invaders of Britain- proved more cruel than the former enemies. This, at least according to cleric Saint Gildas. Lastly, know that a seax was a specific type of knife which these rough types carried. Perhaps even being the origin of the word ‘saxon’.
And then there was the Germanic god Saxnôt, also written as Seaxneat or Saxnote, which was also worshiped by the Saxons and Frisians well into the ninth century, beside the two more well-known Germanic gods Woden/Óðinn and Thunor/Þórr. We know Saxnot among other from the eighth-century Batismal Vow of Utrecht. Check out our blog post Groove is in the Hearth to learn more about this piece of fascinating pagan history.
The continental Saxons started to adopt their name after the Frankish kingdom had defeated them at the beginning of the ninth century. It was Charlemagne who denoted them as Saxons and created Saxony as a political unit that had never existed hitherto. The Saxon Wars between 772 and 804 were wars against Saxon tribes the Nordalbians, the Angrians and who were well-known horse-breeders, the West-Phalians, and the East-Phalians. Whether these tribes were a social and/or political entity, is very doubtful. Actually, it is not very likely. Neither do we have information that within these regions a common language existed.
A final remark on the term ‘saxon’, it were the Franks who distinguished the Anglisaxones (i.e. the Anglo-Saxons) from the Antiqui Saxones (i.e. the original, continental Saxons or Old-Saxons), because a distinction had to be made to avoid confusion. Organized, bureaucratic people, those Franks. The foundation of their success. And yeah, what is in the name?
3. Where did the (Original) Frisians go?
What is still quite a mystery, is to where the original Frisians (Frisii) left in the first quarter of the fourth century. It was at the time a quite populous tribe of several tens of thousands living on the tidal marshlands, and they did not just perish or drown on the spot to a few thousand maximum left, at most. From the middle of the third century, we know Frisians settled in the lower River Rhine area, and also migrated up the River Scheldt into Flanders (Dhaeze 2019). Besides migrating to higher grounds to the east and to the south to what would become Gaul soon, we can assume this maritime people, and climate migrants avant la lettre, partly settled in noticeable numbers at the British Isles, east and southern England, too. This pre-medieval emigration of the Old-Frisians, who, as said, might have been related to Celts, to Britain is supported by archaeological finds of Frisian pottery (Brooks 2010, Harrington 2010). This migration flow is also plausible if you take into account that Britannia was not at all a terra incognita for the original Frisians. Quite the contrary. For centuries they had supplied the Roman Army with infantry and cavalry troops at for example the Hadrian’s Wall. Read our post Frisian mercenaries in the Roman Army.
After this pre-medieval migration, from the fifth century onward when empty Frisia was being re-populated, different Germanic tribes again started to migrate to Britain, and again probably including the (new) Frisians annex Saxons. In fact, the question of the origins of the Anglo-Saxons, the emergence of England. It is at the end of the Dark Age that the unity of the Germanic languages of the tribes within the southern North Sea coast is broken, although up till the end of the sixth century, runic inscriptions show no sign of disintegration yet. In our blog post It all began with piracy we explain what happened during the Late Antiquity with the Germanic tribes living in this area. Archaeological research indicates that the migration of Germanic peoples from the continent to Britain during the Migration Period did not go through the southwestern coast of the Netherlands, but presumably via the terp region in the northwest of the Netherlands.
Toponymical research suggests names of settlements in Britain supposedly referring to Frisian colonists exist, like Freiston, Fressingfield, Freston, Frisby on the Wreake, Friston, Frizington and Fryston. Though, at best, these place names refer to a settler of Frisian origin and not to a significant group of settlers (Hines 2001). And, of course, Dumfries on the Nith in Scotland, being the ‘Dun or stronghold of the Frisians,’ dating back to the fourth century (McClure 1910). Also in Scotland, the Litus Fresicum ‘Frisian shore’ is applied to the district of Culross in the Life of Saint Mungo, written by monk Jocelyn of Furness in the late twelfth century. After Hines, Bremmer (2005) produced a much longer list of twenty-two place names: Ferry Fryston, Firsby (Lincolnshire), Firsby (Yorkshire), Freasley, Freezingham, Freiston, French Hay, Frenchhurst, (on) fresingmede, Fressingfield, Freston, Friesthorpe, Frieston, (Old) Frisby, Frismarsh, Friston (Suffolk), Friston (Sussex), Frizenham, Frizinghall, Frizington, Monk Fryston, and Water Fryston.
The majority of these place names are located wthin the former Danelaw of Britain. So, settlements of a (small group of) Frisian(s) during the Viking Rule. Then, of course, it is tempting to speculate that the Viking commander of the Great Heathen Army Ubbe the Frisian from the Walcheren Island in West Frisia (current province Zeeland, the Netherlands) had his hall at the settlement of Frizinghall in Yorkshire. But we will not speculate, of course. Of course not. Not. Read our post Island the Walcheren: once Sodom and Gomarrah of the North Sea to learn more about this chap Ubbe the Frisian.
Note - But more place-names might reveal a Frisian origin. Words with the element gred which is Old-Frisian for 'pasture land' or 'meadow'. Another element might have Frisian roots too, namely 'tehs' related to tester meaning 'south', like in the island Texel, tehs-el 'south-island' or Toxandria 'dwellers of the south'. Yet another element is the suffix -bard which is a suffix common in modern province Friesland as -bert and -birt.
What was the proportion (new) Frisians within these movements of the Migration Age? Although we may have some reason to take his facts cum grano salis historian Procopius wrote in the sixth century that Brittia was inhabited by the populous Angiloi, Phrissones and Brittônes (viz the Angles, the Frisians and the Brits), each ruled by a king. And if Britain was not invaded en masse by the legendary army of the brothers Hengest and Horsa consisting of Angles and Saxons in the fifth century, as described in Venerable Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History of Britain,’ settlers might have been lured by the stories of Saxon mercenaries. These Saxon mercenaries had assisted the Britons in their wars against the Picts and the Scots in the fifth century after the Roman legions had been withdrawn from Britannia. These mercenaries spread the story the Britons were cowards and their fertile green land was there for the taking. This, at least, is the history as Gildas described it in his ‘On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain,’ mentioned earlier.
But also Bede wrote in his History: “There were very many peoples in Germany from whom the Angles and the Saxons, who now live in Britain, derive their origin; hence even to this day they are by a corruption called Garmani by their neighbors the Britons. Now these peoples are the Frisians, the Rugians, the Danes, the Huns, the Old-Saxons and the Boruhtware (Bructerii).”
All quite fascinating and head-spinning, is it not?
What in any case is clear based on historical documents, on archaeological finds (e.g. coins/pennies, Anglo-Frisian style pottery, jewelry distributions and so-called sunken-featured buildings, called pit houses or Grübenhaus), on a common runic alphabet development, and on similarities with regard to the so-called injury tariffs, that there was a very close relationship and strong cultural ties between the new Anglo-Saxon and the new Frisian world short after the Migration Period. Specifically with East England and Kent. Only a few miles of sea between them, so to speak. A gold solidus probably from the first quarter of the sixth century and for numismatic reasons as the date 423 ante quem non (‘not older than’) carrying the Anglo-Frisian runic inscription ᛋᛣᚨᚾᛟᛗᛟᛞᚢ skānomōdu, testifies of the early contact of the (new) Frisians with England. It is Old Frisian language, meaning something like skauna ‘beautiful’ mōda ‘brave’ and is probably a personal name. The oldest British runic inscription found in Britain is therefore likely Frisian. You can see the piece in the British Museum in London.
And, do not forget the simple fact Old English and Old Frisian languages are so-called first cousins. Closely related languages, nearly indistinguishable at first, although the development of languages along the North Sea was very dynamic during the Migration Period until the eighth century, and the common ancestors of the Saxons might be the base of this too.
It was Venerable Bede, too, who suggested because of this old kinship with the gents of Frisia, the Anglo-Saxon missionaris were morally obliged to convert the still pagan Frisians. The most famous preachers were Wilfrith of York, Saint Willibrord from Northumbria and Wynfrith from Crediton (also known as Saint Boniface) but also the lesser known missionaris Saint Adalbert, Wihtbert, Saint Wigbert and Saint Swithberht (also known as Saint Suitbert). According to Bede it was Saint Ecgberht of Ripon, who died in 729, from the monastery of Rath Melsigi, also written as Rathmelsigi, near Drogheda at the east coast of Ireland, who was the primary driving force behind the start of the conversion of the Frisians from the end of the seventh century.
Saint Adalbert of Egmond was another Anglo-Saxon monk of the Rath Melsigi monastery who played a significant role in converting the Frisians. At Rath Melsigi monk Adalbert met Saint Willibrord. In ca. 690 both went to Frisia and Adalbert assisted Willibrord in spreading the gospel. In ca. 715 Saint Adalbert died and was buried in Frisia. The most powerful abbey of (West) Frisia, and oldest of the Netherlands, would be supported on his relics. Read our blog post The Abbey of Egmond and the Rise of the Gerulfings to learn more about monastery Rath Melsigi and the Abbey of Egmond.
Lastly, yet still limited, DNA research also points to close kinship between the new Frisians and the Anglo-Saxon or Germanic settlers in England. Research shows the Central-English and the Frisian DNA-samples of modern men are statistically indistinguishable (Weale 2002). The research concluded that substantial migration of Anglo-Saxon Y chromosomes, thus including Frisian chromosome material too, into Central-England had taken place contributing 50 to 100 percent to the gene pool at that time. To put it bluntly, the Central-English have more in common DNA-wise with the Frisians than with their close Welsh neighbor. Yes, one in six of today’s males in Central-England descends from the new Frisians. DNA research into the East-England population reveals that 38 percent derives its ancestry from Anglo-Saxon migrants closely related to modern Dutch and Danish populations (Schiffels 2016). It is estimated a quarter of the population in East-England was an ‘Anglo-Saxon’ immigrant. Others make a more modest estimation of the influx of Germanic genes, with an early-medieval increase of genetic markers between 15-20 percent, with specific kinship with the inhabitants of modern province Friesland (Brooks & Harrington 2010). And other research estimates the genetic contribution to southeastern England from Anglo-Saxon migrations to be under half (Leslie, et al 2015). How difficult the interpretation of the existing genetic research still is, to greater or lesser extent it all fits quite well with archaeological and historical findings outlined previously.
Enough, enough! with all the babbling because the ice of your cocktail is melting:
Note 1 – Is it all true about the invasion of Britain of Angles, Saxons, Jutes ánd Frisians and alike? Shouldn’t we distrust the scribbles of Bede, Gildas and the Anglo Saxon Chronicle a bit more? Other scholars, namely, contest the idea that Britain turned into chaos after the Roman Emperor Honorius had send the message to the Britons in the year 410 to look after their own defence, and pulled out all remaining military forces. These scholars argue there is actually no real support for a massive immigration, neither historical nor archaeological (Oosthuizen 2019). Instead, Romano-British society was never invaded and generally continued to exists as it did. It ‘only’ re-oriented itself as being part of the North Sea (if you like, Germanic) culture around 450, after the Romans had pulled out all together, and the society was culturally detached from the till then dominant Mediterranean culture. The presence of Anglo-Saxons warriors in the fifth century can be seen as a continuation of the Roman tradition to hire Germanic mercenaries from the continent, as had been done for centuries, including Frisian mercenaries (both the Frisii and the Frisavones tribes). Read our post Frisian Mercenaries in the Roman Army.
Then again, this theory of re-orientation does not exclude a theory of mass immigration per se, when you realize that the picture of when and where exactly influx of Germanic tribes occurred, is still hazy. Maybe specific spots in East-England and Kent were confronted with a relatively mass influx of settlers whilst most other regions of east and southern England were less affected (genetically) at first.
Note 2 – And, of course, we await with much anticipation the results of the project Citizenship Discourses in the Early Middle Ages, 400-1100, led by prof. E. Rose of the University of Utrecht and financed under the instrument ‘Vernieuwingsimpuls Vici 2017-2022’ of Social Science and Humanities (NWO).
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