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Early History of Ostfriesland

Upstalsboom in Aurich

Following prehistory, which only can be reconstructed in archaeological manner, the early history of East Friesland (= "Ostfriesland") becomes evident partially in foreign, for example Roman sources. The reports of Plinius, Tacitus and Strabon are important, although their statements concerning number, distribution and form of the colonies are relatively general, but they hint that at the fact that the German North Sea coast was already inhabited at the time of Jesus.

Plinius tells us about the Chauks, who resided under primitive circumstances in the mudflat region between lower Elbe and lower Ems. During the migration of peoples, it is most likely that the Saxons came from the east and the Frisians from west – settling at the coast region permanently.

Early Carolingian period

Only with the start of early Carolingian time, it was became possible to document the history of East Friesland more clearly. At that time, there was a great Frisian Empire enclosing wide parts of the present West Friesland, Ostfriesland and regions up to the Weser, which was reigned by kings whose names are only partially documented. One of those great Frisian kings is Radbod, there are many East Frisian legends and stories about his life. He is honored in many towns with street names for example.

Subjugation by Charlemagne

The Great Frisian Empire did not last long and with the subjugation of the eastern Friesland by Charlemagne, in 785, it was handed to the Franconians. Under Charlemagne, East Friesland was divided into two counties. At that time, Christianization began, led by the missionaries Liudger and Willehad. Partlially, Ostfriesland was given to the diocese of Bremen, and partially to the diocese of Munster. As the Carolingian Empire fell apart, East Friesland let go of the former relations. A new alliance rose, made of independent districts which administrated themselves and elected annual so-called "Redjeven" (councilors) as their representatives.

They handled jurisdiction, organized the administration and organization their districts. Thus, the typical European Middle Ages wide-spread feudalism was unknown in Ostfriesland. The Frisians considered themselves to be free people who were not obliged to obey to any authorities. Every year during that period called "Friesische Freiheit" (Frisian liberty), which lasted from the 12th until the 14th century, the envoys of the seven Frisian sea lands gathered at the Upstalsboom near Aurich to administer justice and to take decisions of a greater importance for all the districts.


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