The history of Friesland is something that seems to be forgotten in time. Why was this province called Friesland? From where and when did Friesland originate? And why is Frisian a language, while other “variations” of Dutch are simply dialects? We’ve tried to answer these questions to the best of our capabilities in this article. And though many Frisians are proud of their heritage, we bet they don’t know everything we’ve listed below.
Friesland is older than the Netherlands.
Before the Netherlands was known by that name, and even before it was known by the name Saxony, the Frisii tribe began settling in Frisia—around 500 BC. This tribe lived on terps—which are man made hills—along a broad expanse of the North Sea coast. Back then, Frisia comprised the present provinces of Friesland and North Holland. It wasn’t until the aftermath of French Emperor Napoleon I’s defeat in 1815 that the Kingdom of the Netherlands originated, when they regained their independence from France under the 1st French Empire. In short; Friesland is about 2,315 years older than The Netherlands.
Today’s Frisians might be descendants from the earliest settlers.
It’s also noteworthy that some modern-day Frisians are presumably descendants of the ancient Germanic Frisii tribe. Although this obviously isn’t the case for all Frisians, there may be some whose family hasn’t relocated for two millennia. They probably had enough of migrating all over the place. In the Germanic pre-Migration Period—which was before 300 AD—the Frisii, Chauci, Saxons, and Angles inhabited the coast from the Ijsselmeer to south Denmark. Many Frisii presumably joined the Frankish and Saxons, and under Roman coercion forcibly resettled in Kent and Flanders as Laeti—a term used in the late Roman Empire to denote Barbarian communities. Frisia was largely abandoned around 400 AD because of the migration wars, climatic deterioration, and flooding. Two centuries later, the environmental and political conditions made the region habitable again.
Settlers that came to be known as ‘Frisians’ repopulated the coastal regions, at that time. Accounts of ‘Frisians’ at medieval or later times, refer to these ‘new Frisians’ rather than to the ancient Frisii. Since much history got lost when the Roman empire gained control in Europe, it’s unknown whether these ‘new Frisians’ were descendants of the original Frisii tribe.
Friesland is bilingual.
Despite its fascinating history, many Dutch people would argue the Frisian language is simply a dialect. Others would state it’s nothing short of a speech impediment. In both cases they’re wrong. We’ve already established that Friesland is much older than the Netherlands, therefore it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Frisian language resembles Scandinavian and Germanic languages more than Dutch. If we look at the taxonomies of West Germanic languages, we see Dutch derives from the Low Franconian family of languages, whereas Frisian and English both derived from Anglo-Frisian.
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Besides Dutch, Frisian is actually an officially recognized language in the Netherlands; it’s considered the mother language of all Frisians and thus, children will be taught Frisian in school. Dutch is considered the Frisian’s second language, which is why Dutch law states Frisians have the right to communicate with the authorities in Frisian, or Dutch, depending on their preference. If you plan on visiting this province, you should know that place names are often depicted in Frisian as well as Dutch—it might get confusing where you are every once in a while.
Friesland may be the largest province of the Netherlands.
In terms of geography, Friesland doesn’t fail to fascinate. This province in the northwest of the Netherlands, west of the province Groningen, could be considered the largest province of the Netherlands if you were to include areas of water. Although it’s only the third largest province in reality, it would definitely become the largest province if the Netherlands ever decides to polder the Waddenzee. This is because Friesland includes a number of islands, including Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland, and Schiermonnikoog, which you can reach by ferry. Interestingly enough, the province’s highest point isn’t on the mainland, but on the island of Vlieland; it’s a dune at 45 meters above sea level.
Taking everything into account what we’ve just learned, from the earliest settlers of the Frisii Barbarians, to modern day geography of the fascinating province of Friesland, you’d wonder why Dutch schools don’t teach children this during history lessons. Doesn’t it make you want to visit Friesland? Doesn’t it make you want to learn their language? Doesn’t it make you appreciate their history?