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  • Writer's pictureHans Faber

Who’s afraid of Voracious Woolf?

Who's afraid of Jóða Fenris ‘the offspring of Fenrir’? Afraid of hund hrynsævar hræva ‘the hound of the roaring sea corpses’? Who, today, is afraid of the wolf? The dark creature that has lived for so long in the shadowy forests of the east, is on the rise again in Europe. Almost two centuries have passed, but the wolf is back at the southern shores of the North Sea. Back in former Frisia. Igniting old fears that had been extinguished. It's slaughtering sheep. Even more alarming, middle-aged-men-in-lycra (mamils) report being chased by wolves while biking through the woods. A great deal of controversy exists on what to do. Calls to dig wolf pits again, or simply to shoot off the animal. Against calls to dance with it instead, because the wolf will ultimately conduct nature. As it did in Yellowstone. But where do these strong emotions come from?

The wolf is part of (Indo-) European culture for thousands of years. Mars, the god of war in ancient Rome, had his carriage pulled by wolves when he enter the battlefield. According to legend, the eternal city of Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus, seven centuries before the date of Christ. As little children they were saved and suckled by a she-wolf. Romulus killed his brother Remus, and became founder of the magnificent city.

There is even a fifth-century bracteate, which are small round gold-foil medallions, imitating an Urbs Roma coin and depicting the she-wolf of Romulus and Remus together with the oldest Anglo-Frisan Futhorc inscription written on it. The runes reads ᚷ‍ᚫᚷ‍ᚩᚷ‍ᚫ ᛗᚫᚷᚫ ᛗᛖᛞᚢ. The meaning of the first word is unsure, maybe a formulaic battle cry. The other two words read maegae medu meaning 'kinsmen meed' hence 'reward for a relative'. An alternative translation of maegae medu is 'kinsmen's consent'. This after a similar expression maga gemedu in the epic poem Beowulf, of which we will come to speak later, meaning 'kinsmen's consent (Briggs 2014).

Undley bracteate, East England, 5th century

Not only inspired by Roman mythology but the wolf played an important role in the Germanic cultures of the wider North Sea area in general. Wolves Hati and Sküll, children of the great wolf Fernir, hunted the sun and the moon in Germanic mythology. Like Gere and Freke too, the wolves of Odin (Medieval Histories 2023). Think only of the eighth-century, very intriguing runic inscription on a human skull excavated at Ribe in Denmark, saying: ᚢᛚᚠᚢᛦ ᚼᚢᚴ ᚢÞIᚾ ᚼᚢᚴ ᚺᚢᛏIᚢᛦ ᚺIᚼᛚᛒ ᛒᚢᚱI ᛋ ᚢIÞᛦ ÞᚼIᛘ ᚢIᚼᚱᚴ ᚼᚢᚴ ᛏᚢIᚱᚴᚢᚾIᚾ ᛒᚢᚢᚱ '‘Wolf and Odin and High Tyr help is borne against that dwarf and dwarf-ess Bour’ (Nordström 2021).

In European tradition, wolves were animals considered vermin. Deeply feared by people already in the Early Middle Ages, as they posed a danger to livestock and humans. Wolves were associated with war and death. Representing savagery and wilderness (Smeyers 2023). In old Indo-European mythologies, wolf (and dog) packs were a symbol of young warriors united in bands living in the wild. They were called Männerbunde in German or fian in the Irish language. Living like wolf packs. Learning to hunt and raid (Clerinx 2023). And who knows, just like wolves, pack sizes were halved by fall and winter because most first-year wolves do not make it. And in Anglo-Saxon myths Waellende Wulf was the vessel of death slaying the dragons that were destroying Middle Earth.

By the way, the nickname of Ireland in the Middle Ages was Wolf Land, a land also known for the dog breed, the massive Irish wolfhound. Who knows, Ireland got this nickname after the horrible year 1420 in Ireland, when there was harsh winter and crops had failed due to a dry summer, and wolves killed many people. This according to the Annals of Connacht, covering the thirteenth-sixteenth centuries (Van Engelen 1996).

Moreover, if one was eaten alive and torn apart by wolves, he or she were doomed for all eternity. This was because a dismembered body couldn't be resurrected on Judgment Day (Leneghan, 2022). Appropriately, the gates of hell itself were visualized as the open jaws of a wolf (Smeyers, 2023).

Some readers might still have been raised with fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, The Goat’s Kids and the Wolf, or Peter and the Wolf. Fairy tales with Midas Zeke, the Big Bad Wolf created by Walt Disney. Or readers who watched as little kid De Fabeltjeskrant ‘the fables newspaper’ with Bor de Wolf. Furthermore, we still find a bit scary to walk in the woods at night when there's a full moon. Afraid to encounter a genuine werewolf. Sure, no need to be afraid when you're in the company of jack of all trades Baron Munchausen, who could turn a hungry wolf inside out, or made it pull his sleigh. More recently, we have mutant Wolverine, albeit it seems quite friendly to people. Perhaps inspired by the Irish faoladh or conriocht. A friendly half man half wolf and protector of children. Also more recently, the mythical direwolves in the series Game of Thrones. In this series the victorious House of Stark have the wolf's head as their sigil.

Maybe even older than many fairy tale is the wolf named Ysengrim, also written as Ysengrin or Isengrijn. Ysengrimus is a satire composed in the mid twelfth century. An animal epic that revolves around the, often bloody, conflict between Reynard the Fox and Ysengrim the Wolf, and in which social injustices are denounced. Ysengrim represents the greedy clergy. The fable doesn't end well for Ysengrim. He's ripped to pieces by 66 pigs. Already then, too many pigs were being kept.

the Big Bad Wolf by Walt Disney

"Grandmother…your voice sounds so odd. Is something the matter? Wolf: I just have a bit of a cold. Little Red Riding Hood: Oh, what big ears you have, grandmother! Wolf: All the better to hear you with. Little Red Riding Hood: And what big eyes you have! Wolf: All the better to see you with. Little Red Riding Hood: Oh, grandmother, and what big teeth you have…"

wolf forenames

One of the oldest (written) attestations concerning the importance of wolves in Germanic cultures are two tremisses, golden coins, dated around 650. The coins carry the personal name Æni(w)ulufu on them, written backwards in Anglo-Frisian runes: ᚫᚾᛁᚹᚢᛚᚢᚠᚢ (Looijenga 1997, Mátyás 1997, Düwel & Nedoma 2023). Moreover, the general opinion seems to be that the spelling of the name Ani(w)ulufu is of Frisian origin (Looijenga 2003, Beers 2012, Kaiser 2021). The name belongs either to a local big man or, more probably, the blacksmith who created the coins.

The coins are so-called cabinet finds, i.e. an euphemism for lying about in an archive or museum, and were found in the eighteenth century already. The provenances of both coins are unknown. One coin, the so-called Folkestone coin, has been lost in the British Museum. Maybe a sign that the museum should reward its employees more generously. As a consolation, a detailed drawing of the coin survived. The other coin, the so-called Glasgow coin, is properly preserved in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.

The second part of the name, (w)ulufu, undoubtedly means 'wolf'. It is related to the Old English words wylif, wulafa, or wolafa, and to Old Germanic wulfa. The meaning of the first element, Æni or Ani, has not been thoroughly researched by scholars yet. The word Æni may have some connection with the legendary Wylfings of East Anglia mentioned in, among others, the epic poem Beowulf, as their ancestor was called Aun (Looijenga 1997). The name Aun is also known from Aunn inn gamli, meaning 'Aun the Old', who was the king of the house of the Scylfings in modern Sweden. The Scylfings are also mentioned in Beowulf. However, the best explanation might be that Æni derives from the Indo-European word an, meaning ancestor. In Old High German, Gothic, and Old Saxon, a(h)na means grandmother (University of Texas website).

Therefore, putting two and two together, Æniwulufu probably means something like 'ancestor of the wolf' or 'tribal elder of the wolf' (Stella Mengels, 2023).

Glasgow tremissis Aniwulufu, Frisia, ca. AD650
Glasgow tremissis Ani(w)ulufu, ca. AD 650

Following the Aniwulufu tremisses, we cannot escape to bring the Beowulf on stage. A tenth-century epic poem containing stories that are even centuries older, passed on in oral tradition. Significance of the wolf in Germanic cultures becomes clear in the Beowulf as well. The element 'wolf' can be found in many names, notably in that of warrior Beowulf himself. It's unclear what the element beo means. One possibility is that beo means ‘bee’. Hence ‘bee-wolf’ which could be a kenning for bear (Leneghan 2022) or for a wasp. Furthermore, there's the clan of the Wulfings that's mentioned in the Beowulf. Also written as Wylfings or Ylfings and translates as ‘wolf-clan’. Not merely in the Beowulf but in the late-tenth-century poem Widsith in the Exeter Book too, this powerful wolf-clan is mentioned. Other names bearing the name wolf in the Beowulf are Wulf, Wulfgar, Hroþulf, and Gárulf. On warrior Gárulf, we'll come back with more detail later in this post.

Another name which turned up on five or seven (no good inventory has been made) early-medieval golden coins in former Frisia is that of Audulfus. The inscription, also with the word 'Frisia' on it, is written in the Latin alphabet, and the name is Latinized too. Hence, Audulf must have been the person's native name. The coins date between ca. 534-628. Etymologically, the name is probably a composition of athel, meaning 'noble,' and wulf, meaning 'wolf'. Check Porcupine bore U.S. bucks to read more about ruler or King Audulf.

The name-element ‘wolf’ can also be found in the Bavarian dynasty of the Agilolfings, the Franconian Arnulfings, and the Wuffingas in southern Sweden. Of the latter dynasty the personal wolf names Haþuwolaf, Hariwulaf and Haeruwulaf have been preserved on runestones (Looijenga 1997, 2020).

The name Húga(s) is also an old name for the tribe of the powerful Franks. The word húga(s) might derive from a verb still being used in the north-east of the Netherlands, namely hoegen or hugen. But also traceable in the Dutch personal names like Huig, Huygens and Huibert. The verb hoegen or hugen means something like ‘to long, to yearn, or to lurk’. And huga is a poetic metaphor for wolf. So, the wolves or wolf-people (Van Renswoude 2022). Hence, the Hugas (Franks) are the equivalent of the aforementioned Wylfings. The Franks are of origin a Germanic tribe originating from the northern parts of the Netherlands, migration south in the fifth century and who founded Francia, hence modern France.

wolf hunt

Besides the name-element wolf in Germanic personal and tribe names, also the battles of warrior Beowulf with the monsters Grendel and Grendel’s mother have similarities with wolves. Especially when taking into account the wolf stereotypes in several poems of the aforementioned tenth-century Exeter Book too. The hunt for monster Grendel in itself shows parallels with the hunt for wolves. Grendel is a wolflike creature. Grim and greedy. Stalking the royal halls of King Finn during the night, with terrible light gleaming from its eyes.

Furthermore, Beowulf’s hunt for Grendel takes place in a watery environment. A marshy area, a border land. In the early-medieval Anglo-Saxon world, the habitat and lairs of wolves were associated with moors, lakes and swamps. Monster Grendel is described as a mǣre mearc-stapa, sē þe mōras hēold, fen ond fǣsten ‘famous border-stepper, the one who ruled the moors, fen and stronghold’ and sinnihte hēold, mistige mōras ‘sinfully he ruled the misty moors.’ Finally, the mother of Grendel is described as brimwylf which is a man-eating ‘she-wolf’ (Luttrell 2011, Leneghan 2022). Wolfmother, by the way, great rock band!

open jaw of a wolf symbolizing hell

Below the third stanza of a fornyrðslag, type of Old Norwegian verse, of the Ólafsdrápa ‘murder of King Olaf’ (AD 960-1000), by Hallfreðr Vandræðaskáld Óttarsson (Whaley 2012). A verse testifying of the relations between Vikings and Frisians (IJssennagger 2017) with kveldriðu stóð ‘evening rider’ as a kenning for wolf, this time drinking the dark blood of Frisians.

Tíðhöggvit lét tyggi Vinhróðigr gaf víða

Tryggva sonr fyr stggvan vísi margra Frísa

Leiknar hest á lesti blökku brúnt at drekka

ljótvaxinn hræ Saxa. blóð kveldriðu stóði.

left column: The ruler, Tryggvi’s son [i.e. King Olaf], had the corpses of Saxons cut down often, finally before the edgy, ugly-grown horse of Leikn [i.e. female giant/troll woman: wolf].

right column: Far and wide the friend-exulting prince gave the black stud of the evening-rider [i.e. troll woman: wolf] the dark blood of many Frisians to drink.

wolf toponyms

The wolf-element isn’t only recognizable in Germanic personal and tribe names, but also in place names. A study concerning place names in the Netherlands (Helsen 1961) shows they are richly represented. Interestingly, quite many wolf toponyms can be associated with places located near or on border locations, or leading to a border location. Often, the second element of the wolf place names are objects frequently used as border marking, like: -beek ‘creek’, –boom ‘tree’, –galg ‘gallows’, –gracht ‘moat’, –eik ‘oak’, –dijk ‘dike’, –put ‘pit’, –kuil ‘hole’, –winkel ‘corner’ etc.. Areas between villages or municipalities which were considered wilderness. Landscapes with bush, heather, swamps and the like. Related to the idea of border locations is how the Old English poem Exodus uses mearcweard, meaning 'borderland guard', as a synonym for wolf (Flight 2017).

In the Old Germanic languages there was a synonym for the word wolf, namely: warc, warg, wearg, varg(r), meaning something like to drive out. In modern Norwegian and Swedish it's varg. The synonym wearg and its variants were used in medieval justice for criminal offenders who were declared to be an outlaw (Helsen 1961). It was also called straf van de wolf 'punishment of the wolf'. In the late fifth century Lex Salica of the (Salian) Franks, the word wargus means a person being expelled. Once an outlaw, or utelage in the Middel Dutch language, all his or her property was laid to waste, and nobody was allowed to help, shelter or feed the outlaw. Killing an outlaw was was even legal. Therefore, these persons lived like beasts in the woods, at the fringes of society. In border land. Indeed, like wolf-men, like werewolves. A warc in the Middle High German language was also synonym for creeps and eerie creatures.

In high-medieval England if someone wore a wulfes heafod or wulfheafod or, in the Latin language, caput lupinum 'wolf's head' he or she was an outlaw. Then there was also the practice when a criminal was sentenced to the gallows, a wolf was hung besides the person. A ritual to stress the dishonouring character of the crime committed. Place names with the element wolf can, therefore, also denote a location where a criminal was put to death. Like the border locations mentioned earlier, sinister and magical places. Places of taboo. Go to the places of Wolfhaag, Wolfsbarge (near Foxhol), Wolfsberg (now Deurne), Wolfsbosch, De Wolfsdonken, Wolfshoek, Wolfskuil, Wolfslaar, Wolfsput, Wolfswinkel etc. and shiver! Interestingly, toponyms with the synonym wearg for wolf are absent. An explanation might be that only saying the word brought evil (Medieval Histories 2023). Note that the Mid-Frisian verb for 'to strangle' is wjirgje or wurgje. In Dutch it's wurgen.

If we now recall the hunt for monster Grendel in the epic poem Beowulf, wasn't Grendel a wild convicted outlaw surviving in the swamps of a border location? Together with his mother who had stayed with her son after being convicted. A person who had received the so-called 'punishment of the wolf'. A wearg. A persons who had metaphorically transformed from a human into an evil monster. Indeed, a werewolf or, in high-medieval France, a garulfo (Bystricky 2015).

To make a little excursion, the aforementioned toponym Wolfsbarge in province Groningen does justice to its name as a border location. Village Wolfsbarge is the starting point of the so-called Semslinie 'Sems' frontline'. Johannes Sems (1572-1635), a Frisian from the town of Franeker, was a surveyor who drew in the year 1615 the first dead-straight territorial border of the world (Freriks & Storms 2022). It was a thirty-four kilometer long, straight line marking the border between the provinces Groningen en Drenthe, starting at Wolfsbarge and terminating at the village of Ter Apel. A wet frontline going through inaccessible black swamps and moors. We haven't found information Sems encountered feral outlaws resembling wolves, by the way.


The saga of Wolff von der Wolfsberg - North of the village of Mulsum in Land Wursten, the powerful masters Wolff of the Wolfsberg once lived. Wolfsberg ('wolf's mountain') was a so-called Wurt; an artificial dwelling/settlement mound on which their house stood high and save from sea floods. The masters Wolff disposed of the destinies of the people in the region. To mark their jurisdiction, gallows and wheel stood in front of their house. On Sundays, the pastor and church-goers wouldn't dare to start mass if master Wolff had not arrived yet and was not seated on his personal bench.

One Sunday, master Wolff was exceptionally late. After the pastor and the congregation had waited for many hours, the pastor finally began sermon. Barely he had spoken the first words, when master Wolff entered the church. He was late because he had been hunting in the woods far away. That the pastor had not waited for him made him furious. Without a moment's hesitation, master Wolff killed the pastor with a deer catcher. From then on, as a punishment of God, the lineage of the house of Wolff von der Wolfsberg died out.

From: Hake Betken seine Duven (1988)

Note - Land Wursten is a former salt marsh region east of the mouth of the River Weser. Like Frisia proper, Land Wursten was a free farmers republic. An area where the Frisian language was spoken until the eighteenth century. Read also our post Joan of Arc an inspiration for Land Wursten.


Wolves and saints

Bishop Lupus (ca. 383-479) was bishop of Troyes in northern France, and patron of the Abbey of Saint Loup. Lupus made fame when he, dressed in full episcopal regalia, faced the Huns who raged through Europe at that time. Lupus' fearlessness made such an impression with leader Attila the Hun, that he spared the town of Troyes. Later, Lupus was accused of treason by the Romans for helping the Huns to escape. Lupus lost all faith in society and turned his back on it. He retreated into the wilderness and became a hermit; the wolf in hermit's habit (De Boer 2011). We cannot help to see evident (symbolic) parallels with the lives of banished criminals, the outlaws as described above.

An additional remark. In December 1211, monk Emo of the monastery at Wittewierum, a village in Frisia (modern province Groningen), stayed at the Abbey of Saint Loup on his way to the Pope in Rome.

Saint Francis taming the wolf at Gubbio

Another saint who is associated with wolves is Saint Francis of Assisi (ca. 1181-1226). When Francis stayed in the town of Gubbio in Italy, a wolf plagued the countryside. Everyone was terrified, and they asked Francis to help them. Together with a small group of citizens, he went to the wolf's lair. There the wolf stood growling with open jaw and long teeth, ready to attack. As said, the open jaw of the wolf represented the gate of hell. Saint Francis approached the wolf and made peace with it by making the sign of the cross. Then the saint talked extensively to the wolf, after which the animal put its feet on Francis' hand. Other stories say the wolf liked the saint's hand (Brown 2015, Smeyers 2023).

Together, side by side, they walked through the gate of Gubbio. In the town, under the gathered people, Saint Francis told the danger would be over under the condition the citizens would give the wolf daily food. From then on, the wolf and the citizens lived in harmony. When the wolf died, they buried it in the church of Saint Francis of the Peace. During the restoration of the church in 1872, a skeleton of a wolf was found indeed.

The story of Saint Francis is in stark contrast to the Bible in which Jesus says: "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock." Who should we believe, Saint Francis or Jesus?

Not a saint but a holy man altogether was Wulfstan (died 1023). He was the bishop of Worcester and known for his Sermo Lupi ad Anglos 'Sermon of the Wolf to the English.' Bishop Wulfstan, whose name also refers to the wolf, preached this sermon in the year 1014. It was a time when England was plagued by sin, lawlessness, piracy, internal conflicts, and was threatened to be invaded by Vikings. In his sermon, Wulfstan speaks to a country in moral decay. He opens his sermon with: "Beloved men, know that which is true: this world is in haste and it nears the end." He warned of the coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world if the people did not repent, repair, and do better. The title "Sermon of the Wolf" makes it clear that his words were not a friendly call but a frightening, shivering howl. In 1016, the Danes defeated the English, and Cnut became king (Moreno website, Parker 2022).

More about the wolf in the history of Frisia

Earlier in this post, the two golden tremisses with the Frisian personal ᚫᚾᛁᚹᚢᛚᚢᚠᚢ Æni(w)ulufu in Anglo-Frisian runic writing have been discussed. Coins dated back to the mid-seventh century. But we can go back in time even further. For this, we are going to take another look at the epic poem Beowulf and the Finnsburh Fragment, also written as Finnesburg Fragment.

Both the Beowulf and the Fragment recount events of the Early Middle Ages. They tell of a legendary battle at the citadel of King Finn of Frisia between the Danes and the Frisians, with Jutish warriors on both sides. A battle that must have taken place in Frisia in the mid-fifth century and that cost Finn and his son their lives (for more, Tolkien pleaded in favour of King Finn). One of the warriors is named Gárulf. He fights alongside the Frisians and is either a Frisian or, more probably, a Jute. Gárulf is quite hot-tempered. Despite given advice by warrior Guthlaf to hold back, he nevertheless charges in the first ranks at the enemy, the Danes. Gárulf is one of the first to die. Many more warriors fall with him.

The name Gárulf is composed of gear meaning ‘spear’, and of (w)ulf meaning ‘wolf’. Hence ‘spear-wolf’. Those readers who watched the Lord of the Ring sequels, Gárulf is one of the warriors of the Rohan people. From now on, the reader knows that the real McCoy was a warrior in the retinue of King Finn of Frisia. Coincidentally, as mentioned earlier, in high-medieval France a garulfo was a werewolf. Whether Gárulf is a Frisian or a Jute, and whether warrior Guthlaf is his father, is still hotly debated among scholars to this date.

One theory is that preceding the battle at Finn's burh, the Jutes were divided after a civil war. The Jutish party that had lost the war, the Eotena bearn, were exiled and consequently allied themselves with the Frisians. Eotena bearn means 'Jutish children'. Compare Old English bearn with modern Frisian word bêrn, both meaning ‘children’. Guthlaf and Gárulf belonged to the Eotena bearn side. In this context, indicating Jutish descendance, albeit no longer. Furthermore, both men probably were of royal stock. When King Hnaef of the Danes stayed at the court of King Finn, there were also Jutish warriors in his retinue. These warriors, however, belonged to the victorious party of the Jutish civil war. When prince Gárulf notices this, it outrages him. Gárulf had to take revenge. Besides explaining how the battle at Finn’s court started, namely the lingering feud among Jutes, it also explains Gárulf’s reckless fighting behaviour and his father's warning at naught (Neidorf 2019).

(L) Garulfo. Het monster met de kristallen ogen by Maïorana, (R) monster Grendel in the movie Beowulf

A bit earlier than the old age of Beowulf and the Finnsburh Fragment, we learn of yet another ‘spear-wolf’ in Frisia. This Gerulf is a Frisian ‘national’ for sure. He's mentioned in the year 839, and commonly known as Gerulf the Elder or as Gerulf I. These titles distinguishes him from his, probable, grandson Gerulf II. From contemporary texts we known that in the year 839 Gerulf the Elder received back from the Frankish King Louis the Pious his properties and estates, so-called beneficia, in Frisia. These had been taken from Gerulf the Elder by the king after he had been insubordinate in defending island Walcheren in the mouth of the River Scheldt against the Vikings, two years before (Van der Tuuk 2013). Island Walcheren in province Zeeland was part of greater Frisia those days. The beneficia of Gerulf the Elder lay in pago Westracha ‘district Westergo’ near the modern village of Berlikum in province Friesland. For more on this battle and the island Walcheren, turn to our post Island Walcheren: once Sodom and Gomorrah of the North Sea.

We briefly mentioned him already, the third ‘spear-wolf’ we come across is Gerulf II, grandson of Gerulf the Elder. He's known from contemporary texts too, and also a Frisian 'national' for certain. In the year 885, Gerulf II is connected to the events that led to the assassination of Danish warlord Godfrid the Sea-King. Under authority of the Franks, Viking Godfrid ruled over West Frisia. Hence Godfrid's other title: duke of Frisia. This part of Frisia consisted of the Central Netherlands, including emporium Dorestat, and the coastal regions Holland and Zeeland. All part of the Frankish kingdom. During the whole affair, Gerulf II, and his brother(?) Gardulf, negotiated as comitus Fresonum ‘counts of Frisia’ on behalf of Godfrid with the Frankish side. After Godfrid the Sea-King had been murdered, his remaining Viking army was defeated by a combined Saxon and Frisian army.

The exact role count Gerulf II played in the assassination of Godfrid the Sea-King remains opaque. Formally he was a subject of Godfrid. However, only four years after the violent death of Godfrid, in 889, wolfish Gerulf II receives from emperor Arnulf of Corinthia beneficia in Frisia, especially pago Kinnin ‘district Kennemerland’ in province Noord Holland. Gerulf II was also count of pago Sudergo, i.e. the south of province Friesland (Halbertsma 2000). A reward for his betrayal of Godfrid? Anyway, Gerulf II lay the foundation for the growing power of the county of West Frisia and consequently of the county of Holland. Gerulf the godfather of Holland, you might say.

Read our post The Abbey of Egmond and the Rise of the Gerulfings. to learn more about the beginnings of Holland. To stimulate speculations; Gerulf II had a grandson carrying the name Radbod (Van der Tuuk 2013). Could the Gerulfings therefore be descendants of King Radbod?

Besides the already mentioned Frisian names Audulf, Æniwulufu, Gárulf, and Gerulf, we found a couple more early-medieval wolf personal names, namely Erulf, Hildulf, Geldulf, Redulf, Rothulf, Wulfbold, Wulfheard, and Wulfnoth. The most interesting one of them is that of Wulfheard Friesa 'Wulfheard the Frisian'. He, together with at least two other Frisians, commandeered man-o-wars of the English naval fleet of King Ælfred the Great of the West-Saxons, combating Danish raiders on the English south coast in the year 897. The battle and his name are documented in the ninth-century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. More about these early 'naval officers' read our post ♪ They want you as a new recruit ♪.

Another intriguing piece of Frisian history concerning the wolf can be found in the early-medieval text Lex Frisionum. This book with the laws of Frisia was written at the end of the eighth century and contains, among other, the tariffs to be paid when someone killed someone else's dog. Five types of dogs were distinguished in the text. Two of them related to wolves, namely: qui lupum occidere solet ('that can kill a wolf'), and qui lacerare lupum, et non occidere solet ('that can wound a wolf but not kill it'). So, wolves roamed in Frisia even in the Early Middle Ages, preying on livestock, and there were special dog breeds protecting it.

Should we be afraid of the offspring of Fenrir?

Wolves have been hunted passionately for as long as we can remember. The mid-seventh-century Lex Visigothorum ‘law of the Visigoths’ and the late-eighth-century Lex Saxonum ‘law of the Saxons’ already contained rules concerning the trapping of wolves with pits (Schrijnemakers 1986). As mentioned, the Lex Frisionum 'law of the Frisians' speaks of dogs that can kill or wound a wolf. Wolf pits, wulf pytts or wolfskuilen in the Old English and modern Dutch language respectively, often with a wooden trapdoor, were common until the early modern period. Furthermore, when a wolf was spotted, manhunts were organized. High bounties were placed on killed wolves as well.

In the seventeenth century, wolves were shot or killed otherwise in noticeable numbers in the Netherlands still, whilst in the following eighteenth century only one kill was reported. Probably the last wolf shot in the Netherlands, for the time being that is, was in 1869, at the village of Schinveld in province Limburg. About the same time the last wolf was killed in Belgium too. The fact that in 1840 a plague affected the already diminishing wolf population, did not help either.

"George: Be careful, Martha…I’ll rip you to pieces. Martha: You aren’t man enough…you haven’t the guts.”

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962)

Once the wolf was virtually extinct, Europe started a protection and conservation programme in 1979. The species received, and receives, the highest level of protection. It worked. Slowly but steadily, numbers increased. In 2013, the University of Wageningen didn't rule out that one day the wolf would return to the Netherlands. That same year, 45 percent of the Dutch population would welcome the wolf. A third did not (Groen 2013). So, a decade ago we already knew that the big ears, big eyes and big teeth were advancing, were closing in. Two years after the university's prediction, in 2015, the first wolf sighting happend. It was in the north of the Netherlands. Another two years later, a wolf was run over on a highway. After these unfortunates, arrivals continued and wolves successfully settled in the Netherlands. Today, there're about 20,000 wolves in Europe. Also again in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

In Germany, over the last few years circa 1,000 attacks of wolves on livestock have been registered, with an average kill of 3.5 animals. Mostly defenceless, fluffy sheep. About 85 percent of all kills are sheep. Concerning casualties among those other bleating animals, humans, statistics are more comforting. Over the period 2002-2020, in total 14 people have been attacked by wolves in North America and in Europe combined. In two cases, both in North America, the incidents were lethal. By far most cases are a consequence of rabies, namely 78 percent (Dinkelmeyer 2021). The total human population of North America and Europe is circa 1.3 milliard. So, a chance of 0.00001 percent. Would you concentrate on Europe and leave out North America, it's a chance of 0.00000 percent. Zero.

Of course, middle-aged-men-in-lycra (mamils) spending much time in the woods biking, increase their so-called 'time at risk' significantly. In addition, the smell of sweaty lycra must be irresistible for wolves. Furthermore, it must be noted that, although modern stint cargo bikes in the Netherlands, stuffed with chubby little children, must seem tender food served on a plate in the eye of a wolf, thus far no incidents concerning these stint bikes have been reported either.

Making up the balance

The wolf has entrenched itself deep in the psyche of European cultures. An animal to fear. An animal even associated with the Devil. After centuries on end, we managed to practically exterminate the wolf. A forgone danger. That's also how we appreciate the old fairy tales, if we even read them at all these days. Something scarry of the past, because we had ‘liberated’ our society and landscape from almost every natural danger and nuisance. Tick bites and spider stings being our greatest concern today, when touching something remotely botanic outside. But now the lurking lupus 'wolf', the hugas has returned. No denying wolves do kill livestock and, when sick, very very occasionally attack humans.

The positive side of having wolves, however, is a mental one. That we may learn to be a bit humbler. Acknowledging that the space around us is richer than Teletubbies land. It's both beautiful and a bit raw, and therefore to be respected. Losing some of the innocence and naivety of a hopping Little Red Riding Hood through the dark woods. Moreover, hopefully it stimulates our imagination again. That we might wonder: was there some truth in those old fairy tales, sagas and legends perhaps? Filling the gap between the world of Pokémon and Reality.

“Martha: Truth and illusion, George; you don’t know the difference. George: No, but we must carry on as though we did.”

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962)


Note 1 – There are also early-medieval re-enactment groups that carry the name of the wolf in them. One is Eniwulufu and based in province Friesland and re-enacting early-medieval Frisians. According to their members, eniwulufu means ‘lone-wolf’. As was shown in this post, we came to different explanation of the name. The other re-enactment group is the Wulfheodenas meaning 'wolf-coats', compare also with modern Dutch wolfhuiden. The Wulfheodenas are based in England and re-enact early-medieval Anglo-Saxons. Sæ Wylfings 'sea-wolves' is a re-enactment event in England.

A familiar Dutch metaphor is waterwolf. An expression used for a rough sea threatening or flooding the land. On the banks of the River Waal at the town of Nijmegen stands the statue De Waterwolf en de Aquanaut created by Space Cowboys.

De Waterwolf en de Aquanaut by Space Cowboys (Albert Dedden and Paul Keizer), picture by Karsten Russ

A (in Mid Frisian language) seewolf ‘sea wolf’, on the other hand, is an ugly but fearful looking fish. In English language called wolffish. Sea spurge is called zeewolfsmelk 'see-wolf-milk' in Dutch language, and is a plant growing in the dunes.

Note 2 - The domesticated version of the wolf, the dog, played an important role in the religious and ritual practices of early Frisians. Parallels with how the wolf was, and is, being associated with the Devil, the hound probably was an intermediary between the world of the living and the world of the dead too. Read our post How to bury your mother-in-law.

Note 3 - If cultural and music festivals are your thing, you can combine hiking the Frisia Coast Trail with going to Festival Hongerige Wolf 'hungry wolf'. This festival takes place in the summer at the buurtschap 'hamlet' of Hongerige Wolf in province Groningen in the Netherlands. Close to the shores of the Wadden Sea. Experiencing the additional excitement in your tent at night with real wolves lurking around in the area. Buurtschap Hongerige Wolf received its name from an inn that supposedly used to be here. Where hungry labourers would fill their empty stomachs (Nazaten de Vries website). When walking the Frisia Coast Trail you'll pass Hongerige Wolf on a stone's throw away.

credit Festival Hongerige Wolf 2022

Note 4 - "I'm Winston Wolf. I solve problems. (...) And if self-preservation is an instinct you possess, you'd better fucking do it and do it quick," two quotes from the character Mr. Wolf in the movie Pulp Fiction (1994) played by Harvey Keitel.

Suggested music

Unknown, Wulf and Aedwacer (9th century)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Eine kleine Nachtmusik (1787)

Steppenwolf, Born To Be Wild (Easy Rider) (1969)

A-ha, Cry Wolf (1986)

Further reading

Albee, E. (play), Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962)

Anonymous, Ysengrimus (ca. 1148)

Beers, J., Runes in Frisia. On the Frisian origin of runic finds (2012)

Berkel, van G. & Samplonius, K., Nederlandse plaatsnamen verklaard. Reeks Nederlandse plaatsnamen deel 12 (2018)

Boer, de D.E.H., Emo's reis. Een historisch culturele ontdekkingstocht door Europa in 1212 (2011)

Boeve, M., IJssennagger, N., Jongen, L., Meeder, S., Meuwese, M., Porck, T. & Vermijn, Y. (eds.), Dertig dieren in de Middeleeuwen (2017)

Briggs, D.N., An emphatic statement: the Undley-­A gold bracteate and its message in fifth-century AD East Anglia (2014)

Brown, S., The Way of St Francis. From Florence to Assisi and Rome (2015)

Bystrický, P., The image of the werewolf in medieval literature (2015)

Clerinx, H., De god met de maretak. Kelten en de Lage Landen (2023)

DBBW, Bundesweite Schadensstatistik (2022)

Dinkelmeyer, A., Angriffe von Wölfen auf Menschen: Eine Aktualisierung für 2002 bis 2020 (2021)

Dujardin, A., De wolf is bezig aan een opmars in Europa, maar als hij Zwitserland aandoet heeft hij pech (2018)

Düwel, K. & Nedoma, R., Runenkunde (2023)

Engelen, van A.F.V. (ed.), Jan Buisman. Duizend jaar weer, wind en water in de Lage Landen. Deel 2. Historisch onderzoek 1300-1450 (1996)

Faber, K.P.H. & Faber, L.A., De eerste koningen van Nederland (2007)

Farquhar, B., Wolf Reintroduction Changes Ecosystem in Yellowstone (2021)

Flight, T., The Wolf Must Be in the Woods. The real and mythical dangers of the wilderness (2017)

Freriks, K. & Storms, M., Grensverkenningen. Langs oude grenzen in Nederland (2022)

Groen, M., Populatie wolven groeit in Europa (2013)

Halbertsma, H., Frieslands oudheid. Het rijk van de Friese koningen, opkomst en ondergang (2000)

Helsen, J., De woorden wolf en hond in plaatsnamen (1961)

Hertog, de S., Hwaet is on naman? ‘What is in a name?’ Name-giving in Beowulf (2023)

Hesse, H., Der Steppenwolf (1927)

Iba, E.M., Hake Betken siene Duven. Das große Sagenbuch aus dem Land an Elb- und Wesermündung (1988)

IJssennagger, N.L., Central because Liminal. Frisia in a Viking Age North Sea World (2017)

Joostema, A.B. & Dronkers, A. (play), De Wolf Komt Werom (2022)

Kaiser, L., Runes Across the North Sea from the Migration Period and Beyond (2021)

Keken, van K. & Logger, B., Wie is er bang? Tussen wolvenhaters en wolvenknuffelaars (2023)

Koffeman, N., Een dialoog over de wolf tot de dood erop volgt (2022)

Lawrence, W.W., Beowulf and the Tragedy of Finnsburg (1915)

Leneghan, F., Beowulf and the Hunt (2022)

Looijenga, T., Germánico: las runas (2020)

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

Looijenga, T., Runes around the North Sea and on the Continent AD 150-700; texts & contexts (1997)

Loon, van P., Dolfje Weerwolfje (2014)

Luttrell, E.G., Persistent mythologies: A cognitive approach to Beowulf and the pagan question (2011)

Maïrorana, B., Garulfo. Het monster met de kristallen ogen (2011)

Mátyás, N., Runes Around the North Sea and On the Continent AD 150-700; Texts & Contexts (1997)

Medieval Histories, The Wolf and the Vargr in Early Medieval Scandinavia (2023)

Meijer, E., De wolf is niet boos (2022)

Moreno, A., Wulfstan: Sermon of the wolf to the English (website)

Nazaten de Vries, Geschiedenis en Genealogie van het Groningerland (website)

Neidorf, L., Garulf and Guthlaf in the Finnsburg Fragment (2019)

Nordström, J., Dvärgen på Ribekraniet (2021)

Omroep Gelderland, Opgejaagd, afgemaakt en opgehangen: de wolf was vroeger niet welkom in Gelderland (2022)

Parker, E., The Sermon of the Wolf (2022)

Perrault, C., Le petit Chaperon rouge (1697)

Popkema, A.T., Mearkes fan Grimm (2012)

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

Renswoude, van O., Vergeten woorden. Uitlage, uitlaag (2023)

Schrijnemakers, M.J.H.A., De verklaring van Wolf-toponiemen aan de hand van plaats-, straat- en veldnamen uit Nederlands-Limburg (1986)

Smeyers, K., Wolf. Wildernisgeschiedenis (2023)

Stratford, B., Anglo-Saxon Myths. The Struggle for the Seven Kingdoms; Waellende Wulf (2022)

Tebo, A., Break the Beast (2023)

Thompson, A., The Wolf (2012)

Tuuk, van der L., De Friezen. De vroegste geschiedenis van het Nederlandse kustgebied (2013)

University of Texas at Austin. Linguistic Research Center, Indo-European Lexicon. PIE Etymon and IE Reflexes (website)

Wal, van der C., Wolf yn harnas (2016)

Whaley, D., Hallfreðr Vandræðaskáld Óttarsson (2012)

Zwieten, van R., Wolf weren uit ons land (2023)


Nov 25, 2022

PLEASE put all these posts into a book! To print them all out would be cumbersome but I would happily pony up for a hard cover book to read and use as reference. Love you guys! This has been a brilliant website.

-- H de Vries - Frisian descendant in USA

Hans Faber
Hans Faber
Nov 26, 2022
Replying to

Great to hear! If we can find the time and funds, we'll try!

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