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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Frisiavones (also Frisævones or Frisiabones) were a Germanic people living near the northern border of Roman Gaul possibly related to the nearby Frisii, who in turn are traditionally considered to be ancestors of modern Frisians. There is very little known about them, but they appear to have resided in the area of what is today the southern Netherlands, possibly in two distinct areas, one in the islands of the river deltas of Holland, and one to the southeast of it.[1]


The name Frisiavones is only used in one classical text, the Naturalis Historia by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, published in 77 AD. In Roman-era epigraphy, however, it appears several times.[2] The earliest inscriptions referring to the Frisiavones date back to the early 2nd century AD, on votive, funerary and military monuments.[3] Six Roman military diplomas in particular, issued by Roman emperors in Britain in the years 105–178 AD, along with five inscriptions found in Roman forts in Britain, mention a cohort named Frisiavonum or Frisiavon.[4]

According to Neumann (1999), the phonology of Frisiavones, the initial f- in particular, suggests a Germanic origin. It is presumed to stem from the tribal name Frisi attached to the suffix -avo-, and thus probably meant 'those belonging to the Frisii, descending from the Frisii'.[5] Scholars note however that, apart from the linguistic resemblance, no historical or geographical relation can be established between the Frisii and the Frisiavones.[6][7]


The Roman writer Pliny, who had visited the region in 47 AD,[8] associates the name Frisiavones with two different regions.[9] In one passage, he describes the Frisiavones as an ethnic group distinct from the Frisii, who both live in the islands of the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta, together with Batavians, Canninefates, Chauci, Sturii and Marsaci.[10][11] In another passage, he describes the Frisiavones among the Tungri, Baetasi and Sunuci.[12][8]

Tacitus, writing in the second half of the 1st century AD, divides the Frisii, into two groups: the Greater Frisii (maiores) and the Lesser Frisii (minores).[13] Most authors agree that the Frisii were in fact divided among Greater and Lesser. They generally place the Lesser Frisii in Noord-Holland, and the Greater Frisii in Friesland and Groningen.[14] According to Rives (1999), the identification of Lesser Frisii with Frisiavones is generally rejected,[15] and the Frisii and Frisiavones were clearly perceived as two distinct groups by Romans in the 2nd century AD.[7]

No specific archaeological culture is associated with the Frisiavones, and therefore we have no archaeological indication regarding their territory.[16] Based on epigraphic evidence, a number of scholars associate their territory with the western part of Noord-Brabant, southern Zuid-Holland, or Zeeland.[16] One votive inscription from the 2nd century AD refers to the regio frisiavonum as part of Gallia Belgica.[17] Wightman (1985) proposes that the borders of Germania Inferior lay west and south of the Meuse rather than around it, thus including the territory of the Frisiavones near the Batavi, Marsaci and Sturii. She mentions one inscription from Bulla Regia that tells of an area comprising the Tungri, Batavians and Frisiavones and thus stretching over two provinces.[18]


Frisiavones are mentioned first at paragraph 101 of Pliny's Natural History, as being on the Rhine itself, on the same delta islands as the Batavians and the Cananefates, stretched out along 100 Roman miles, between Helinius and Flevus.

  • The Helinius is understood to be a southern branch of the Rhine, connecting to the Meuse (Dutch Maas), like the modern river Waal.
  • Flevus (or Flevum) was a Roman fortification, possibly north of the Rhine, mentioned in other sources such as Tacitus, and apparently here also referring to a branch of the Rhine, this time flowing more northerly than the main Rhine, possibly tracing a path similar to the modern IJssel, emptying into lakes, possibly an ancient version of the Zuiderzee.[19]

The tribes of this stretch of delta islands are mentioned in this order: Frisii, Chauci, Frisiavones, Sturii and Marsacii. Of the listed tribes, only the Frisii and Chauci are well-known from other sources. The Chauci inhabited a large part of northwestern Germany, north of the Rhine (later inhabited by their possible descendants the Saxons). About the Marsacii other records mention them being effected by the Batavian revolt confirming that they lived close to the Batavians. Also, like the Batavians and Cugerni, the emperors recruited their horse guard from both the Frisiavones and the Marsacii.

The second reference by Pliny to Frisiavones, in paragraph 106, located this people in the middle of the region which Caesar had described as being inhabited by Belgic Gaulish tribes. Pliny places them in the list between the Sunuci and the Baetasi. Although this particular listing is apparently not made in any exact way, these two tribes were in Germania Inferior which covered the eastern part of modern Belgium, the southeastern Netherlands and the part of Germany which borders them, including Aachen. The northwestern part of this area included the area where the Rhine and Maas converge, and also the "Civitas Batavorum", where the Batavians lived.

The Byzantian historian Procopius († 562 AD) referred to "Phrissones" being one amongst three tribes dwelling in Brittia, a distinct name from his more usual Brettania, together with Angiloi and Brittones.[20][21]


The areas usually attributed to the Frisiavones do not match with the regions where 'Frisian' pottery has been found, which suggests that the material cultures of the Frisii and Frisiavones were not related.[16]

The name of a goddess, Matres Frisavae Paternea, found on a votive near Xanten, has been interpreted as related to the Frisiavones, although it could also bear the name of the Frisii.[17]

Political organization

The Frisiavones were possibly clients of the Batavi, for whom they supplied auxiliary troops and contingents that were incorporated in Batavian units of the Roman army.[22][9] This situation may have persisted until the Batavian revolt (69–70 AD). According to Roymans, "after the Batavian revolt the Frisiavones and the Cananefates were given an opportunity to express their own identity."[23]

Although the capital of their civitas is not known, they were treated as a separated region and had to pay tax, which suggest that the Frisiavones lived in a Romanized society.[7] According to Wightman (1985), the Marsaci and the Sturii could have been pagi in the civitas of the Frisiavones or the Menapii.[10]

The Frisiavones were active participants in the Roman army from the end of the 1st century.[24] They had their own ethnic unit, the Cohors I Frisiavonum, which was formed in the 1st century AD, at the latest around 80.[17] It was active in Britain during the 2nd century.[25] Some Frisiavones also served in the equites singulares, in the Praetorian Guard of Rome, which could mean that they were granted Roman citizenship during the Flavian period.[7]


  1. ^ Marjan C. Galestin, 'Frisii and Frisiavones', in: Palaeohistoria 49/50 (2007/08), p. 687-708.
  2. ^ Galestin 2007, pp. 692, 705.
  3. ^ Galestin 2007, p. 696.
  4. ^ Galestin 2007, pp. 698–699.
  5. ^ Neumann 1999, p. 113.
  6. ^ Timpe 1996, pp. 83–84.
  7. ^ a b c d Galestin 2007, p. 706.
  8. ^ a b Galestin 2007, p. 687.
  9. ^ a b Galestin 2007, p. 691.
  10. ^ a b Wightman 1985, p. 54.
  11. ^ Pliny. Naturalis Historia, 4.29 (aka 4.15)
  12. ^ Pliny. Naturalis Historia, 4.31 (aka 4.17)
  13. ^ Galestin 2007, p. 688.
  14. ^ Galestin 2007, pp. 691–692.
  15. ^ Rives 1999, p. 262.
  16. ^ a b c Galestin 2007, p. 694.
  17. ^ a b c Galestin 2007, p. 697.
  18. ^ Wightman 1985, pp. 54, 63.
  19. ^ Germania by Cornelius Tacitus, page 262 of the notes by J. B. Rives
  20. ^ Procopius - Wars, book VIII [=De Bello Gothico, book IV], 20:47
  21. ^ Bazelmans, Jos (2009), "The early-medieval use of ethnic names from classical antiquity: The case of the Frisians", in Derks, Ton; Roymans, Nico (eds.), Ethnic Constructs in Antiquity: The Role of Power and Tradition, Amsterdam University Press page 329.
  22. ^ Roymans 2004, p. 207.
  23. ^ Roymans 2004, p. 209.
  24. ^ Galestin 2007, p. 701.
  25. ^ Galestin 2007, p. 698.


Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 25 August 2020, at 04:52
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