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The Frisiavones (also Frisævones or Frisiabones) were a tribe 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 modern southern Netherlands, possibly in two distinct areas, one in the islands of the river deltas of Holland, and one to the south of it.


Pliny the Elder is one of the main sources for the Frisiavones. He appeared to distinguish them from the Frisii. They also appear in inscriptions found in Roman Britain (dated between 103-249 AD).[1] They appear to have lived in two different areas.

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.[2]

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 were ancestors of the later Saxons, and inhabited a large part of northwestern Germany, north of the Rhine. 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. Edith Wightman proposes that the north of Germania Inferior, near the Batavians, is the most likely place that the Frisiavones lived. She mentions that in one inscription, from Bulla Regia, the Tungri, Batavians and Frisiavones are grouped together. She suggests that the Marsaci and the Sturii could be "pagi" (smaller sub-populations) of either the Frisiavones or the Menapii[3]

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.[4][5]

Connection to Frisii?[edit]

In Pliny's account in Book IV of his Naturalis Historia there is a notable similarity between the two tribe names, Frisiavones, mentioned twice, and the Frisii. This could be due to coincidence, to tribal relationship, or to a similar etymology. This raises questions about the Frisians being the only people with this type of name, and in turn also raising the question of whether the ancient Frisii can equated to the traditional inhabitants of modern Frisia. So far all knowledge on this issue is based on deduction.

In his Germania the Roman historian Tacitus mentions two different populations of Frisii, maioribus minoribusque frisii, the major and minor Frisians, both having settled downstream the Rhine.[6] This division of the Frisii into two populations is sometimes thought to explain the Frisiavones.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Several inscriptions mention the "Cohors Primae Frisiavonum" - "First Cohort of the Frisiavones"; for an overview see also [1]
  2. ^ Germania by Cornelius Tacitus, page 262 of the notes by J. B. Rives
  3. ^ Wightman, Edith Mary (1985), Gallia Belgica, University of California Press , pages 54 and 63.
  4. ^ Procopius - Wars, book VIII [=De Bello Gothico, book IV], 20:47
  5. ^ Bazelmans, Jos (2009), "The early-medieval use of ethnic names from classical antiquity: The case of the Frisians", in Derks, Ton; Roymans, Nico, Ethnic Constructs in Antiquity: The Role of Power and Tradition, Amsterdam University Press  page 329.
  6. ^ Publius Cornelius Tacitus Germania, paragraph 34