18.09.20, Hines/IJssennagger (eds.), Frisians and their North Sea Neighbours

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Bev Thurber

The Medieval Review 18.09.20

Hines, John and Nelleke IJssennagger. Frisians and their North Sea Neighbours: From the Fifth Century to the Viking Age. 2017. pp. xx, 279. ISBN: 978-1-78327-179-5 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Bev Thurber
Independent Scholar

This collection of papers grew out of a conference called "Across the North Sea: North Sea Connections from AD 400 into the Viking Age" held at the Fries Museum, Leeuwarden--where one of the editors is curator--in 2014. It contains an introduction and twelve papers, all loosely centered on Frisia. The volume is to be praised for its interdisciplinarity: while some papers fit cleanly into archaeology, history, or linguistics, most draw on material from several disciplines to examine a question that is beyond the scope of any one. It is well-edited and amply illustrated.

The volume begins with papers that are rather broad in scope and address questions of Frisian identity. The first, "Palaeogeography and People: Historical Frisians in an Archaeological Light" by Egge Knol and Nelleke IJssennagger, brings together written, archaeological, and geographic information to respond to the question of who the Frisians were from the earliest terps to the Old Frisian law codes, to which the penultimate paper returns. The authors argue that the terms "Frisian" and "Frisia" have been applied to different groups of people and different locations within the same general area over the years. This is followed by John Hines's contribution, "The Anglo-Frisian Question," which addresses the connection between Anglo-Saxons and Frisians using evidence from phonology, runology, and archaeology. Coins emerge as an important type of evidence both runological and archaeological terms and remain in use in later papers. In the third paper, "Frisian between the Roman and the Early-Medieval Period: Language Contact, Celts and Romans," Peter Schrijver argues that the Frisian language was the result of Germanic being overlaid on a Celtic linguistic substrate, i.e., that Proto-Germanic "by the introduction of a Celtic accent became Pre-O[ld ]Frisian" (51). Schrijver's thesis is that the similarities between the two vowel systems are strong enough support his hypothesis.

The next set of papers puts the Frisians in the context of a more general North Sea culture. In "`All quiet on the Western Front?' The Western Netherlands and the `North Sea Culture' in the Migration Period," Menno Dijkstra and Jan de Koning use a variety of historical and archaeological sources relating to the Frisian area to show that nothing noteworthy happened in this area during the Migration Period. In the next paper, Johan Nicolay picks up chronologically where Dijkstra and de Koning leave off with an examination of elite trade networks and the items left behind in "Power and Identity in the Southern North Sea Area: The Migration and Merovingian Periods." These are followed by two papers that focus on language. Gaby Waxenberger's contribution, "How `English' is the Early Frisian Runic Corpus? The evidence of sounds and forms," is an analysis of 15 Pre-Old Frisian runic inscriptions dating from roughly the seventh and eighth centuries. She notes that several items can be assigned to neither Pre-Old English nor Pre-Old Frisian and concludes that the two sub-corpora are "closely aligned" (121). In the next paper, "The Geography and Dialects of Old Saxon: River-Basin Communication Networks and the Distributional Patterns of North Sea Germanic features in Old Saxon," Arjen Versloot and Elżbieta Adamczyk show how features of North Sea Germanic spread into Old Saxon. They conclude that this distribution was probably driven by traffic patterns, which can be represented by river networks.

The next three papers follow up on the theme of traffic by addressing connections on the regional level. Iris Aufderhaar's "Between Sievern and Gudendorf: Enclosed Sites in the North-Western Elbe-Weser Triangle and their Significance in Respect of Society, Communication and Migration during the Roman Iron Age and Migration Period" reviews the area with a focus on a few particular settlements: Heidenschanze and Heidenstadt in Geest (156), Gudendorf-Köstersweg in Stadt Cuxhaven (159), and "a ditched site" in Spieka-Knill (165). All these settlements are located along waterways, which Aufderhaar argues are crucial for communication and trade. In the next contribution, "Cultural Convergence in a Maritime Context: Language and Material Culture as Parallel Phenomena in the Early-Medieval Southern North Sea Region," Pieterjan Deckers argues that helpful parallels can be found between developments in material culture (specifically, pottery types and domestic architecture) and in language (the development of North Sea Germanic). This is followed by Tim Pestell's "The Kingdom of East Anglia, Frisia, and Continental Connections, c. AD 600-900," which jewelry, coins and pottery to identify specific connections between East Anglia and Frisia and their nuances.

The last two papers are tightly focused on particular texts. "A Comparison of the Injury Tariffs in the Early Kentish and the Frisian Law Codes" by Han Nijdam begins with an explanation of what injury tariffs are (lists of the amounts of compensation to be paid for inflicting various injuries) and identifies some parallels between the two codes mentioned in the title. The final paper in the collection, "Cultural Contacts between the Western Baltic, the North Sea Region and Scandinavia: Attributing Runic Finds to Runic Traditions and Corpora of the Early Viking Age" by Christine Zimmerman and Hauke Jöns, describes the archaeological contributions of Groß Strömkendorf before narrowing its focus to a short runic inscription on a comb fragment. The interpretation of this inscription draws attention to questions in methodology and classification because it sits at the interface of several different cultures, languages, and fuþark.

These papers combine to form a wide-ranging book. Its major strength is its interdisciplinarity: although material culture is central, the papers draw on evidence from multiple fields. This is intentional; the editors designed the volume to emphasize "methodological demonstrations of how to interpret the particular evidence each chapter presents" (3). The final paper in the collection is particularly successful because it examines a particular artifact--a comb fragment--in detail while situating it within the larger context of an archaeological site.

Aufderhaar's contribution is also of interest in terms of methodology; it presents the preliminary results of a regional investigation centered around waterways, which also emerge as important networks in Versloot and Adamczyk's contribution. These two papers highlight the role of geography, which is first noted in Knol and IJssennagger's introductory contribution. These and other papers in the volume emphasize the importance of the regional context in which the Frisians lived, which naturally involves relationships with their neighbors.

The papers generally strike a balance between providing background information and identifying niches for future research. For example, in the penultimate paper, Nijdam attempts to find a common ancestor for two law codes, but is ultimately unsuccessful. This raises new questions about the role of law codes--Nijdam suspects that they are related to societal identity--that ought to stimulate future research. These new questions should enable the book to fulfill one of its stated purposes: "to stimulate the international study of the topics" (xiii).

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