|Europeans had to become financially independent at the time when Arabs isolated northwest Europe
from the trade routes into the Far East, and in order to prosper, trade routes were extended from the
English Channel to the North Sea coasts, while ports grew along the way. Dorestad on the Rhine was
the major city of the dukes of Frisia, and it became an important trading center by 680 AD.,
becoming the major port of the new Empire that Charlemagne carved out on the lower Rhine.
Charlemagne's clever negotiations and strategic alliances ensured these safe trade routes across
Western Europe and spurred prosperity in his lands, most of it coming from new trade with the
Middle East and Central Asia via Russia to the Black Sea, bypassing areas along the Mediterranean
blocked by Arabs or the Byzantines. Trade in northwest Europe at this time was based on silver
coinage that was used for 500 years. Frisian woman adorned in gold, above
As goods went east, silver objects flowed northward and westward where they were reminted in
Dorestad into Charlemagne's coins, the silver denarius. He controlled northern Germany and the
North Sea coast as far as Hamburg by 800. This system allowed access to better trade between
interior regions and to the existing cities such as Aachen which had grown up around old Roman
garrison cities and were therefore dependent on neglected old Roman road systems. Cities could
now grow around the newly founded monasteries, and the monasteries and churches in turn would
accumulate great wealth and large pieces of land. For the sake of organization and profit,
Charlemagne introduced a system whereby large areas were given to followers trusted to govern as
they wished, as long as they paid for the privilege in hefty taxes.
From 760 to 820 AD, Dorestad's houses, wharves, and warehouses stretched a long way along the
banks of the Rhine, and Frisian traders shipped goods coming down the Meuse and the Rhine from
Strasbourg, out of Dorestad all over the Rhine delta, west along the French coast, east via coastal
cities such as Emden and Hamburg, to Denmark and into the Baltic, then north along the coast of
Britain as far as Northumbria. Dorestad exported pottery, glass, bronze goods, wine, and silver coin
in exchange for wool and fur. Problems with the Danes after Charlemagne's death, and then the
Viking incursions on northwest Europe drained money and ruined trade. The Vikings had burned
and looted every seaport between Hamburg and Bordeaux. The Frisian trade from Dorestad was
destroyed. Dorestad was sacked in 834, and repeatedly raided until it vanished.
The Frisians are a Germanic people living in coastal parts of The Netherlands and Germany. They
are concentrated in the Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen and, in Germany, East Frisia and
North Frisia. Tall, big-boned and light-haired people, they have a history rich in folklore. In the 8th
century, Charlemagne freed the people of Friesland from swearing fealty to foreign overlords: "That
all Frisians would be fully free, the born and the unborn, so long as the wind blows from heaven and
the child cries, grass grows green and flowers bloom, as far as the sun rises and the world stands".
East Frisia, or Ostfriesland, inhabited since paleolithic times, is the coastal region in northwest
Germany's Frisia which includes Schleswig-Holstein, and it embraces the districts of Aurich, Leer,
Wittmund, the city of Emden and a string of East Frisian Islands. As early as 1000 BC, the Frisians
started building large dikes along the North Sea shore, and in 12 BC, Drusus sailed a Roman fleet up
part of the Ems river and returned. Ostfriesland remained independent of the German states until the
late Middle Age. Frisia was a kingdom for a short time, and East Frisia then became part of the
Frankish Empire under Charlemagne, who divided East Frisia into two counties and Christianized the
area. Later, the independent Frisians,with their self-governed districts, never established of a
feudalistic system during medieval times. Frisian representatives of the districts of the coastal areas
met annually. Later catastrophes and plague destabilized the local governments, and the area entered
into a period of clans and chieftains, somewhat like Scotland. Oldenburg tried to subjugate East Frisia
during the 12th century but the Frisians repeatedly defeated them, and when even Heinrich the Lion
failed to subjugate them, Oldenburg gave up and only randomly invaded.
The East Frisian chieftains protected pirates, and this led the Hanseatic League to send an expedition
against Frisia in 1400, and it successfully discouraged the chieftains from harboring the pirates.
Emperor Friedrich III made one of the last chieftains a count in 1465, and he accepted the
sovereignty of the Holy Roman Empire. East Frisians, meanwhile, had come into an abundance of
gold through the years, and jewelry makers learned the Byzantine filigree technique from traders
bringing such jewellery home from their journeys. Long before, Charlemagne had permitted them to
adorn themselves with as much gold as they could carry without having to pay taxes, and so they did,
even when notoriously "armor like" in weight as the picture of the woman above illustrates.
In 1514, unhappily for the East Frisians, the emperor ordered that a duke of Saxony should be the
heir to the count of East Frisia, and Count Edzard of East Frisia refused to accept this order. Frisia
was invaded by the German dukes with their armies, but they failed to defeat Edzard, and in 1517,
the emperor had to accept Edzard and his descendants as counts of East Frisia, and by 1654, the
counts were elevated to the rank of princes. During the reformation, the Frisians' love of gold
declined. In 1744, East Frisia came under Prussian rule, ending its independence. Their last prince
died without issue. The Frisian language is almost extinct and found only in a remote area where it is
spoken by about 1000. Famous Frisians include Mata Hari, born as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle.
|Frisia: One of the Frankish Kingdoms