Friesland – A historical view

Origins of the Frisians (1750 B.C. – 700 B.C.)

The origins of the Frisians lie in an area that roughly covers South Scandinavia, Denmark and the Weser/Oder region. In the period between 1750 and 700 B.C. they were still part of a larger group of peoples called the Germanics. This larger group was of the mainly of the Nordic race (dolichocranic). (Among the Nordics there also lived a -smaller- group of brachycranics whom probably had the position of slave).

After 1400 B.C. an expansion of the Germanics into southern Europe took place.

Around 800 B.C. the original Germanic group had split into a West-, East- (Goths and Vandals) and North Germanic group (Scandinavians). The differences can be traced in language and culture. At the end of the Bronze Age (700 B.C.) the expansion of the West Germanics had reached the coastal areas of northwest Germany (currently the province Hanover).

The West Germanics can be divided, along religious lines, into three tribegroups, the Inguaeones, Istuaeones and Irminones. The Frisians belong to the Inguaeones. The name Inguaevones is derived from the god Inguz; the Frisians believed they descended from him. Inguz is another name for the Germanic god Freyr. Other tribes belonging to the Inguaeones were, the Jutes, Warns, Angles, and the Saxons. Of these tribes the Saxons were closest in kin to the Frisians. All Inguaeones lived in the coastal areas along the North Sea. The Chaukians, also a tribe that lived along the North Sea, belong to the Irminones.

From north-west Germany, to be exact the coastal areas around the mouths of the rivers Eems and Weser, the Inguaeones colonized the coastal clay-districts of the current Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen (700 – 600 B.C.).

The Heathen period in Friesland (700 B.C. – 800 A.D.)

So between 700 and 600 B.C. the forefathers of the Frisians colonized the coastal clay-districts of the current Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen. The largest group came from the Eems/Weser region. Later also people came from the higher sandy regions to the east of Friesland (currently called Drenthe).

Between 700 and 400 B.C. one can’t speak of a separate Frisian group, since there is still one homogenic culture between Texel (Netherlands) and the Weser (Germany).

Between 400 and 200 B.C. significant cultural changes take place. From Leiden in the south to Delfzijl in the north a ‘Proto-Frisian’ culture was evolving. In 200 B.C. a distinctly Frisian culture can be found between the river Eems (Germany) and Wijk-bij-Duurstede (Netherlands). For the first time the Frisians are an ethnic entity!

To the north of the Eems lives a tribe called the Chaukians. An interesting fact is that the Chaukians belonged mainly to the Falian race (Dolichocranic with a broad face). The Frisians mainly to the Nordic race (Dolichocranic with narrow face). In the region currently known as the province of Groningen there was a melting together of both races.

There was also a small group of brachycranic people living among the Nordic Frisians, of a non-Germanic origin. They inhabited the Netherlands before the Germanic-invasion, and were probably of pre-Indogermanic origin.


Two centuries after the colonization of the clay-district the sea level stars to rise. To encounter the periodical flooding of their homesteads the Frisians built earth-mounds known as terps. There were several periodes of sealevel rising (they were accompanied by storm flooding), consequently there are several separate terpbuilding periodes that coincide with the periodes the sealevel rose.

There are three separate terpbuilding generations:

  1. The first terp-generation dates from 500 B.C.
  2. the second terp-generation dates from 200 B.C. till 50 B.C.
  3. and the third terp-generation dates from 700 A.D.

In 250 A.D. the sealevel rising and the coinciding storm flooding was so dramatic that almost all of the Frisians left the clay district only to return in 400 A.D..

Contact with Romans

Julius Caesar conquered Celtic Galicia between 58 and 50 B.C. (these are the current countries France and Belgium). In doing so he moved the borders of the Roman Empire up to the river Rhine. At this point in history the Frisians still lived north of the Rhine, and thus fell outside the borders of the Roman Empire. Under Emperor Augustus (28 B.C. – 14 A.D.) the Romans wanted to make the river Elbe their most northerly border, instead of the Rhine. The consequences would be that the entire Frisian Folk would fall under the influence of the Romans. The Frisians chose to collaborate with the Romans. This happened when Drusus, and his army, arrived at the Rhine in 12 B.C. The Frisians and Drusus negotiated a truce by which the Frisians had to, regularly, pay taxes in the form of cowhides.

Under Emperor Tiberius the taxes became to high, and the Frisians could no longer comply with them. The result was that: first the Romans would take their cattle, after that their land and at last their women and children were taken to be sold in slavery. In 28 A.D. the Frisians rebelled, and hung the taxmen. To retaliate, the Romans sent their legions to punish and conquer Friesland. But the Roman army was slain in a battle at the Baduhennawood. The name of the Frisians was now a feared one in Rome.

There was no Roman reprisal, since Rome had its own internal problems. For the next 20 years Friesland was free.

In 47 A.D. the Frisians made another truce with the Romans. This time with Corbulo. An agreement was made in which their was a mutual understanding that the Rhine was to be the border that both parties had to respect. Friesland would fall under a Roman sphere of influence, but it would no longer be occupied.

In 58 A.D. Frisians colonized an uninhabited strip of land south of the Rhine, thereby breaking their agreement with Corbulo. Two Frisian leaders, Verritus and Malorix (these are Roman translations of their Frisian names), went to Rome to bid the Roman Emperor Nero if they could stay. Alas, the Frisians were violently extradited from the region below the Rhine.

In 69 A.D. the Batavians (a Germanic tribe situated in central Netherlands, and the southern neighbors of the Frisians) also rebel against the Roman occupiers. This region was the northwestern cornerstone of the Roman Empire. The Frisians and the Canninifats (also a Germanic neighbortribe of the Frisians in the west of the Netherlands) became the allies of the Batavians. Sadly the uprising fails. The Romans defeat the Batavians.

The Rhine remains the Roman border until the collapse of the Roman Empire in 410 A.D..

Around 250 A.D. almost all Frisians disappear from the Frisian coastal-clay districts. The rising of the sealevel makes it impossible to live in the coastal areas of Friesland for the next 150 years (250 – 400 A.D.). In this period a fraction of the Frisians and the Chaukians (a Germanic tribe neighboring north of Friesland) form a new tribal alliance called the Franks. This is the tribe that will emigrate south and form the Frankish Empire (currently known as France).

After 400 A.D. the rising of the sealevel halted. Frisian people and their nobility returned to the Frisian clay-district which, by then, had already been colonized by peoples from the Elbe and Sleeswick/Holstein region. These tribes assimilated and continued as the Frisian tribe we know today.

In 300 A.D. other smaller West Germanics tribes had also formed larger tribal-groups known as: Allemandes, Saxons, Thuringers, and Bayerns. The Chaukian tribe disappears altogether. It has assimilated in the Frisian- and Saxon-tribe.

Migration Period (350 – 550 A.D.)

For two centuries (350 – 550 A.D.) the tide of the Migration of Nations sweeps over Europe. Germanic tribes migrate all over Western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Thereby forming new tribes in the newly conquered areas, and for the first time large organized Germanic states. In Europe the major Germanic states were the Jutish, Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, Burgondish, West-Gothic, East-Gothic, Vandal and Frisian.

Around 450 A.D. Angles, Saxons, Jutes and a Frisian fraction cross the North Sea and establish the Anglo-Saxon empire (currently known as England). The Frisians colonized the county of Kent in southeast England.

Around 480 A.D. Clovis establishes the Frankish Empire (currently known as France). As said before the Frankish tribe originated from the Chaukans and Frisians.

Around 400 A.D. the Frisians started establishing their Frisian Empire. In 500 and especially 600 A.D. there was a fast expansion and a strong increase in trade. At its peak, in the 7th century, this empire consisted of the coastal areas from north Belgium to southern Denmark. And it controlled a large part of the North Sea traderoutes from Friesland to England, France, Scandinavia and northwest Russia.

The Migration Period seems to have had only a slight change in racial characteristics.

In the sixth century the written sources begin to speak again about the Frisians. A ‘Great-Friesland’ (Magna Frisia) has been created. This historical Great-Friesland consisted of a long narrow strip of land along the North Sea, from the Swin (Belgium) in the south, to the Weser (Germany) in the north. This historic Frisian empire lasted from 500 A.D. to 719 A.D. It neighbored to the Saxons in the north and east, the Franks in the south and the Anglo-Saxons in the west across the North Sea.

Frisian expansion under Heathen kings (400 A.D.-734 A.D.)

Very little is known about this period in history. There are no historical documents of Frisian origin, and a few documents of Frankish and Anglo-Saxon origin. The Frankish writings do not always present a historically just picture of the Frisians. Ever since the Frankish conversion to Christianity under Clovis (496 A.D.) the Frisians had become their major antagonists, as a result the Frankish texts had become colored for political and religious reasons.

Clovis converted to Catholicism for power-political reasons. The Gallo-Roman aristocracy in France and the church in Rome, whose support Clovis needed during his empire-building period, were both Catholic. Other Germanic tribes in the former hemisphere of the Roman Empire (Goths and Vandals) had converted to a form of Christianity more suitable to the Germanic soul, called Arianisme.

The Germanic tribes in the north, including the Frisians, were still practicing the religious believes of there forefathers, currently known as Odinism or Asatru. In this article the term ‘Heathen’ will be used.

In becoming Catholic the Franks automatically became the greatest antagonists of the Frisians.

Around 500 A.D. Clovis had formed his Frankish Empire, which was to be the heir of the Roman Empire with blessings of the pope in Rome. The most northerly border of this empire was formed by the cities Utrecht and Dorestad, neighboring to the Frisians.

After the death of Clovis in 511 A.D. the Frisians took advantage of the internal Frankish power struggle and captured Utrecht and Dorestad. Both cities would stay Frisian for over a hundred years (511 – 628 A.D.). The capture of these cities was of very great interest to the Frisians, since they were the gateways of trade from the Saxon and Frankish hinterlands to the North Sea. In the sixth and the seventh century the Frisians were the major traders on the North Sea. The North Sea was even called ‘Mare Frisicum’ during this period.

From a religious point of view the Frisian heatenisme was no longer under threat of Frankish Christianity since there was no sally port (Utrecht).

In the year 628 A.D. the Frankish/Christian king Dagobert defeats a combined force of Saxons an Frisians (both Saxons and Frisians were Heathen). By doing so the city of Utrecht fell to the Franks. Dagobert erected a church in Utrecht and ordered a bishop to start converting the Frisians. Christianity had become a tool in the hands of the Franks to destroy the Frisian independence north of the Rhine.

King Finn Folcwalding (lived somewhere in the beginning of the 6th century) King Finn may have been a Frisian king in the sixth century. He is only named in Anglo-Saxons epics (Widsith, Beowulf and Finnsburg-fragment) which have been written some 50 to 100 years later.

King Eadgils ( ? – 677 A.D.) King Eadgils is the first Frisian king known by name. Two Christian scribes, Beda and Eddius, name him in their works. Under the rule of Eadgils the Frisians and the Franks live in peace with one and other. There are two reasons for this: The Franks were still in internal division, as to whom was to be the heir of the Frankish empire Clovis built, and Eadgils let bishop Wilfried (a pawn of Rome and the Franks) preach Christianity freely in the Frisian regions. This peaceful time was to change drastically ten years later, when the Redbad had become king of Friesland and Pippin leader of the Franks.

King Redbad (679 – 719 A.D.) The heathen king Redbad is the greatest folk hero of the Frisians. He is the defender of the Frisian freedom against the invading Frankish armies and against the Church of Rome. Redbad was a devout heathen. So when the Franks were internally divided as whom was to rule, he attacked the Franks, conquered Utrecht and distroyed the church. Christianity was then forcefully removed from the Frisian empire. In 689 A.D. Pepin II leads the Frankish conquest in the Frisian lands and he takes Dorestad. Between 690 and 692 A.D. Utrecht also falls into the hands of Pepin. Thereby controlling the important gateways of trade from the Frankish hinterland to the North Sea via the river Rhine. In 714 A.D. Pepin dies. Redbad takes advantage of this and he beats the Frankish armies under Charles Martel in 716 A.D. at Cologne, thereby winning back the Frisian Empire. King Redbad dies in 719, leaving behind a Great and Heathen Friesland.

King Poppa (Hrodbad) (719 – 734) Fifteen years after Redbad’s death Charles Martel reached the peak of his power and he saw the opportunity to deal with Friesland. In 734 A.D. he sent his forces to Friesland. In the heart of the Frisian land, on the river Boorne (‘Middelsea’), the decisive battle was waged, with Poppo (in full Hrodbad) at the head of the Frisian land- and sea-forces. Poppo was the son of Redbad, but not as successful as his father. He was killed in battle, and the Frisian forces (in disarray) were slain. Friesland, uptill the Lauwers, was incorporated in the Frankish Empire. It lost its freedom and the church got a foothold.

The son of Poppa, Abba (in full Alfbad), became the first Frisian count under Frankish rule (749 – 775 A.D.).

East-Friesland (east of the Lauwers) was conquered 50 years later. The East-Frisians had bonded with their Heathen neighbors the Saxons. Martel’s son, Pepin the Short, was unable to defeat this coalition. Only under the leadership of Martel’s grandson, Charlemagne (Charles the Great), is the Saxo-Frisian alliance defeated in 785 A.D.. The legendary Widukind led this Saxo-Frisian heathen alliance.

During the eighth century the Frisian language is born. This birth can be traced by sound changes in the language, thereby setting the Frisian language apart from other Inguaeonish languages.

The Frankish-period (785 A.D.- 925 A.D.)

Charlemagne ruled his Frankish Empire in a strong centralized manner. Frisians had to serve in his armies. They served under the Franks in the war against the Wilts (789 A.D.) and against the Avars (791 A.D.). When in 800 A.D. the first Scandinavian Viking attacks upon Friesland under Carolinian rule start, the Frisians are discharged from military service abroad. Instead they are left to organize their defenses against the Heathen Vikings.

After Charlemagne defeated the Saxons in 785 A.D., the Frankish Empire bordered in the north to the Danish Empire.

The Danes were very well aware of the terrible atrocities Charlemagne, in name of the Church, had inflicted on their Heathen kinfolk the Frisians and the Saxons. The Danish/Viking raids on Charlemagne’s empire and on the wealthy churches and monasteries in it, can be seen as a heathen reprisal.

Next to the Franco/Christian invaders, another enemy of the Frisians reared its ugly head. In the Christmas of 838 A.D. an enormous stormflood flooded nearly all of Friesland, drowning lots of people and livestock.

Friesland county of Frankish Empire (749 – 840 A.D.)

After Charlemagne victory in 785 A.D. the entire Frisian Empire became a county of the Frankish Empire. As seen before the grandson of the legendary Redbad, Abba, became the first Frisian count under Frankish rule (749 – 775 A.D.) over Friesland west of the Lauwers. The two main duties of a count were: to maintain the rule of law, and to organize the conscripts for the Frankish armies. From 734 until 1100 A.D. Frankish Emperors (and after them German Kings) have been represented by counts. These counts were feudal tenants. Very little is known about these counts. East-, West- and Middle Friesland have probably each had their own count.

The counts of Friesland we know by name:

  • 754 count Abba (Boppa) is leader of the building of the Bonifatius Church in Dokkum
  • 791 count Diderik (Durk) leads the Frisians in the Frankish struggle against the Avars
  • 839 count Gerlof sides with the rebellious son of the Frank Louis the Pious
  • 873 count Albdag defeats Vikings (Rudolf) in Westergo
  • 885 count Gerlof and count Gerdolf are present at the murder of Godfried the Norwegian

Count Gerlof is the father of Diderik I, the count of Holland, and of count Waltger in Teisterbant. The sons of count Waltger are named “Redbad” and “Poppo”.

The counts of Middle Friesland:

  • 966 count Egbert of the Brunoanen dynasty; which by marriage and inheritance get Middle Friesland
  • 1038 count Liudolf of the Brunswik dynasty dies
  • 1038-1057 Bruno count of Middle Friesland
  • 1057-1068 Egbert I count of Middle Friesland
  • 1068-1088 Egbert II count of Middle Friesland

The counts of West Friesland:

  • 885 count Gerlof
  • 922 count Diderik I (Durk I); for the first time this dynasty is called “House of Holland” count Diderik II (Durk II)
  • 993 count Arnulf dies in battle with West Frisians, count Durk III beats the army of emperor Hendrik II
  • 1049 count Durk IV is killed
  • 1049-1061 count Floris I is killed
  • 1076 count Durk V; County Holland is born (also trough Flemish influences), and Count Durk V and his County Holland become the antagonists of West- and Middle Friesland.

In East Friesland there is nearly no trace of counts.

Frankish Christianity (688 – 734/785 A.D.)

The conversion of Heathens to Christianity could only be realized in areas that were under Frankish rule. West Lauwers Friesland became a Frankish county in 734 A.D. The entire Frisian Empire came under Frankish rule in 785 A.D. The Christianization of Friesland started in 688 A.D. when Wigbert preached in Friesland and was completed in 800 A.D. when Friesland was firmly in the grip of Frankish ruler Charlemange. In 800 A.D. the Friesians “seem” to be converted. But only the ruling elite (the counts and other Frankish vassals) has become Catholic. Large portions of the population are still heathen, and will remain for a long time.

But the voices of the Frisian Heathen priests and Frisian skalds of the epic poems (in the likes of Beowulf) are silenced. Thereby the chain of the oral tradition that connects the Frisians with their heathen past is broken, and Christianity -in the end- wins.

Some (tragic) dates:

  • 688 A.D. Wigbert preaches in Friesland
  • 690 – 754 Willibrord and Bonifatius preach
  • 770-789 Willehad preaches
  • 775 Liudger (a Frisian) preaches
  • 800 A.D. Friesland has Christian social structures (diocese in Urecht) but the larger part of the population remains heathen.

Highlights in Heathen terms are:

  • 714-719 A.D. when Willibrord flees Utrecht after Redbad conquers the city;
  • 754 A.D. Bonifatius is killed in Dokkum;
  • 782 A.D. when Liudger flees for Saxo-Frisian uprising under Widukind.
  • 793 A.D. Liudger meets the only Frisian skald known by name “Bernlef”. Bernlef sang epic songs of the Frisian Heroic Age (like Beowulf).

Viking raids and Danish rule (800 – 1014 A.D.)

In 807 A.D. a war starts between Charlemagne and the Danish king Godfried. Godfried raids Friesland with a fleet of 200 ships, mocking the Frankish defenses. Shortly after Godfried dies (810 A.D.). After Godfrieds death, the Danish raids concentrate mostly on the British Isles and less upon Friesland.

After the death of the Frankish emperor Lewis the Pious in 840 A.D., the Carolinian defense of Friesland had collapsed. Since there was no Frisian King to organize a defensive force, the Danish raids on this Carolinian outpost intensified. And in the rest of the 9th century the Frisians frequently lived under Danish rule and had to pay taxes to the Danish feudal-tenants.

The Danes forced the weakened Carolinian Kings to give them Friesland as a feudal estate. Feudal tenants in Friesland were:

  • Harald (840 – 844 A.D.)
  • Rorik and Godfried (844 – 857 A.D.)
  • Rorik (a Christian) (862 -872 A.D.)
  • Godfried (881 – 885 A.D.)

In 885 the last Scandinavian ruler of Friesland, Godfried the Norwegian, is murdered and the ruling Danes are evicted from Friesland by the Frisians. The great tidal waves of Heathenistic Viking raids (sometimes accompanied with occupation) in Friesland, had come to an end. Smaller raids still took place until 1014 A.D. when the Christian Knut the Great became king of Denmark, Norway and England.

The German-period (925 A.D. – 1498 A.D.)

In 843 A.D. Lotharius II became ruler of Friesland. In 925 A.D. most of the Lotharingian rulers accepted Henry I of Germany as king. Friesland became part of the “Heilige römische Reich deutscher Nation”. The executive power was, until 1217 A.D., in hands of feudal tenants (counts).

After 1217 A.D. Middle-Friesland did not have a count, no feudal tenant, almost no knights, no slaves and a few cities. They were a people of farmers, fishermen and bargemen.

Since there was no overruling authority, everywhere indigenous administrative organs developed. It was a booming period; agriculture and trade flourished and raised it prosperity. Frisian cities joined the “Hanze” (West-European trade alliance). But already dark clouds were drifting over, which would eventually (1498 A.D.) end the Frisian Freedom.

Dyke Building (starts about 1000 A.D.)

After the terpbuilding, which was in fact a defensive measure against the sealevel rising, the Frisians went on the offensive and started taking land out of the reach of the sea by dikebuilding. Around 1000 A.D. larger parts of land were surrounded by dykes. This happened in Friesland on both sides of the Lauwers.

Between 1000 and 1100 A.D. large parts of Friesland were protected by dykes, and there were extensive regulations concerning maintenance of dykes and wateringsluices.

These first dykes had a height of 1,50 meters above fieldlevel. Behind the dyke there were roads with a width of approximately 4 meters, so that in case of an emergency two wagons could pass one-and-other. In terms of total earth movement necessary for the dyke building one can speak of a worldwonder.

These large dykebuilding projects were first organized by so called ‘skeltas’. In the 13th century the dykes became the responsibility of ‘grietmannen’ and ‘asegas’.

Despite the dyke building there were frequently stormfloods that broke the dykes and flooded Frisianlands with all the tragic consequences.

Opstalboom (about 1000 – 1327 A.D.)

To the southwest of Aurich in East-Friesland, on a burialmound dating from the Bronze Age, lies a place called the Opstalboom (Opstalsboom; Upstallboom; Upstalesbame (Old Frisian)). In the 11th, 12th and 13th an alliance called the “Opstalboom” gathered on the burialmound. The alliance consisted of representatives of the 7 Frisian “Zeelanden” (lands by the sea). These representatives gathered once a year (on the Tuesday after Whit Sunday) and they drew up rules of law and. The alliance also joined forces if one of the individual of the 7 members was attacked.

Struggle against the Dutch counts (993 – 26 September 1345 A.D.

After the period of the Scandinavian/Viking rule, the counts of the “House of Holland” become the ruling elite in the lands along the North Sea south of West-Friesland. These counts of the house of Holland were of Frisian origin. But after the birth of the province Holland in 1075 A.D. the Frankish influences dominated the Frisian. At this time a deep rift developed between the Frisians in West-Friesland and the counts of Holland. Several attempts were made by these counts to forcefully submit the West-Frisians.

Count Arnulf: undertakes a military expedition; he gets killed in 993 A.D.

Count Willem II:attacks West-Friesland in the winter of 1256 A.D., he falls through the ice while on horseback and is beaten to death by Frisians.

Floris V, son of Willem II, is bent on revenging his father’s death and attacks and defeats West-Friesland. Around 1200 Frisians die in battle. The de-Friezing of West-Friesland starts.

After the death of Floris V the West-Frisians arise again against Jan I. His successor, Jan II, defeated the West-Frisian uprising, killing 3000 Frisians. Middle-Friesland set troops to abide the West-Frisians, but they came to late. West-Friesians lost their freedom, and in the coming centuries also the Frisian language (their mother tongue)

Battle of Warns (“Slag bij Warns”)

After the defeat of West-Friesland, the counts of Holland set their eye on Middle-Friesland.

In 1345 A.D. count Willem IV sets out on a military expedition to conquer Middle-Friesland. With a large fleet and with the help of French and Flemish knights he sailed over the “Zuiderzee”. The approach of the aggressor united the Frisian fractions (the Upstallboom played a role in this unification). On 26 September 1345 A.D. Friesland had its finest hour. Willem IV and the cream of the Hollandish, Flemish and French knights were in the forefront of their army, and near Warns they were surrounded by Frisian landfolk and beaten to death. In disarray the rest of the army fled, leaving the body of Willem IV behind.

The 26 of September became an annual festive day in Middle-Friesland.

Schieringers en Vetkopers (1217 – 1489 A.D.)

In 1392 we first hear of the “Schieringers” and the “Vetkopers”. These two infamous names indicate the end of the Frisian freedom. It came from the Frisian heart itself. The Schieringers and the Vetkopers were two rivaling parties of Frisian origin. They led Friesland into a civil war. Village fought against village, stins against stins and son against father.

It was Friesland darkest hour, and it started in 1217 A.D.. At this time the rule of Charlemagnian counts in Middle Friesland ends. This results in the lack of one overruling authority eventually resulting in a severe weakening of law and order. The power of the civil service no longer came from above, but out of the community itself. The result of this was that the Grietman (judge) did not have anybody of authority to support him in his actions against disobedient people. In the 14th century this resulted in the partisanship of the Schieringers and Vetkopers.

The Frisians remained in this stalemate because of a character trait; there strong individuality. Their personal freedom was more valuable than the freedom of the people as a whole.

In 1489 A.D. the aid of a foreign authority, Albrecht of Saxony, was accepted to end the catastrophic partisanship. Thus ending the Frisian freedom!

End of the Frisian freedom (1498 A.D.)

Unfortunately the strong streak of individualism in Frisian society eventually led to the creation of factions and a descent into civil war in the end of the 1300s. Eventually they willingly submitted to annexation by the larger province of Holland in the early 1400s as a way of calming the chaos. Dutch government and civil servants were installed and from then the fortunes of Friesland are intertwined with those of the present-day Netherlands.

However, the Frisian people kept their stubborn love of individuality and freedom and have preserved a recognizably independent culture. .

A short history of South Africa

It should be noted that South Africa as a political entity did not come into existence until 1910 with the unification under British colonial rule. Before that there were at least four independent countries established at the southern tip of Africa. These countries were sometimes friends, sometimes enemies, sometimes they mixed very well and other times they enforced their separations rigorously. This summation of history will describe how and why these countries came to be and how the Cape, Natal, Transvaal and Orange Free State countries were eventually merged into what we now know as South Africa. It was originally known as the Union of South Africa to show that South Africa evolved from the unification of these constituent countries.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Dutch ruled the seas with colonies scattered all over the globe from which they extracted goods and materials for trade in Europe. Many fortunes were made in lost in the trade between the Far East and Holland in exotic products likes spices, tea and silk materials. The sea journey around the southern tip of Africa was long and dangerous and fatalities from weather, exposure and scurvy ran very high. The boats were loaded with food and water for the long arduous journey leaving relatively little space for bartering and trade goods.

In 1652 the Dutch East India Company (that held the monopoly on the trade with the Far East) decided to start a settlement at the southern tip of Africa so that they could have a half-way point in their journey to replenish food stock and to take on fresh water and fruit. This settlement’s only purpose was to provide for the needs and wishes of the company vessels riding at anchor. The promontory at the tip of Africa was called the Cape of Good Hope and that is what the settlement got to be known as.

The Dutch quickly established a town with farms in the outlying areas providing food and produce to the company officials in the town. Life was very well regulated and there was no thought of a free market economy. The company employed everyone and farmers were only allowed to sell their products to the company at a set price. Over time the number of farms grew and people started to move away from Cape Town into the hinterland. Farmers started to become hostile to the company and started to see themselves as independent of the company. Any attempt by the farmers to sell directly to the boats was treated harshly but the governing body was slowly loosing its grip on the farmers.

Other problem farmers had been with the indigenous black population that was native to the area. They were very much opposed to the expansion of the European settlement and attacks on remote farmsteads became a regular occurrence. Because of the remoteness of the farms every farmer had to become a fierce fighter for his and his family’s safety. Life was difficult without any opportunity for games or pleasure. The only consolation the farmers found was in reading their Bibles. Thus was born the fiercely independent farmer that mistrusted all leaders. He was deeply religious but at the same time very adept at surviving in the wild against all odds. From an early age boys were taught how to shoot straight and kill with one bullet. The descendents of the first Europeans became very much part of the land that they wrestled from their enemies, both from the local natives and also from the fierce African lion.

When Napoleon came to power in France one of the victims was the Dutch settlement in the Cape. It came under French rule and was eventually taken over by the British after the demise of Napoleon. The British colonial office viewed the inhabitants of the Cape with disdain, especially the farmers who lived in the outlying areas and that spoke “funny” Dutch that evolved from the various indigenous influences and who wore clothes made from animal skins. Part of the colonial attitude at the time dictated that the British had to assist the local people to become more and more “civilized.” In practical terms it meant they had to adopt British ways and customs and the children were forced to learn English in school and the use of local languages was very strongly discouraged. The final straw came when the British government abolished slavery world wide in all their colonies but the farmers in the Cape who were dependent on the slave labour were not offered any payment in return for the forced emancipation of the slaves. The farmers were not opposed to freeing the slaves, but to the British attitude that valued the freed slaves higher than the “uncouth” farmers and the fact that the British did not feel obliged to compensate the farmers for their losses.

In the early nineteenth century the farmers started to organize themselves into large groups and started to move away from the Cape up the eastern seaboard of southern Africa. The people came to be known as the “Boere” (meaning farmers). They migrated deeper into Africa to escape the oppressive British rule in the Cape colony. They had a number of very competent leaders and made good progress. They stuck to the eastern part of the subcontinent since the western half was mostly arid plains are semi deserts. Along the way they had to fight the black inhabitants that were not happy with the European intrusion into their countries. The Boers eventually moved into the modern day Natal and started their own, independent government there.

The British colonial office in the mean time had the vision of gathering the whole of Africa from the Cape colony in the south to the Egyptian capital in the north under the imperial banner of the English royalty. In their minds the Boers travelling north into the continent were still part of the Cape colony and were actually providing for the expansion the British wanted. The British never saw the Boers as being independent but rather as citizens of the Cape that helped expanding the borders and suppressing and “cleaning up” the local black populations.

They quickly saw the advantage to expanding the Cape into the newly established Natal and promptly annexed the new land under the British ensign. The Boers once again had to leave but this time they moved inland across the very rugged and notorious Dragon Mountains sheltering the mile-high inland plateau. To the north of Natal the Portuguese had by then already established their own colony in Mozambique and the Boers had no option but to cross the formidable obstacle that barred the central regions of the sub-continent. When reaching the top of the plateau the Boers discovered lush meadows with ample water and fodder for their cattle. Some decided to settle there and started a new independent country under the banner of the Orange Free State. Others felt that the British in Natal were still too close for their liking and continued with their migration across the Vaal River and settled the new country of Transvaal.

All along the road to Natal and into the interior all the way to the northern reaches of Transvaal the Boers had to fight the local black inhabitants for supremacy. The first number of years was very difficult and many people lost their lives, both because of the constant war and also because of the inclement health situations in the areas they moved into. The area was rife with a variety of illnesses and disease carrying ticks and mosquitoes and many graves still dot the landscape to this day. Eventually however the Boers settled down in their two new and independent countries. All along the British tolerated these developments basically because they couldn’t afford to send British troops after the Boers to try and enforce their interpretation of law and order. The Boers were also too busy surviving their new freedoms to try and persuade England or anyone else of the fact that they were indeed independent of England.

In an effort to bypass the pesky Boers in the interior the British built a railroad past the Boer republics along the edge of the western desert into Rhodesia to the north of the Transvaal. British settlers were encouraged and paid in property rights to settle in this new British colony. That way the Boers were sidelined and the railroad from Cape to Cairo could continue through Rhodesia and into Kenya and beyond. With the Boer republics being cut off from the coast and with no markets for their agricultural goods they signed an agreement with the Portuguese government in Mozambique and in the second half of the nineteenth century a railroad was built from Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State through Potchefstroom (then capital of Transvaal) and on through the mountains to the port city of Lourenzo Marques in Mozambique. Thus the Boers were effectively isolated from the British imperial efforts but they had close ties with the other European colony in the area.

The status quo lasted for a while until the Cape colony got Cecil John Rhodes as its governor. This man was a fanatic about the imperial role that England was ordained to play and believed strongly in the divine purpose behind the Pax Anglia covering Africa from Cape to Cairo. The discovery of the Kimberley diamond field in the western part of the Orange Free State later in that century grabbed, to say the least, the attention of Cecil John Rhodes. This was the most productive diamond producing area ever discovered and it still holds to this day the distinction of offering up the biggest and most expensive diamonds ever. Rhodes was still considering his options when word leaked out that big gold deposits were discovered in the eastern parts of the Transvaal. A gold rush such as none of the Boers had ever imagined ensued and the gold fields quickly turned into an enclave of gold diggers from all over the world while the young Transvaal government tried to control as much of the madness as possible.

At this time Rhodes decided to “liberate” the Boer republics and to enfold them in the glorious blankets of her imperial highness. He dispatched his trusted sidekick Jameson to invade Transvaal and the Orange Free State with a large contingent of British troops from the west by using the new Cape to Cairo railroad for transportation and to establish a colonial government in the two countries. This lead to an all-out war between the British forces and the two Boer republics. In time this came to be known as the First Boer War.

At that time the British army was the biggest and best-equipped in the world with very good officers and good discipline under the soldiers. They had the best weapons available and enough money to fight a sustained war against the Boer rabbles. The Boer republics on the other hand did not have standing armies and only had a handful of officers. The Boers serviced in a commando system whereby the officer would come around the farms asking the farmer and his older sons to join him in the war as volunteers. The commandoes had to provide their own weapons, ammunition and transportation. If they were lucky the officer might even be able to collect food from somewhere and a doctor with medical supplies would be considered an especially fine gift. In exchange for these services the commandoes were not paid but then they served the officer by their own pleasure and could pack up and leave anytime they wished.

This was a most one-sided war. The British preferred their own hot and uncomfortable red serge jackets and could not even begin to consider doing without their afternoon tea, even in the midst of a battle. Some of their officers still recalled fighting at Waterloo and how fine two opposing sides looked when lined up on opposite sides of a valley. The Boers on the other hand did not have uniforms but came dressed in their everyday work clothes which generally tended to take on the color of the soil since they didn’t have personal assistants to keep their clothes clean. They did however bring their unparalleled bush-fighting expertise to the war and most of them were quite capable of shooting a Springbok (a type of gazelle) at a distance of more than five hundred yards before it could gallop across the far horizon. Because of the shortage of ammunition every Boer bullet had to be made to count. Fortunately the red British specks in the distance made for fine target shooting and the commandoes even had competitions to see who could find the most targets with their shooting. The British didn’t know what happened to them and retreated at a most undignified speed back to the Cape.

Not long after these events a second gold field was discovered in Transvaal. The discoveries in Johannesburg turned out to be one of the richest deposits ever discovered in the world. In this case however the gold was very deep underground and only the very rich industrial barons could afford to create the mining infrastructure required to get at the metal. Johannesburg quickly became a big industrial city run by the mostly British mining tycoons that made huge amounts of money from the gold. The Boers were still mostly organized in farming communities spread across the country side with a few small towns scattered around the plains. Johannesburg stood out like a sore thumb and it was not long before the magnates in the city petitioned the colonial offices in the Cape to help them throw off the yokes of the Boers form of Calvinistic farming communities. They knew that if they wanted to develop the land to its utmost potential and to the benefits of their own back pockets they would need to get a government in place that would bow to the imperial standard rather than the biblical one. After some diplomatic exchanges that didn’t get anywhere fast Britain decided to once again invade Transvaal and the Orange Free State. This time it was to save the rich barons from the uncomfortable archaic structure that the Boers imposed on them. Before too long the Second Boer War was in full swing.

Fortunately for the British army their officers learned their lesson well from the first war. This time the soldiers were dressed in khaki uniforms that blended in very well with the African bush and they furthermore used long field canons to engage the enemy at a distance, further than the Boer commandoes could reach with their old-fashioned breach-loaded rifles. In a pinch the British were even willing to forgo the afternoon tea so that they could concentrate on the business at hand. Unfortunately for the Boers their leaders did not learn anything from the first war. They still had a volunteer army only and the commandoes were still allowed to come and go as they please with discipline conspicuous only in its complete absence. The start of the twentieth century found the British army set up in Pretoria (the new capital of Transvaal), the Boer government in exile and the commandoes in disarray.

Since the British had by then overthrown the government and confiscated the few army barracks and facilities around they rightly felt the war was over and prepared themselves to be decked with glory as befitted a victorious army. That only went to show how little the British had learned about their adversaries even after all the years of fighting and confrontation. They failed to realize that to the Boer the land was everything and that the cities were mere inconvenient intrusions that one tolerated only since you needed a place to put the government. To many of the Boers not only was the war far from over but they were actually stronger since many of the less committed commandoes deserted the army and returned home when the British took over the government.

The Second Boer War saw the invention of a number of practises and strategies that eventually became entrenched in the acts of war to follow. In those days these practises were quite unconventional and many nations around the world kept an on eye on these developments to see how they played out in practice. Many of the more brutal and bloody wars of the twentieth century learned the lessons well from this first one of that fateful century.

The remnant of the Boer army of volunteers started by inventing a brand new type of warfare. Instead of engaging their obviously superior enemy in traditional combat they started launching guerrilla attacks. They would attack the British outposts and supply lines, they would storm the prisons and set the prisoners of war free, and they would blow up the railway lines. Since the commandoes were also mostly farmers and since their wives and children were still on the farms they could simply disappear into the bush after one of these attacks and then be re-provisioned at the nearest farm. In a nutshell, they refused to act like a vanquished army.

In desperation the war office in London instructed Lord Kitchener to take care of this most unwelcome situation, any which way he saw fit. This Lord Kitchener was a very complex person with an uncanny mixture of ruthlessness and loyalty, brilliance and submissiveness to the government. He quickly realised that the main problem was with the wives and children on the farms and the way they supported the fighters with food and weapons as well as a place to rest. The solution was simple in the extreme but at the same time brutal beyond all measure. The fact that it was a brand new strategy never tried before seems to be a slight consolation in light of the untold horrors this unleashed in that and most subsequent wars. What our good Lord Kitchener did was to set up a number of concentration camps around the country. Wives, children and old people were rounded up from the farms and incarcerated in these camps. Since his budget did not include food for thousands of prisoners nor supplying them with adequate shelter and medical facilities he took the simple approach of letting them do without. Starvation and sickness quickly became the norm in these camps and thousands of crosses to this day bear witness to the effectiveness of these measures. Not satisfied with just emptying the countryside of the families of these Boer fighters, Kitchener instructed all these farms to be raised to the ground and everything put to fire. Countless fighters turned up at these farms to find their families carted off to the hellish camps and all of the cattle mutilated or stolen, the crops burned to the ground and all the buildings destroyed and torn down.

Under these circumstances it is no wonder the Boers very quickly lost their fighting spirits and before three years were out they sued for peace. Lord Kitchener was hailed the hero of London and the war was finally over. Even in his own days however he was questioned at all levels of British society about his scorched earth policy and the cost at which he won the war. All four countries namely the Cape, Natal, Transvaal and the Orange Free State were now British colonies and by 1910 they were all amalgamated into the Union of South Africa which subsequently became know as South Africa.

The observant reader might note that comparatively little has been said about the role of the black people in the history of South Africa. The primary reason is that their part of the story really only starts with the Union of South Africa. They played an extremely pivotal role in the very sad and disheartening history of this country in the remainder of the twentieth century. By the start of the new millennium in the year 2000 the sands of South Africa would be saturated with the blood spilled for this land and with the tears cried for these people. The fact that these fractures and divisions can be traced back directly to Lord Kitchener’s effort to win the war at all cost is of no consolation to those caught in history’s vicious web.

Astronomical functions (1)

I am busy coding the functions from Peter Duffett-Smith’s Practical Astronomy With Your Calculator (Third Edition) in PHP with the plan to create a SOAP web service from it for other people to access.

I just finished the coordinate transformation section and am busy testing it. PHP being what it is it is always difficult to test your functions so if anybody knows of a good PHP testing facility then please let me know.

As a example here is the function that converts from Equatorial to Horizon coordinates. I created a number of additional utility functions to help with the common calculations:

// Function: utlEqu2Hor
// Purpose: Convert Equatorial to Horizon coordinates
// Input: clsGeoTab as geographical object
// Date as array ([0] = Year, [1] = Month, [2] = Day)
// UT as array ([0] = Hours, [1] = Minutes, [2] = Seconds)
// Equatorial coordinate array:
// [0] = RA array ([0]=Hours, [1]=Minutes, [2]=Seconds)
// [1] = Dec Array ([0]=Degrees,[1]=Minutes,[2]=Seconds)
// Output: Horizon coordinate array:
// [0] = Azimuth array ([0]=Degrees,[1]=Minutes,[2]=Seconds)
// [1] = Altitude array ([0]=Degrees,[1]=Minutes,[2]=Seconds)
function utlEqu2Hor($cls, $dte, $ut, $equ) {
$ha = utlRA2HA($cls, $dte, $ut, $equ[0]);
$ha = utlHours2Degrees(utlHMS2Decimal($ha));
$dec = utlDMS2Decimal($equ[1]);
$lat = utlDMS2Decimal($cls->latitude);

$sinalt = utlSin($dec)*utlSin($lat);
$sinalt += utlCos($dec)*utlCos($lat)*utlCos($ha);
$alt = utlAsin($sinalt);

$x = utlSin($dec)-utlSin($lat)*$sinalt;
$r = utlCos($lat)*utlCos($alt);
$cosazi = $x/$r;
$azi = utlAcos($cosazi);
$sinha = utlSin($ha);
if ($sinha > 0) $azi = 360-$azi;

$alt = utlBox($alt, 0, 360);
$azi = utlBox($azi, 0, 360);

return array(utlDecimal2DMS($azi), utlDecimal2DMS($alt));