Home  Albert  News  Purchase  Gallery  Contact  Writings  Links

2013 03 07

The Low Lands

or, what's in a name?
Who were the peoples that occupied these lands
and what did they name it.

            Northwestern European peoples did not exist during the earliest time of the great Scandinavian Ice Sheet that covered the entire region from the Alps, and from where Paris was to be built, covered the North and Baltic seas, and deep into northern Russia. A new temperate time more than ten thousand years ago opened new teritories.
            Prehistory is a world of archeology in which can be found what skills people had, how they lived and disposed of their dead; but peoples are defined by language, and this archeology cannot often unearth.
            Thus, a people named after its artefacts occupied much of the northern European plain from Britain to south Scandinavia and north-west Russia between c. 8000 and 5600 B.C. Deciduous forest established itself, and the hunters-fishers adapted. Late Stone Age farmers emerged in the sixth millennium B.C. in Greece and the south Balkans, expanded to coastal zones of the Mediterranean basin and to the loess lands of Middle Europe ~ from the Middle Danube to the Rhine, the Vistula and the Dnestr. Finally, agriculture was carried over the rest of the temperate zone as far as the northern limit of the deciduous forest. Peasant cultures developed from Crete and Greece about 6000 B.C., to western Europe 4000 B.C., the north 3000 B.C., and Scandinavia 2500 B.C. Early metallurgy in Europe grew by the beginning of the fourth millennium. From copper to bronze, for the peoples of Europe the iron age dated from the seventh century B.C.

see also the earliest [Europeans]




Being Dutch in The Netherlands
           To the Dutch themselves, they are Nederlanders, they speak Nederlands, and their country is Nederland. They know very well that this is a geographical term describing a relative elevation to the uplands and the Alps whence the rivers flow from four-and-a-half kilometers high, to confluence through the great delta in which they live at barely ten meters while a quarter of the land lies below sea level. They fondly acknowledge their native soil as the Low Lands ~ "de lage landen" (sometimes too as the Flat Lands ~ "het platte land", or our Little Wet Land ~ "ons natte landje").  

map at left from Dutch the magazine

                 The names of most countries have an ethnic origin ~ as in the Angles' Land or England, where the people are English(men) who speak English. These English call the land of the Nederlanders Holland as often as not though most know that the proper term is The Netherlands. The English do not expect a native there to speak either Hollandian or Netherlandish, and to them these natives themselves are Dutch.
                 Perhaps the English are not so far wrong, for the people that emerged from prehistory were Germanic speaking Indo-Europeans; the culture described as Germanic or Teutonic: a name by which they referred to themselves ~ a self-appellation that means simply: the people. Its etymology is ancient and the same among all the nations: Old High German, diot; Old Frisian, thiade; Old Swedish, thiod; Gothic, thiuda; Old English, theod; Old Norse, thjoth; Old Irish, tuath; Cornish, tus; Old Keltic, teuts; Lithuanian, tuata; Welsh, tud.
                 Thus Germany is Deutschland with Deutschers speaking Deutsch, who ~ while conceding the names Niederlande and Niederlander, pronounce the tongue there to be Hollandisch. The English name for their nation harks back to the Roman name Germania for all the "barbarian" lands outside of the Empire in northern Europe, while its ancient name was Saks Land (land of the Saxons).
                 In bilingual Canada we are well acquainted with the terms anglophone and francophone. One may muse that if the English had referred to themselves as Saxo-Anglish (instead of Anglo-Saxon), the term saxophone for English speakers may have come into use. (Perhaps saksophones for German speakers too, and dutchophones for you know who.)
                 Only in the 1400s came the name "Nederlanden" in use. A 1570 map still designated the country Neder-Germania. The humanists took to the name Belgica, after Julius Caesar. The names Belgium and Nederland remained in use for centuries. The colony of Nieuw-Nederland on Manhattan Island was in Latin styled: Nova Belgica or Novum Belgium. Not until the 1814 Treaty of Vienna did a Kingdom of the Netherlands come into existence. A revolt in 1830 announced the independence of Belgium. The map of Europe after the 1919 Treaty of Versailles had the Low Lands again separated ~ now into a Kingdom each of Belgium and the Netherlands
                 The name Holland is found in 9th century writings referring to a district near Dunkirk in northern France where also flows the Holland River. It means literally "hollow land" where water runs in gullies to the sea. It was well suited to the environs between North and Souther Seas (the latter now IJssel Lake) where most of the region was below the level of the sea and the rest subject to its repeated inundations. The name was borrowed. It became official in 922 when a French King of a German Realm yet known as the Holy Roman Empire granted the land to one Dirk, from which began a line of Counts of Holland that died out in 1425.
                 In the first decades of the sixteenth century, Holland had major conflicts with the Low Lands provinces of the north and east (Friesland, Groningen, Gelderland, Utrecht) that greatly disturbed trade by sea and river, and a union between them came to be seen as an important political goal. Thus when, late in the sixteenth century, the Low Lands revolted against Spanish occupiers, a resulting revolution established in 1572 Seven United Provinces based on republican ideals ~ which, in an ocean of monarchies, defended what it called the "true freedom" for over two centuries. Holland stood at the center of its politics, the economy, and culture, during a "golden age" of creativity and achievement seldom seen in history. A society and culture that beguiled with its arts, philosophy and sciences, where freedom of the individual was the highest ideal ~ freedom of belief, equality of women, servants, jews, and little class consciousness. This history made Holland nearly synonymous with the Republic and thus the nation.

Belgii Sive Germania Inferioris Nider-Teutschlandt, Matthaus Merian, Frankfurt 1636, 14 x 11.5 inches

Fryslan is Holland is Nederland
            Long ago, the inhabitants of the Low Lands were known as Frisii ~ their lands known as Fryslan (Friesland). It is not known when the people first called themselves Frisians, but archeology has found evidence of their lives in these homelands of millennia past ~ monumental stones on the fens, in the morasses near the waters they fished, in the floodprone sands where they tilled crops, and in the clays where they kept cattle.
            Roman history records the concluding of a treaty (scant years before Christ) with the Frisians. Though their homelands were in the far north of the Netherlands, their influence extended well beyond the great rivers south: Roman legions seeking to extend the empire's borders beyond the Rhine were repelled by Batavians (legendary in the national consciousness of Nederland) with significant Frisian support. Frisian hegemony may well have influenced a shared west-germanic cultural-linguistic region reaching east of the North Sea coast from the Dane Mark to Gallia and to the River Elbe.
                 The Roman Empire declined and fell, and a "Little Ice Age" forced a folk-wandering of entire peoples that redrew the map of Europe, and irrevocably mingled populations. A Germanic tribe ~ the Vandals ~ installed one of its own as Caesar in Rome. The inhabitants of today's France (Roman Gaul) are neither Gauls nor Franks. Most likely the Frisians also migrated, their lands first becoming depopulated and then repeopled by a mixture of Frisians, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.
                 As Roman roads deteriorated, the people of Friesland used their historical familiarity with water-travel to plie trade by ship over seas and rivers. Where the seaward course of the Rhine split in two, the important trading town of Dorestad became established in a region then known as "citerior Fresia". Magna Fresia was a more modern name for the area of Frisian hegemony of the seventh century which had as its center the city of Utrecht. Well into the Middle Ages this region continued to be called (in the Latin) "Fresia".
                 Charlemagne conquered the Low Lands to incorporate it into yet another (now) "Holy" Roman (Frankish) Empire. The Frisians, though, retained significant status and the old laws were codified in 802 (at Aken?) as the "Lex Frisonium". It retained ancient tribal rights that placed all freemen under the obligation of attending legislative and legal proceedings (the "ding duty" ~ as in later Iceland's "thing meets"), and it provided specific rights to their lands. Up to the fifteenth century, a sort of Frisian ideology of right, duty, and law, held that these must be seen as god-given ~ as valuable as Christian belief.
                 In common with all the Teutonic peoples, the Frisians celebrated what John Stuart Mill termed an "excessive liberty" and a fierce independence that resulted in anarchic forms of social organization ~ individualistic to the point of chaos. Friesland maintained a society "Friesk en frij" (Frisian and free) based on the independent individual against the concentrated powers (first brought north by the Romans) of king and church until 1498 when a military commander of a European empire was appointed to rule over Frisians, and in 1504 the Old Frisian law was arbitrarily revoked.


Amsterdam ~ genuine Frisian city
                 Linguist Johan Winklers published in 1874 a "Dialecticon of General Nederduits [Low German] and Frisian" in which he proved that the oldest inhabitants of the country's most important city spoke undoubtedly Frisian "because they were real Frisians . . . of pure Frisian blood."
                 The rise of Amsterdam in the Middle Ages as a center of trade and shipping attracted many foreigners: "(South) Hollanders, Flemish, Brabanders, Uplanders, Eastlanders (inhabitants of the shores of the East Sea [the Baltic])", and the Low German tongue began to displace the Frisian language.
                 Still, Winklers noted, "strong Frisian linguistic elements remained in Amsterdam's common language, that has to this day not disappeared. Colloquial Amsterdams of the 14th and 15th century was yet half Frisian; that of the 16th century is not unlike the half Frisian, half Low German tongue heard in . . . Frisian cities of today. . . . In many respects old Amsterdams is nearer the Frisian than the tongue spoken in today's Frisian cities."
                 "In the latter half of the 17th and in the 18th century, the local colloquial of Amsterdam became more and more watered down and today, in the last half of the 19th century the speech of barely half of (real) Amsterdammers is still Amsterdams."
                 "Primarily," laments Winklers, "it is the fashion of discarding everything original or the inheritance of our ancestors, that has made of the old Amsterdam tongue what is it is today."

though having lived in an english speaking country for over half a century,
a mish-mash mingled with my native tongue appeals to me
so please indulge me in the following


only to the English is it 'The Channel' between their island and the European continent;
their Straits of Dover, het Nederlandse Nauw van Calais
the name Kobenhavn transmits the fact it was a 'merchants-harbor';
'Copenhagen' or 'Kopenhagen' never can
Nederlander, Nederlands, Nederland ~ 'The Netherlands'? De Nederlanden? Netherlandish?
niet 'The Hague' (the English is meaningless) voor Den Haag (des Graven)
maar ook: de USA en niet VS
'Leeuwarden' heet Ljouwert en ligt in Fryslan, Nederland

~ men hoeft geen vreemde woorden uit te vinden voor beschrijvende namen welke dragen een betekenis die iemand (een lezer) dichter brengt tot een plaatselijk wereld-aanzicht bepaald door geografie, kultuur, geschiedenis, en taal

see also the 'lessons of a [Dutch Republic]'                 

de [Nederlandse Republiek]                 
'de ontwikkeling van [Europa] in kaart'                 
en [Friesland]                 
(all in the Dutch language)