– Dispenser of Freedom –
There are competing theories on the etymology of the name (Mercury) Friausius. The theories which have shown the most promise all point to the root word being derived from the Proto-Germanic * frijaz (free), while the *ausius secondary root leads to more speculation. Through various sound change processes it has been proposed that the PGmc word for “neck” or “throat”, that is *halsaz, makes most sense. When combined and converted into a more suitable Old Frankish form we get Frîhals meaning “freedom, liberty, unfettered”.
It should be noted that due to the damage of the inscription’s first two letters, it has been suggested that Eriausius is the intended form but there is less support for this argument.
Inscription at Ubbergen:
[D]EO / MERCURI / FRIAVSIO / [S]IMPLICIUS / INGENVS / V(OTUM) S(OLVIT) L(IBENS) M(ERITO)
“To the god Mercurius Friausius, Simplicius Ingenus willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow”
In the mid-20th century three votive stones were fished out of the Meuse River near Nijmegen, one with the inscription above. Unfortunately there is not much to go on as for interpretations of the attributes and functions of the god other than the connection to Mercury and the name of the dedicator. According to research by the Germanic pagan author Gunivortus Goos (GardenStone), the name of the dedicator gives us a clue as to his place in then Gallo-Roman society. If we suppose that the cognomen “Ingenus” is relative to his station then it would indicate that he is “freeborn”.
The connection to Mercury among Gallo-German gods can be manifold and beyond the scope of this page in general. That said, if we take the description of Mercury as provided by Caesar, among the Gauls, he is said to be “inventor of all crafts” as well as “guide to travelers”. He is also known to invoke images of mercantilism, where he is demonstrated holding a bag of money in provincial iconography. We may develop the theory that when these Merurian attributes are combined with the epithet *Frîhals, the interpretation is nearest to “Dispenser/Dealer of Freedom”.
If we consider that in Merovingian society freedom was often hard won, be it at a cost in blood or money, it did not come easy. Perhaps Ingenus’ freedom was won through obedient service or he was able to buy-out his own freedom? Perhaps it was his parents who did so for him, his father gaining citizenship under Antonine rules after a successful military career? We may never know.
In TFA, the god (Mercurius) Frîhals is viewed as a traveling merchant who deals in the freedom of people(s)… almost as a commodity. In elder Frankish days, to be a free-person was a precarious affair. Deals, kinship, military service… all things were biding one one’s freedom to act in society. Another facet that falls into the realm of this divinity is that of the wergild (or leodis in the Frankish record). The wergild/leodis was determined by one’s social station, where closeness to the king and overall mobility was worth more than tenant farming. One’s mobility, whether physical or societal was predicated on how free one truly was. We also have formularies which deal in the manumission of slaves, one such title describing how a slave may be freed by “tossing a denarius at him” in the presence of others.
In our modern age, he may be called upon to provide aid in various matters relating to degrees of familial and personal liberality such as when wanting to progress in one’s career. Many causes for worship can be intuited from the relationship between wealth and freedom and it is certain that we as modern Franks can find such reasons to provided Frîhals with cultus.