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! Be warned, 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)
- 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 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.
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 time of Christ, the peoples living on these terps (see note below) were the Frisians, called the Maiores Frisii ‘Greater Frisians’ in the northwest of the Netherlands, and more to the east the Maiores Chauci, 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 Maiores 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 Maiores Frisii or to the Chauci.
The Minores Frisii ‘Smaller Frisians’ had their territory in what is today province Noord Holland in the Netherlands. 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).
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! The 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 estuary ‘t Zwin in northern Belgium to the river Weser in northwest Germany.
Note: Terps are artificial house platforms or dwelling mounds. Read our Manual Making a terp in 12 steps to learn more about the phenomenon of terps, wierdes or Warfts, its spreading, its many 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. Sorry. 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 Mid 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 this 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”
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.
Habitation in the region of Ommelanden in present-day province Groningen decreased strongly too, as archaeological excavations of the terp Ezinge have shown. But this region was less affected than 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 a vital network 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 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 province Drenthe has shown. Moreover, influences of Anglo-Saxon culture that even predate the Migration Period have been found. This indicates that the Anglo-Saxon culture of the peoples of both the salt-marsh area of region Ommelanden and of the Hondsrug sand ridge, were not solely developed by means of (mass) migration but through long-standing social and cultural exchange with their neighbors as well.
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. 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 since 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 2 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 ca. 400 and, as said, named the Great Watering.
Around 425, population 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 (not genetic, yet) 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 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 lands where these migrants settled were nearly empty indeed. Furthermore, these new settlers from northwest Germany were no real strangers. Cultural relations already existed before the Migration Period. Maybe even belonging to the same culture 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 north Midlands and Yorkshire (Kortlandt, 2017). The second 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. 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 lands of the 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.
A (partly) Celtic heritage of the Frisians (Frisii and Frisiavones) would, by the way, 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.
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 425. 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 northern Drenthe at the higher Hondsrug sand-ridge area. Possible from here too, a secondary migration wave took place occupying the tidal marshlands of region Ommelanden in province Groningen. These (secondary) migration movements do not exclude the two-migration-wave theory from overseas mentioned earlier. It might have been a mixture of both, namely: old Frisian tribes from northern Noord Holland and from northern Drenthe, together with new tribes from northern 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 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 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 the Mid-Frisians (provinces Friesland and Groningen) are a cocktail of old Celtic-Frisians (Frisii), Saxons, Angles, Jutes and southern Scandinavians (Norwegians).
For the East-Frisians in northwest Germany the story is comparable, but we need to dig deeper yet into what happened to the Chauci people, among others. 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: (two snake-like animal figures bowing to each other, see below) from mid-sixth century found in the terp region. This suggests that over the course of the late sixth/beginning seventh century, a new identity was established (Nieuwhof/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 Belgium, 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.
Conerning 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).
So, the Frisians are Saxons?
In a way, yes. Admixed with some other peoples as explained above with the cocktail recipe. But who were these Saxons anyway?
The name Saxons started to appear in different Roman and Greek written sources more or less at the turn of the third to the fourth centuries. 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. This is difficult to answer. Things become complicated because the term saxons 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, and makes evident the sources were not consequently talking about a tribe or a people.
The 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 (Springer, 2003). 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 blog post Foreign Fighters returning from Viking war bands.
But if not a people or tribe at first, what or who were saxons? The answer: it were pirates, robbers coming by ship (Springer, 2003). Another explanation for the word saxons 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 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, 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 Seaxneat/Saxnote), who 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 others 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 Franks 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 772-804 were wars against regions that were called among others Westphalia, Wigmodia and Nordalbingia. Whether these regions 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 saxons, 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 people, those Franks. The foundation of their success. And yeah, what is in the name?
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 at the northern salt marshes, and they did not just perish on the spot to a few thousand maximum left, at most. Besides migrating to higher grounds to the east, we can assume this sea 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/Harrington, 2010). This migration flow is also plausible if you take into account that Britannia was not at all a terra incognita for the Old-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 blog 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. In fact the question of the origins of the Anglo-Saxons, the emergence of England. It is this fifth century the unity of the Germanic languages of the tribes within the southern North Sea coast is broken. Up till the end of the sixth century, runic inscriptions show no sign of disintegration. 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.
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. Furthermore, 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 current province Zeeland, the Netherlands had his hall in the place Frizinghall in Yorkshire. But we will not speculate, of course. Of course not. Not. Read our blog post Island the Walcheren: once Sodom and Gomarrah of the North Sea to learn more about this chap Ubbe the Frisian.
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.
Archaeological research indicates that the migration of Germanic peoples from the continent to the 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.
What was the proportion (new) Frisians within these movements? 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 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, 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, 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 a strong cultural tie 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. A gold solidus of 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, 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 then 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 research of Leslie et al (2015) estimates the genetic contribution to southeastern England from Anglo-Saxon migrations to be under half. 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.
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 blog 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.
Enough, enough! with all the babbling because the ice of your cocktail is melting:
PS: 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).
Suggestions for 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)
- 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. (ed), 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)
- Dijkstra, M.F.P., Rondom de mondingen van de Rijn en Maas. Landschap en bewoning tussen de 3de en de 9de eeuw in Zuid-Holland, in het bijzonder de Oude Rijnstreek (2011)
- Fleming, R., Britain after Rome. The Fall and Rise 400 to 1070 (2010)
- Green, D.H. & Siegmund, F. (ed), The Continental Saxons from the Migration Period to the Tenth Century. An Ethnographic Perspective (2003)
- 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)
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- IJssennagger, N.L., Between Frankish and Viking: Frisia and Frisians in the Viking Age (2017)
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