Friends, Vassals or Foes: Relations and their representations between Frisians and Scandinavians in the Viking Age

Friends, Vassals or Foes: Relations and their representations between Frisians and Scandinavians in the Viking Age, late 8th to 11th centuries

By Nelleke Laure IJssennagger

Master’s Thesis, University of Groningen, 2010

A hoard of silver Viking treasure now located in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden. Photo by Marieke Kuijjer

Introduction: We paid a visit to the lads of Frisia. And we it was who split the spoils of battle among us.


So reads the runic inscription on a silver Viking Age neck-ring found in Senja, Troms County in northern Norway, which is dated to c. 1025. Although the exact reading of the text is debated, the one thing that is certain is that it points to contact between Frisians and Scandinavians in the Viking Age (c. 793-1050). This ring is one of very few finds directly and unambiguously attesting to contact between these two peoples, and is therefore significant. Scholars like Judith Jesch and Kees Samplonius have examined the inscription and its context, whilst others like James Graham-Campbell have focused on its material aspects.

In addition, attention has been paid to the meaning of this find in understanding the Viking Age. Whilst the find has traditionally been interpreted as attesting to a Viking raid on Frisia, more recently both Jesch and Samplonius interpreted it as possibly attesting to more peaceful relations. I would like to argue that it is time to look at this ring and other evidence outside the context of Viking raids on the continent only, and place it in a broader perspective of Scandinavian-Frisian contacts in this period.

These contacts, already established before the Viking Age and continuing in its aftermath, changed over the course of time. Especially in the Viking Age, which came with raids and displays of political power, changes occurred. Whether or not these changes meant that the earlier (usually peaceful, trade) contacts disappeared, at least some other kinds of contact were established. In the Viking Age, a new chapter in the history of Scandinavian-Frisian contacts was written, that will be explored in this thesis. I will aim to present an overview of the ways of contact, the people involved and their reactions to these contacts and the consequences in both the short (i.e. transfer of single items, establishment of personal relationships,) and the long term (i.e. changes in attitudes and images, changes in relationships), by assembling textual and archaeological evidence.


The subject can be divided into sub-issues, all part of contact and contact situations. These issues, are exchanged in material and immaterial respects (i.e. trade, gift-exchange, exchange of people and ideas), and the intrinsic aspect of images coming into being. A couple of main aspects are important here: the images of the Self and Other before, during and after contact. Looking at all these aspects can help one understand the processes of contact and its consequences. The main question with which I will approach these issues is to what extent and in which ways there was contact between the Frisians and the Scandinavians throughout the Viking Age, and what this led to.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Groningen


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