Frisians - History and Cultural Relations

Frisian mythology holds that an Indian prince, Friso by name, was drafted into the Macedonian army of Alexander the Great, deserted from that army, and sailed north from Greece with his brothers in the fourth century B.C. to eventually make landfall in Friesland. There is archaeological and historical evidence that a proto-Frisian culture developed on the coast between 400 and 200 B.C. and that the construction of terpen was well under way by 200 B.C. By 12 B.C. , Roman records tell of Frisians assisting the ships of Roman invasionary forces in the region. The Frisians entered into trade with Rome's Legions, providing them with hides. The alliance with Rome, however, was uneasy, and between A.D. 25 and 70 the Frisians rebelled openly against Roman demands for tribute. The Romans were finally forced to retreat from the region by AD. 70. The years A.D. 700-900 were the time of greatest Frisian influence in the area, because of their extensive involvement in seafaring trade, but Frankish expansion (in the early 800s) soon reduced the territory under Frisian influence. The Franks brought Christianity as well as political control to Friesland, though conversion of the Frisians did not come easy. Between the twelfth and thirteenth century, however, Christendom was securely established, though not without undergoing syncretization with indigenous beliefs—a phenomenon common throughout the Germanic territories. By the medieval era, the scattered homesteads of Frisian families began to give way to nucleated village settlements each centered on a small church built on high ground. The inland areas were characterized by smallhold farms, with more extensive landholdings along the coast. However, a classic feudal system never developed in Friesland. Much of Frisian cultural identity today can be directly attributed to the strong and successful tradition of independence maintained throughout the period of Saxon domination during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when the slogan "Free and Frisian, without Tax or Excise" was the rallying cry for rebellion against Foreign rule. In 1579, with the Treaty of Utrecht, Friesland became part of "the Seven United Provinces," which included Holland, Zeeland, Groningen, Overijssel, Gelderland, Utrecht, and Friesland, and from which the modern nation of the Netherlands is derived. Within this union, there was provision for a great deal of regional autonomy, which again contributed to the preservation of a distinctly Frisian identity. Of all the united provinces, Holland assumed an ascendancy early on because of its great success in shipping and mercantilism. This ascendancy was partly responsible for the introduction of the highly influential Dutch Calvinist sect in Friesland. In 1795, the French occupied much of Friesland, bringing with it the ideals that informed the French Revolution (liberty, equality, and fraternity) and the Napoleonic Code. But the Frisians never cared for foreign rule, however "enlightened," and threw their support behind William V of Orange-Nassau. In 1813 the kingdom of the Netherlands, Including Friesland, was formed, and prospects for absolute Political autonomy for the province were ended. Early in World War II, the Netherlands was occupied by the Nazis, and Frieslanders were active in the Dutch Resistance, although there were some few who, as in the Netherlands as a whole, collaborated with their occupiers. The tales of heroic Frisian resistance against Nazi occupation provide the newest episodes in their long-standing tradition of independence from foreign rule.

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