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Medieval Frisia more ‘Viking’ than supposed

15 November 2017

Frisia, the coastal region between the Zwin (near Bruges) and the Weser (near Bremen), was linked to the Viking world around the North Sea more closely in the Viking age (c. 800-1050) than we supposed – particularly to England and Denmark. This is asserted by researcher Nelleke IJssennagger, who will be awarded a PhD by the UG on 23 November. According to IJssennagger, there was a structural relationship and not just incidental attacks or trade missions. This is revealed by old and new metal detector discoveries, including finds of types previously unknown. A wide range of texts underscores this picture in various ways. According to IJssennagger, Frisia held a special position because in the Viking age the Viking world and the world of the Franks came together in Frisia.

We know of Viking attacks and a few hoards, but otherwise history and archaeology show us that Frisia belonged to Francia in the Viking Age (800-1050). Or not? IJssennaggers's thesis studies Fisia – the coastal area between Zwin and Wezer – in the context of the Viking sphere around the North Sea through material and immaterial culture. It specifically focusses on mutual and structural relations, or connectivity. This was undoubtedly present: next to belonging to the Frankish sphere, Frisia was part of the Viking sphere. Metal detected finds of for instance jewellery and weights clearly point to the sphere of the Vikings. Some of the finds are the first finds of the type in the Netherlands or Continent. The textual sources, some of which are based on oral traditions, describe constant travels between the areas and place it in the context of a shared maritime past. By being both in the sphere of influence of Franks and Vikings, Frisia develops a central position in the intercultural contact in the Viking Age. The period is a transformative one in which Frisia slowly distances itself from the north. In 13th-century Frisian sources, this problematic period is dealt with by representing the transformation from north to south and from heathen to Christian as a single moment around 800, connecting the start of the Frisian freedom to it. Although Viking immediately brings to mind Scandinavia, it is striking that there seems to be a particular connection between the Viking sphere in the Brisith Isles and Frisia.

More information

Nelleke IJssennagger

About the PhD ceremony and her thesis

Last modified:16 March 2020 2.46 p.m.
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