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  • Writer's pictureHans Faber

Have a Frisians Cocktail

With the upcoming seasonal festivities at the end of the year, it's appropriate to serve you a flavourful cocktail. It's a cocktail from the list 'Myths of Nations', namely the 'Frisians Cocktail'. Its recipe isn't as old as some people thought it was, or would like it to be, but it's still a quite reasonable drink to serve before, during, and after Christmas dinners, or as an aperitif on New Year's Eve! What the heck, on every Sunday morning with strawberries for breakfast. Be warned, though. Some find it a bit too Saxon. Or would you prefer an Anglo-Saxon cocktail? Anyway, try it yourself.

1. The Recipe


- 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 tablespoon.

Do the same with the Norwegians afterwards. Don not stir!

Throw in some Franks with some grains of sea salt. Peat salt is fine 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.

Warning - Do not mix it with Friesians instead of Frisians, because then you would blend your cocktail with black-pied dairy cows or black horses!

2. Myths of Nations

The Old Frisians - until AD 425

Habitation at the terp region on 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 focusing on the salt marshes of the Netherlands and western Germany, the first people settled here during 600-500 BC, and maybe even a century before. We know this from the oldest pottery found. Areas they settled were around modern villages Den Burg (on the island of Texel), Pingjum, Wommels, Hogebeintum, Vierhuizen, Ezinge, Harssens, Middelstum, and at the mouth of the River Ems at the village of Jemgum. This old pottery also resembles pottery found at the lower reaches of the River Weser. Where these first permanent settlers originated from, researchers don't know, yet (Westerink 2022).

Around 500 BC, another type of pottery appears: the Ruinen-Wommels type. This pottery has a much wider and more inland distribution than the old pottery mentioned above. Additionally, in addition to the distribution area of the old pottery, it is also found on the Drenthe Plateau, as far south as the modern village of Ruinen. From 400 BC onward, there is a growing population in the salt marshes, while the hinterland of the Drenthe Plateau witnesses a steady decrease in population. At the beginning of the first century AD, the population of the salt marshes is at its peak, with around 20,000 to 30,000 people living in the province of Friesland and 10,000 in the province of Groningen along the Wadden Sea coast. From the second century onward, the population starts to decline (Westerink 2022).

When the Romans arrived in these wet, peaty, and swampy regions in the first century AD, the peoples living on these terps (see note further below) were called the maiores Frisii 'greater Frisians' in the northwest of the Netherlands. Besides the term Frisii, the Frisians were also named Fresones. Further to the east, they were known as the maiores Chauci, in the region between more or less the River Ems and the River Weser, which is now known as Ostfriesland in Germany. Archaeological research shows differences in culture between the Chauci and the Frisians. At the same time, research also shows that intensive contacts existed between these tribes. It is a bit unclear whether the area that is now the province of Groningen in the Netherlands belonged to the Frisians or to the Chauci. Even the northern area of the Drenthe Plateau experienced some form of 'Chaucanisation'.

The minores Frisii 'smaller or lesser Frisians' had their territory in what's today province Noord Holland in the Netherlands. Along the coasts more to the south, what's current province Zeeland south of the Limes 'border' Germanicus 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 onward, the tribe of the Cananefates.

After of the Roman Empire and the so-called Dark Migration periods, light shines again on these territories that had been redistributed among different peoples in the meantime. And guess what? Frisians everywhere. Frisians seemed like furry Gremlins who had multiplied after getting wet. And there's plenty of water in this environment: rivers, swamps, salt marshes, seas, and lots of rain. Frisians suddenly were present from the inlet known as the Zwin in Flanders, all the way up to the lower reaches of the River Weser in the northwest of Germany. Soon after, these Gremlins would settle in regions Nordfriesland in Germany and southern Jutland in Denmark as well. For more information about the early medieval presence of Frisians in respectively Flanders and Jutland, read our posts The Frontier known as Watery Mess: the coast of Flanders and To the end where it all began: ribbon Ribe.

Note - Terps are artificial house platforms or dwelling mounds. Read our DIY Manuel Making a Terp in 12 Steps to learn more about the phenomenon of terps or Warfts, its spreading, names and history.

It's therefore tempting to think that the genes of the tribe of the Frisians are a continuum from the year 600 BC to this very day. Well, it's not. Actually, this cocktail has a different recipe, as you might have tasted already. Research, archaeological and toponymical, is pretty conclusive about the fact that the tidal marshlands of the northern Netherlands, especially in present-day province Friesland, 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 pressures from the east and south, caused the coastal people of the tidal marshlands to move. Climate change, however, did. It was the deterioration of the environment that had a major impact on living conditions, especially in the current province of Friesland and, to a lesser extent, the region of Ommelanden in the province of Groningen. Because of climate change, sea levels rose in the fourth century. For settlements along the coast on the tidal marshlands, the rising water wasn't a problem that couldn't be overcome. To a certain extent, the marshlands would rise in parallel with the sea level, and artificial house platforms and 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. Well into the twentieth century. An environment that was no longer suitable for agriculture, livestock, and for living. People, therefore, emigrated from the hinterlands. Disappearance of inland habitation affected habitation on 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. As some historians put it:

“you only could hear the seagulls cry”

Note - If interested in more information on these crying 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 the present-day province of Friesland show a continuation of (modest) population throughout the Migration period, such as those of Driesum, Hatsum, Hogebeintum, Jelsum, Marssum, Rasquert, and Wijnaldum-Tjitsma. Despite habitation on other terps like Dongjum and Peins being discontinued, archaeological research has shown that these higher and fertile terps were still being used as arable land during this empty era, thus indicating modest habitation somewhere in the area surrounding them. Especially the district of Westergo in the province of Friesland had the strongest depopulation in the fourth century AD.

Habitation in the salt marsh Ommelanden decreased significantly as well, as demonstrated by the famous archaeological excavations of the terp Ezinge, which is nicknamed the Sutton Hoo of the Netherlands. However, this region was less affected than the terp area of the province of Friesland. The reason for this was that it was blessed with a nearby, well-drained hinterland where habitation could continue. This supported the salt-marsh settlements with vital networks to survive, while the salt-marsh area of the province of Friesland became isolated with an empty hinterland.

Region Ommelanden was, and is, namely bordered by the Hondsrug Ridge. The Hondsrug Ridge is an elevated sand ridge formed during the Saale glaciation. With 20 meters above mean sea level, it's relatively high and wasn't affected during the climate change in the way that it turned into a malaria-infected area too. No surprise that on this elevated area habitation continued throughout the Migration period, as archaeological research at the village of Midlaren-De Bloemert in the province of Drenthe has shown. Besides this more inland socio-economic network, the salt-marsh area of region Ommelanden was culturally more connected with the east, with the region of Ostfriesland. This eastern network helped the settlements on the marshlands of province Groningen to survive better as well.

At this place it's instructive to mention that the Frisians and the Chauci were akin tribes, and there existed strong relationships, already before the Migration period, in the coastal area from Friesland, Ommelanden, Ostfriesland, and the northern part of the province of Drenthe. Not only did they share the terp culture and similarities in pottery, but they were also brothers in arms when it came to the professionalization of the raiding business. Read our post It all began with piracy. Furthermore, this network along the southern Wadden Sea coast also maintained relations with the wider North Sea area, all the way to the coast of Flanders, for example. These close relations also indicate that the 'Anglo-Saxon style' culture of the peoples of both the salt-marsh area of the region of Ommelanden and of the Hondsrug Ridge that would develop in the fifth century wasn't solely determined by (mass) migration but also through long-standing social and cultural exchange.

However, although closely related, during the Roman period the people living in provinces Noord Holland and Friesland were as a group strongly related (i.e., the Frisians), and the people living in the region of Ommelanden, the northern province of Drenthe, and the region of Ostfriesland were as a group strongly related (i.e. Chauci). To put it simply, albeit the Frisians and the Chauci were closely related, they were distinguishable from each other (Nieuwhof 2021).

The environment of the Frisian territory (i.e. minores Frisii) along the North Sea coast of the province of Noord Holland, which are more or less the present-day regions Kennemerland (formerly known as Kinhem) and Westfriesland, including the (former) islands Callantsoog, Huisduinen, Texel, and Wieringen, deteriorated in the fourth century. This was probably due to land loss because of the North Sea moving east, combined with a period of drought, resulting in strong dune formation. All in all, this made the coastal zone mostly unsuitable for agriculture. Strong dune formation was also the case in the area further south between the (former) mouths of the rivers Rhine and Meuse. It led to a significant decrease in population in these areas as well (Dijkstra 2011). In other words, it created a negative habitation situation comparable to the area on the northern coasts of the Netherlands and Germany.

Habitation continued along the western coast of the Netherlands modestly too, for example as it did at Oosterbuurt near the town of Castricum, at Dorregeest near the town of Uitgeest, at the village of Den Burg on the island Texel, and as it did close to the current town of Schagen in the region of Westfriesland. Pockets of original habitation more to the south remained also, like in the area around the present-day town of Rijnsburg, at the (former) mouth of the River 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. This was the so-called Great Watering (De Klerk 2018). The deeper soils, approximately 25 meters deep, had been frozen ever since the Weichselian glaciation period that had ended approximately 10,000 years ago. Although this glaciation period had ended, the deep soils were still frozen and defrosted excruciatingly slowly. Water takes up more volume when it's frozen. So, when this big meltdown started, the soils shrank and caused the surface to decrease by an average of two meters in total. This, in turn, caused the area to become even wetter. Roman fortresses slowly sank into the soil, and people had to move to higher ground, mostly inland. This process stimulated the exodus from the coast even further. Around the year 400, the defrosting process happened to be at its peak.

The New Frisians - from AD 425

Around 400-425, population slowly increased again in the nearly empty former territories of the Frisians. The explanation for this population growth isn't because the few remaining inhabitants suddenly became very romantic, fertile, and productive. No, without discussion, it was immigration. Indeed, the Adventus Saxonium 'coming of the Saxons'. But not only (Old) Saxons. Current archaeological research adopts a two-migration-wave theory during the end of the Migration period.

The first migration wave was that of the Angles and the (Old) Saxons at the turn of the fourth and fifth centuries. In particular, the Elbe-Weser triangle in northern Germany was an important cradle of the new settlers. Probably the Saxons admixed with the very few original Frisians (Frisii) and Chauci left. This first wave was, in archaeological terminology, a mass migration. Especially relatively speaking, since the tidal marshlands where these migrants settled were nearly empty indeed. Furthermore, these new settlers were not real strangers. Cultural relations, as explained earlier, already existed before the Migration period. More or less belonging to the same cultural group. It's this same first migration wave that also affected Britain. Basically, the Saxon migrants followed 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 southern Norwegians. They arrived in the no-longer empty coastal lands. This is considered to have been an elite migration, meaning small in numbers but wielding cultural and political power. They held strong ties with their homelands (Nicolay 2005). Today we would consider them kinda colonials. But probably these Scandinavian elites mixed with the previous established admixture as well, eventually.

All these migrants in the course of the fifth 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 these original Frisians or Frisii were no more than a dash in the cocktail recipe. The original Frisians, by the way, were a people of probably mixed Celtic and 'Germanic' influences too. Be aware, namely, 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 culturally (partially) Celtic too.

To say a few more words about this Celtic origin, a partially Celtic heritage of the Frisians, both Frisii and Frisiavones, could explain why, among other, 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 Portuguese and Romanians speak a Latin language, for example? Check our posts Barbarians riding to the Capital to claim rights on farmland, The Killing Fields, of the Celts, and Celtic-Frisian heritage: There’s no dealing with the Wheel of Fortune to learn that the Frisii might have been Celtic before Germanic.

Two migration waves between ca. 400-500 (Nicolay, 2005)

Other archaeological research suggests that the original Frisian (i.e. minores Frisii) tribes from what is now the northern part of the province of Noord Holland re-entered the empty tidal marshlands of the Wadden Sea around the year 400. As mentioned earlier, modest continuation of habitation in the region of Noord Holland during the Migration period has been proven. The same is true for continuous habitation in the northern parts of the province of Drenthe on the Hondsrug Ridge. It's possible that from there, a secondary migration wave took place, occupying the tidal marshlands of the region of Ommelanden. Whether these original Frisians and Chauci, who re-migrated from the province of Noord Holland, the region of Ommelanden, and the Drenthe Plateau to the tidal marshlands of the Wadden Sea still considered themselves Frisians (and Chauci), is impossible to tell (Flierman 2021).

These possible secondary migration movements, however, don't exclude the two-migration-wave theory from overseas mentioned first. It might have been a mixture of both types of migration, namely: Old Frisian (Frisii) and Chauci tribes from the northern parts of the modern province of Noord Holland and the northern parts of the province of Drenthe, together with new tribes from north-western Germany and southern Scandinavia. Quite logical in a way. As soon as the salt marshes, and especially their hinterland, were liveable again, and the increased activity of the sea had settled as well, people from the wider region knew the potential of these very fertile and productive lands. All re-populating the salt marshes and giving the ancient terp culture a boost again. Or should we say 're-launched' the unique salt-marsh culture?

migration Frisia
Vos, P. & S. de Vries 2013: 2nd generation palaeogeographic maps of the Netherlands (version 2.0). Deltares, Utrecht. Downloaded from on 22 December 2018

The language the people spoke along the coast from Flanders to the northwest of Germany is called Coastal Dutch, an earlier form of Frisian. Coastal Dutch 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 Saxones by the Romans (Schrijver 2014). This more or less corresponds with theories based on archaeological research set out above. Read our post It all began with piracy to understand how a new cultural, raiding identity was shaped on the southern shores of the North Sea, including that of England during Late Antiquity.

In the mid-sixth century, southern Scandinavia underwent a deep crisis, an economic and demographic collapse. The population was halved due to famines and violence. The cause of this crisis might have been a great volcanic eruption in the year 535, creating an enormous dust veil worldwide, which hit Scandinavian agriculture, already suffering from short summers, notably hard. Not long after, the bubonic plague might have reached southern Scandinavia as well. These catastrophes induced additional migration movements to the west and south where the Jutes, Frisians, and Franks dwelled (Shippey 2022).

So, the result of all these migration movements is that Frisians are a cocktail of Old Celtic-Frisians (Frisii), Chauci, (Old) Saxons, Angles, Jutes, and southern Norwegians. For the Frisians in region Ostfriesland, the story is comparable, but we need to dig deeper yet into what happened to the Chauci, among others. Like the original Frisians, they probably also partly migrated south into Flanders in the third and fourth centuries, and perhaps also to the British Isles.

When looking at the golden and silver artifacts that the new Frisians produced, the style elements were influenced by those of the different peoples surrounding them. This resulted in the fibulae and pendants with a so-called kidney shape. The kidney motif developed from the mid-sixth century and is found in the terp region of the Wadden Sea. This suggests that in the late sixth and early seventh centuries, a new recognizable identity was established. These new Frisians politically detached themselves from the dominant southern Scandinavian elite, the Jutes, and the southern Norwegians (Nieuwhof 2018, Nicolay 2018).

fibula Achlum, Frisia
square-headed brooch / disc-on-bow fibula, village Achlum, the Netherlands, ca. 550

The seventh century is also the century Frisia politically expanded, covering most of the Netherlands and all the way to Flanders, and far to the northwest of Germany. And because of their ambition, this new people had to deal with their, at the end too powerful, opponent in the south: the Franks. The Frisian assertiveness and the conflict with their southern neighbours led to a period of social and political change and stress. Resulting in more soil depositions and grave gifts, especially of swords and shields for a while (Knol 2001, Spiekhout et al 2023). A way to strengthen the warrior culture and the communication with the world of the gods.

Concerning the western North Sea coast of the Netherlands, migration contributed to the composition of the population here as well. Research at the town of Oegstgeest in the province of Zuid Holland on human remains, albeit on a limited number of individuals, shows that besides migrants from the northwest of Germany and Denmark, migrants also originated from the east of the Netherlands and from southern England. Many questions remain whether these people were new settlers, traders, or perhaps raiders. These archaeological results might indicate that the early-medieval migration process wasn't solely from northeast to west but also vice versa (Van Spelde 2016).

2. Frisian equals Saxon?

In a way, the answer is yes. Saxons were the basic ingredient. Admixed with some other peoples as explained above with the cocktail recipe. It was even Frankish emperor Lothar I who in the year 850 spoke of "gens Saxonum et Fresonum commixta" ('mixed Saxon and Frisian peoples'), describing the people living in the north of his empire and expressing there was, seemingly, not much different between the two tribes (Flierman 2021).

Who were these Saxons anyway?

The name Saxons starts to appear in different Roman and Greek written sources more or less from the middle of the fourth century (Dhaeze 2019). The Romans spoke, in the Notitia Dignitatum, of Saxon piracy along the litus Saxonicum 'Saxon shore'. From the mid-third century onward, the Romans even built a series of forts, and deployed naval forces along the coast of Britain between Brancaster to Portchester to ward off the Saxon maritime threat.

Question is whether the term '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 Germania as for individuals living in Romania (viz. Transylvania). Early medieval sources even spoke of Saxons in the southwest of Gaul and in Italy. That's all very diffuse and makes evident the antique sources weren't consequently talking about a tribe or a people.

If not a people at first, what were Saxons?

An established theory is that the word 'Saxon' originally was used to denote a group of individuals, like Vikings, who were plundering and rowing men in war bands. It was also used as the name of a confederacy of pirating tribes. However, it wasn't used to identify a tribe or a people as such. Instead, it served as an umbrella term to denote Rauscharen or raiding parties, which were warriors belonging to war bands (Steuer 2003, Springer 2003, Flierman 2021). Only later did the word 'Saxon' become applicable to a specific tribe. This tribe was a group-entity that eventually associated itself under this name. A similar example can be seen with the Normans of Normandy.

So, the Saxons were pirates, robbers, raiders who arrived by ship. Rough types you prefer not to encounter at any time of the day. From the fourth until the middle of the fifth centuries, Saxons appeared as bands plundering the coasts of Gaul, Brittany, and Britannia. In the sixth-century De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae 'On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain', the Saxons -invaders of Britain- proved to be more cruel than the former enemies. This, at least according to the cleric Saint Gildas.

What is a pirate without a cutlass? Know that a seax was a specific type of long knife that these rough types carried. Perhaps the name of this weapon is even the origin of the word saxon.

And, lastly, there is the Germanic god Saxnôt, also written as Seaxneat or Saxnote, which was also worshipped by Saxons and Frisians well into the ninth century. Of course, besides the more well-known Germanic gods Woden/Óðinn and Thunor/Þórr. We know the idol Saxnôt from, among others, the eighth-century Baptismal Vow of Utrecht. Check out our post Groove is in the Hearth to learn more about this fascinating piece of pagan history. How Saxnôt relates to Saxons, we couldn't find out. Any suggestions are welcome.

The Continental or Old Saxons started to adopt their name after the Frankish kingdom had defeated them at the beginning of the ninth century. It was Charlemagne who referred to 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 the Saxon tribes named the Nordalbians, the Angrians, the Westphalians, and the Eastphalians. Whether these tribes were a social and/or political entity is very doubtful. Actually, it's not very likely. Neither do historians have information that within these regions a common language existed.

A final remark on the term 'saxon'. It was the Franks who distinguished the Anglisaxones, i.e. the Anglo-Saxons, from the Antiqui Saxones, i.e. the original, Continental Saxons or Old Saxons. Apparently, this was because a distinction had to be made in order to avoid confusion. Organized and bureaucratic people, those Franks. But the foundation of their imperial success.

3. Where did the (Original) Frisians go?

What's quite a mystery still, is whereto 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 didn't 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 reaches of the River Rhine, and also migrated up the River Scheldt into the hinterlands of 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 on the British Isles too. This pre-medieval emigration of the 'original' Frisians to the Isles, who, as said, might have been related to Celts, is supported by archaeological finds of Frisian pottery in England (Brooks 2010, Harrington 2010). Based on pottery finds, a route they might have followed is south via Flanders and then across the Channel to Kent. In the year 290, Roman emperor Constantius Chlorus mentions that Frisian raiders are part of the invaders of Britannia (Looijenga 2003).

This pre-Migration period migration flow to England is also plausible if you take into account that Roman Britannia wasn't at all a terra incognita for those Frisians. Quite the contrary. During the centuries before both the Frisii (Fresones) and Frisiavones had supplied the Roman army with infantry and cavalry troops at, for example, Hadrian's Wall, and even were bodyguards of emperors in Rome. Read our post Frisian mercenaries in the Roman Army if this surprises the reader.

After this early migration flow, different Germanic tribes started to migrate to Britain from the fifth century onward, and when empty Frisia was being repopulated. And again probably including the (new) Frisians. Furthermore, archaeological research indicates that the migration of Germanic peoples from the Continent to Britain during the Migration period didn't go through the southwestern coast of the Netherlands, but presumably via the terp region in the northwest of the Netherlands.

It's at the end of the Migration period that the unity of the Germanic languages of the tribes within the southern North Sea coast is broken. Till the end of the sixth century, runic inscriptions show no sign of disintegration yet. In our post It all began with piracy, we explain in further detail what happened during Late Antiquity with the Germanic tribes living in the southern North Sea area.

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 should be mentioned as well (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.

Following Hines (2001), Bremmer (2005) produced a much longer list of twenty-two place names, namely: 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.

We have put everything on a map.

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.

The majority of these place names are located within the former Danelaw of Britain. So, they are settlements of small groups of Frisians during the Viking rule. Then, of course, it's tempting to speculate that the Viking commander of the Great Heathen Army, Ubbe the Frisian from the island of Walcheren in Frisia, had his hall at the settlement of Frizinghall in Yorkshire. But we will not speculate, of course. Of course, not. No, not. Read our post Island the Walcheren: once Sodom and Gomorrah of the North Sea to learn more about this intriguing personality, Ubbe the Frisian.

Besides the migration west to Britain, there was probably also a sort of reverse or secondary migration from Britain to Frisia (Looijenga 2023).

What was the proportion migrating Frisians?

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. Angles, Frisians, and Brits), each ruled by a king. And, if Britain wasn't invaded en masse by the legendary army of the band of brothers Hengist 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 in the year 410. These mercenaries spread the story that 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 Venerable Bede also 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 neighbours 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 fairly head-spinning, is it not?

What in any case is clear based on historical documents, on archaeological finds (e.g. coinage, Anglo-Frisian style pottery, jewellery distributions, and so-called sunken-featured buildings, called pit houses or Grübenhaus), on a common runic alphabet development, namely the Anglo-Frisian runic tradition (Looijenga 2023), and on similarities with regard to the so-called injury tariffs and laws, is that there was a very close relationship and strong cultural ties between the new Anglo-Saxon and the new Frisian world shortly after the Migration period. Specifically with East England and Kent. Frisians and Anglo-Saxons were sibs, with only a few miles of sea separating 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 to the early contact of the (new) Frisians with England. It's in Frisian language, meaning something like skauna 'beautiful' mōda 'brave', and is probably a male first name. The oldest British runic inscription found in Britain is, therefore, likely Frisian. You can see the piece at the British Museum in London. Cross the few miles of sea. For more backgrounds on Anglo-Frisian runes read our post Scratching runes was not much different from spraying tags.

gold solidus with runic inscription ᛋᛣᚨᚾᛟᛗᛟᛞᚢ / Skanomodu - sixth century

And, don't forget the simple fact that Old English and Old Frisian languages are so-called first cousins. They are 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. Going back and forth.

It was again Venerable Bede, too, who suggested that because of this old kinship with the gents of Frisia, the Anglo-Saxon missionaries were morally obliged to convert and save 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 missionaries 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 near Drogheda in Ireland, who was the primary driving force behind the start of the conversion of the Frisians from the end of the seventh century onward.


Saint Adalbert - 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 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 a close kinship between the new Frisians and the Anglo-Saxon or Germanic settlers in England. Research shows that the Central-English and the Frisian DNA samples of modern men are statistically indistinguishable (Weale et al 2002). The research concluded that a substantial migration of Anglo-Saxon Y chromosomes, 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 Frisians than with their close Welsh neighbours. Yes, one in six of today's males in Central England descends from 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's estimated that a quarter of the population in East England was an 'Anglo-Saxon' immigrant. Others make a more modest estimation of the influx of the Germanic gene pool, with an early-medieval increase of genetic markers between 15-20 percent, with specific kinship with the inhabitants of the modern province of Friesland (Brooks & Harrington 2010). And yet, other research estimates the genetic contribution to south-eastern England from Anglo-Saxon migrations to be under half (Leslie et al 2015).

A study, whereby archaeological and genetic results are being combined, shows that the formation of early-medieval society in England wasn't simply the result of a small elite migration, but that mass migration from afar must also have had a substantial role, with women being an important factor in it (Gretzinger et al 2022). This migration wasn't a sudden event or invasion, but a process that started in the Late Roman period until the eight century. Sources of this migration are the northern Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark. Genetically, the eastern England population of the Early Middle Ages derived up to two-thirds of their ancestry from the continental North Sea zone. Furthermore, this study paints a picture of a complex, regionally migration with partial integration with the native population. So, not one of social segregation or population replacement.

How difficult the interpretation of the existing genetic research still is, to a greater or lesser extent it all fits quite well with archaeological and historical findings outlined previously.

If you like genetics, see our post With the White Rabbit down the Hole, and learn all there is to know about the Frisian origin of the R-S21 or R-U106 haplogroup, and once again find no further clarity.

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 by Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians and the like? Shouldn't we distrust the scribbles of Bede, Gildas, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle a bit more?

Other scholars contest the idea that Britain turned into chaos after the Roman emperor Honorius had sent 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 that there's actually no real support for massive immigration, neither historical nor archaeological (Oosthuizen 2019). Instead, Romano-British society was never invaded and generally continued to exist as it did. It 'only' re-oriented itself as being part of the North Sea (if you like, Germanic) culture around 450, and the society was culturally detached from the till-then-dominant Mediterranean culture. The presence of Anglo-Saxon 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 doesn't 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 - 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 Sciences and Humanities (NWO).

Note 3 – If interested why the Frisians are called Frisians, check our post A severe case of inattentional blindness: the Frisian tribe’s name.

Suggested music & spoken word

Amara van der Elst, Voordracht Herdenking op de Dam (2021)

Led Zeppelin, Immigrant Song (1970)

Further reading

Århammer, N.R., Beetstra, W.T., Breuker, Ph.H. & Spahr van der Hoek, J.J., Frisians in Anglo-Saxon England: a historical and toponymical investigation (1981)

Bazelmans, J., By Weapons Made Worthy. Lords, Retainers and their relationship in Beowulf (1999)

Bazelmans, J., Zijn de Friezen wel Friezen? (1998)

Bremmer, R.H., Frisians in Anglo-Saxon England: A historical and toponymical investigation (2005)

Brooks, S. & Harrington, S., The Kingdom and People of Kent AD 400-1066. Their history and archaeology (2010)

Capon, G.R., The Frisian Enigma (2017)

Chamson, E.R., Revisiting a millennium of migrations. Contextualizing Dutch/Low-German influence on English dialect lexis (2014)

Cordfunke, E.H.P., Een graafschap achter de duinen. Het ontstaan en de vorming van het graafschap Holland [850-1150] (2019)

Crawford, S., Anglo-Saxon England 400-790 (2011)

Derks, T. & Roymans, N. (eds.), Ethnic Constructs in Antiquity : The Role of Power and Tradition; Bazelmans, J., The early-medieval use of the ethnic names from classical antiquity. The case of the Frisians (2009)

Dhaeze, W., The Roman North Sea and Channel Coastal Defence. Germanic Seaborne Raids and the Roman Response (2019)

Dijkstra, M.F.P., Rondom de mondingen van de Rijn en Maas. Landschap en bewoning tussen de 3e en de 9e eeuw in Zuid-Holland, in het bijzonder de Oude Rijnstreek (2011)

Donald, A., The Last Berserker: An action-packed Viking adventure (2021)

Fleming, R., Britain after Rome. The Fall and Rise 400 to 1070 (2010)

Green, D.H. & Siegmund, F. (eds.), The Continental Saxons from the Migration Period to the Tenth Century. An Ethnographic Perspective (2003)

Gretzinger, J., Sayer, D., Justeau, P. et al, The Anglo-Saxon migration and the formation of the early English gene pool (2022).

Harrington, S. & Welch, M., The Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of Southern Britain AD 450-650. Beneath the Tribal Hidage (2014)

Higham, N.J. & Ryan, M.j., The Anglo-Saxon World (2013)

Hines, J., The Role of the Frisians during the Settlement of the British Isles (2001)

Hines, J. & IJssennagger-van der Pluijm, N.L. (eds.), Frisians of the Early Middle Ages; Flierman, R., Mirror histories: Frisians and Saxons from the first to the ninth century AD (2021)

IJssennagger, N.L., Between Frankish and Viking: Frisia and Frisians in the Viking Age (2017)

Klerk, de A., Vlaardingen in de wording van het graafschap Holland 800-1250 (2018)

Knol, E., Carolingian weapons from Northern Netherlands, particularly from the cemetery of Godlinze (2001)

Koning, de J., Trans Flehum. Wijnaldum, Den Burg, Texel, Westergo: het Vlie als verbinder en grens (2018)

Kortlandt, F., Old English and Old Frisian (2017)

Leslie, L., Winney, B., Hellenthal G., Davison, D., Boumertit, A., Day, T., Hutnik, K., Royervik, E.C., Cunliffe, B., Lawson, D.J., Falush, D., Freeman, C., Pirinen, M., Myers, S., Robinson, M., Donelly P. & Bodmer, W., The fine scale genetic structure of the British population (2015)

Leyser, H., A short history of the Anglo-Saxons (2017)

Looijenga, T., Frisian Runes Revisited and an Update on the Bergakker Runic Item (2023)

Looijenga, T., Texts and Contexts of the Oldest Runic Inscriptions (2003)

Manco, J., The Origins of the Anglo-Saxons. Decoding the Ancestry of the English (2018)

McCure, E., British place-names in their historical setting (1910)

Medieval Histories, Hoch and his family in Oakington (2016)

Meeder, S., & Goosmann, E., Redbad. Koning in de marge van de geschiedenis (2018)

Mees, K., Burial, Landscape and Identity in early medieval Wessex (2019)

Merrills, A.H., History and Geography in Late Antiquity (2005)

Nicolay, J., Nieuwe bewoners van het terpengebied en hun rol bij de opkomst van Fries koningschap. De betekenis van gouden bracteaten en bracteaatachtige hangers uit Friesland (vijfde-zevende eeuw na Chr.) (2005)

Nicolay, J., Oortmerssen, van G., Os, van B. & Nobles, G., Een Vendelhelm uit Hallum? Verslag van een archeologische zoektocht (2010)

Nieuwhof, A., Anglo-Saxon immigration or continuity? Ezinge and the coastal area of the northern Netherlands in the Migration Period (2012)

Nieuwhof, A., De lege vierde eeuw. Jaarverslagen van de Vereniging voor terpenonderzoek (2016)

Nieuwhof, A., The Frisians and their pottery: social relations before and after the fourth century AD (2021)

Nieuwhof, A. & Nicolay, J., Identiteit en samenleving: terpen en wierden in de wijde wereld (2018)

Nijboer, B. & Nicolay, J., Een wierde met een grafveldwierde te Rasquert (GR) (2023)

Oosthuizen, S., The Emergence of the English (2019)

Oppenheimer, S., The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story (2006)

Pestell, T., The Kingdom of East Anglia, Frisia and Continental Connections, c. AD 600-900 (2014)

Renswoude, van O., De Huigen en het Humsterland (2022)

Renswoude, van O., Etymologie Skanomodu (2016)

Renswoude, van O., Het belang van sibbe (2023)

Schiffels, S., Haak, W., Paajanen, P., Llamas, B., Popescu, E., Loe, L., Clarke, R., Lyons, A., Mortimer, R., Sayer, D., Tyler-Smith, C., Cooper, A. & Durbin, R., Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon genomes from East England reveal British migration history (2016)

Schrijver, P., Frisian between the Roman and the Early-Medieval Periods. Language contact, Celts and Romans (2017)

Schrijver, P., Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages (2014)

Shippey, T., Beowulf and the North before the Vikings (2022)

Spelde, van F., Wandering Bones and Peripheral Bodies. Multidisciplinary analysis of the human remains from the early medieval (AD 500-700) settlement at Oegstgeest, the Netherlands (2016)

Spiekhout, D., Nijdam, H. & Dijk, van C., Mith egge and mith orde. Tweesnijdende zwaarden uit Friesland en Groningen vanaf de prehistorie tot in de late middeleeuwen (2023)

Weale, M.E. & Weiss, D.A. & Jager, R.F. & Bradman, N. & Thomas, M.G., Y Chromosome Evidence for Anglo-Saxon Mass Migration (2002)

Westerink, B., Wierdenlandschap (2022)

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