• Add description, images, menus and links to your mega menu

  • A column with no settings can be used as a spacer

  • Link to your collections, sales and even external links

  • Add up to five columns

  • Rollo: History and Legends of the Viking Chieftain

    December 09, 2019 11 min read

    Rollo : Histoire et légendes du chef viking

    Rollo (c. 860 to 930) was a Viking chieftain who became the founder and first ruler of the Norman region.

    He converted to Christianity as part of an agreement with the Frankish King Charles the Simple (893-923) in 911 (changing his name to Robert) and his story was later embellished by Christian writers who have him presented as a model.

    A savage Viking leader who became a model of Christian virtue and established theright in the country.

    In doing so, however, they largely ignored everything that was known about Rollo's life prior to his involvement with Charles.


    Rollo, a viking like no other

    He is the great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror (first Norman king of England , 1066-1087 CE) and ancestor, or supposed ancestor, of a number of monarchs Europeans whose lineage goes back to his direct descendants. Since 2013 CE, Rollo has been part of the TV series Vikings in which he is portrayed by British actor Clive Standen. Contrary to his description in the series, there is no evidence to suggest that Rollo was the brother of Ragnar Lothbrok , but there are suggestions that Rollo participated in, or even led, the Siege ofParis in 885-886 CE as depicted in the show.

    Whatever he was before he ruled Normandy, Rollo kept his word to Charles and not only did he protect the region from Viking raids, but he restored order to the lands he had previously helped destroy. He is said to have ruled with a Viking code of law based on the concept of personal honor and individual responsibility and reformed the weak and ineffective laws that magistrates struggled to enforce before his reign. He died around 930 CE, probably of natural causes as no mention of his death appears in records from the time to indicate otherwise.


    Rollo, its origins

    Many details of Rollo of Normandy's life are semi-legendary, as scholar Robert Ferguson notes:

    "His biographers, chroniclers and poets such as Rollo, Rollo, Robert, Rodulf, Ruinus, Rosso, Rotlo and Hrolf, Granger Rolf or Rolf le Marcheur, founder around 911 of what became the Duchy of Normandy, are part of it, as Ragnar Hairy-Breeches and Ivar the Boneless , whose notoriety among their contemporaries grew over the years for lack of enough biographical information to turn them from ordinary mortals into dense hybrids of men, myth, and legend. »

    rollo and ragnar

    Ferguson is correct that no one knows where Rollo came from, his lineage, or what he was doing specifically prior to his involvement with Charles the Simple. Even after the foundation of Normandy (from "Northmen" to designate the land of the Vikings), its history is far from certain insofar as it was ornamented by the Norman historian Dudo de Saint-Quentin (10th century AD). era) around 986 in his History of the Normans .

    Dudo claims he was a Danish aristocrat who raided the kingdom of West Francia with his fellow Danes before his contract with Charles and his conversion to Christianity. Dudo also claims he was a friend and comrade of an East Anglia King Alstem whom scholars have identified as the ancient Viking leader Guthrum (d. c. 890 AD) who was defeated at the Battle of Eddington by Alfred the Great in 878, had to convert to Christianity, and in 880 became King of England. Rollo's close relationship with Guthrum argues in favor of his Danish origins since Guthrum is known to have been Danish and, as Ferguson points out, their meeting, as described in Dudo's account, "has the unique sound of a ex-pat who affectionately greets another" (178).

    It has also been claimed that Rollo was from Norway, again of aristocratic lineage, but this claim appears later in the 11th century CE and was popularized in the 12th century in the works of William of Malmesbury (c.1095-c. 1143). Rollo 's grandson, Robert II Archbishop of Rouen (r. 989-1037 CE) was known as Robert the Dane and it is also clear that the majority of Viking Raiders came from Denmark, so a Danish origin is uncertain. only probable but reasonable. There is no clear consensus on this point, however, and recent efforts to prove Rollo's origin have failed.

    In 2016, Norwegian archaeologists obtained permission to open thetomb of Rollo's grandson Richard I (r.942-996) and his great-grandson Richard II (r.996-1026), but discovered that the bodies in the sarcophagus did not belong to either of these men and were, in fact, much older than the time of the Viking attacks. Most likely, according to the archaeologists who opened the tomb, the two bodies were placed in the sarcophagus of anothertomb and those of Richard I and II were moved to an unknown location in the past to protect them from grave robbers. Either way, that doesn't shed any light on Rollo's origins.

    Dudo's account of Rollo 's life, and therefore of his Danish origins, has been repeatedly questioned by scholars who point to the obvious Christianization of the man and his actions. Despite this, Dudo's work is the first to record anything about Rollo (it was commissioned by Richard I) and he had access to Rollo's immediate descendants as well as documents which were later lost.


    Every subsequent writer on Rollo , including William of Malmesbury, drew on Dudo's work on his own account and so, despite later claims of Norwegian descent, it is very likely that Rollo was from Denmark, as so claims Dudo, although many scholars prefer the Norwegian claim of the Icelandic chronicler/historian Snorri Sturlson (1179-1241) as they find confirmation for his claims in the earlier work of Richer of Rheims (10th century). As with many great Viking figures, the legend of Rollo of Normandy eventually eclipsed and then obscured the man's real life.


    rollo falls

    Rollo, Viking Leader

    It is certain, however, that he was a Viking leader who led raids into the Kingdom of West Francia. The chronicler Flodoard (893-966) describes a Viking raid around 876 CE which devastated the region around Rouen and this matches what Dudo says of Rollo's activity in the region at the same time. Viking raids into Francia began in 820 CE and continued steadily, with ships making easy forays down the Seine, until peace was made with Rollo around 911 CE.

    The first raid in 820 CE was unsuccessful because the Vikings had no idea who or what they would encounter once they landed. They were therefore easily defeated by the coast guard and, suffering casualties, retreated. When they returned in 841 CE, under the command of Asgeir, they were much better prepared. They ransacked and burned Rouen and carried off huge amounts of booty. This raid was followed by the siege of Paris by the Norse leader Reginherus in AD 845 which only ended when Charles the Bald (843-877) paid the Vikings off.


    Around 858 CE, the raids on Francia were so lucrative for the Vikings that the famous chieftains Bjorn ironside (allegedly the son of Ragnar Lothbrok and his queen Aslaug) and Hastein (also known as Hasting) attacked the region just before or after their famous raiding expedition on theMediterranean. In 876 CE 100 ships sailed up the Seine to destroy the area and this raid was probably led or co-led by Rollo or if not then at least he seems to have played a significant role in this event. It also seems fairly certain that he played an important role in the subsequent siege of Paris in 885-886 CE.


    By then it was obvious to Charles the Simple that trying to fend off the Viking raiders was futile. The only times West Francia had a positive outcome in these raids was when the king paid the Vikings to leave thequiet towns. As Ferguson notes, "The sometimes well-intentioned policy of appeasement had been practiced by Frankish rulers for nearly a century before the agreement [between Charles and Rollo] and the beneficiaries were Danish".

    Their agreement was therefore nothing new, but simply the continuation of a defense policy that seemed to work for the best. The difference between the 911 CE contract and earlier wins was Rollo's character. Unlike ancient Viking leaders who, after taking their spoils, returned or encouraged others to raid, Rollo took the proposed deal seriously and pledged himself to the king and the people he had. sworn to protect.   

    rollo vikings

    Rollo & Charles the Simple

    According to Dudo, the Franks under Charles the Simple finally understood that there was no way to stop the Viking raids and that they were going to have to either continue to pay the price demanded by a Viking leader or find a new angle. on the old policy. The king's advisers asked him why he wasn't prepared to do more to save his kingdom than he had and, enraged, he basically told them that if they had any better ideas, he would be happy to take them. receive. Dudo writes that the advisers responded:

    “If you trust us, we will give you proper and sound advice for you and for the kingdom, so that the people, too afflicted with need, may rest. Let the land from the river Andelle to the sea be given to the pagan peoples; and furthermore, unite your daughter to Rollo in marriage. It is thus that you will be able to grow powerfully in power against the peoples who resist you; for Rollo was born of the proud blood of kings and chiefs; he is very handsome in body, a willing fighter, clear-sighted in his advice, apparently of decent appearance, who is agreeable to us, a faithful friend to those to whom he gives his word, a formidable enemy to those whom he faces, a vassal steady and agreeable in all things, with an intelligent mind, as we should. (Story of Dudo 2:25)"

    After considering their advice, Charles sent the Archbishop of Rouen to Rollo to present the offer. Rollo consulted his Danish leaders who pointed out that the land, although currently desolate, had a number of redeeming characteristics and that he should accept the proposal.

    Rollo did so, and a date was set for his baptism and marriage to Charles' daughter, Gisla (also called Gisela, c. 911). When the day arrived, Rollo refused to do the baptism, pointing out that the land the king was offering him was in ruins and it would take him a few years to recover his health. The king's advisers advised him to give Rollo whatever he wanted to not only protect the kingdom but also win souls for Christ who would be impressed by a Viking leader embracing Christianity.


    Charles offered Rollo Flanders but Rollo refused because the land was too swampy and the king then offered him Brittany, which borders the land offered in the contract, and Rollo accepted all of this. In order to finalize the deal, and to show the king the proper respect, Rollo was then asked to kiss the king's foot, but, as Dudo recounts:

    "Rollo would not kiss the king's foot and the bishops said, 'Whoever accepts such a gift should go so far as to kiss the king's foot.' But Rollo replied, 'Therefore, prompted by the prayers of the Franks, he ordered one of his warriors to kiss the king's foot.The man immediately seized the king's foot, lifted it to his mouth and planted a kiss on him while he remained standing, and he laid the king flat on his back, so there was great laughter [among the Vikings] and great outcry among the [Franks].”

    The king and his nobles were unfazed by the upheaval, however, and Rollo was baptized, married to Gisla, and took possession of his lands in accordance with the Treaty of Saint Clair sur Epte in 911 CE. He immediately embarked on a policy of reform and renovation, as Dudo describes it:

    “He imposed on the people eternal privileges and laws, authorized and decreed by the will of the chiefs, and he compelled them to dwell together in peace. He raised churches that had been pulled down to the ground, he rebuilt temples that had been destroyed by the visitations of the pagans, and he built new churches and extended the walls and defenses of cities.”

    Rollo improved the lands given to him in every way, but he equally significantly honored the treaty he had made with Charles: there is no longer any record of Viking raids in Francia after 9/11 CE.

    rollo viking normandy

    Rollo from Normandy

    Although Rollo is often cited as the first Duke of Normandy, he never held this title (Richard II, his great-grandson, was the first Duke). He is sometimes referred to as Count Rollo by later historians, but contemporary documents refer to him simply as "Rollo". A land grant of 918 CE, for example, mentions "the lands which we granted to the Normans of the Seine, notably to Rollo and his companions, for the defense of the kingdom" (Ferguson, 183). Whatever title he claims for himself is unknown, but early historians like Dudo and Flodoard call him "Chieftain".

    By all accounts, he ruled his kingdom as a Viking leader, reforming passive laws that merely seemed to suggest acceptable behavior and enforcing a code of law that emphasized personal honor and responsibility. Robbery, assault and murder were punishable by death, but so was fraud, as one anecdote makes clear:

    "Rollo had introduced an edict ordering that farm implements be left outside in the field and not brought home at the end of the day. To give the impression that they did and that they were robbed, it appears a farmer's wife hid her husband's plowing tools Rollo reimbursed the man for his loss and ordered the potential suspects to be tried after a trial When all survived the ordeal, he had his wife beaten until she confessed.And when the husband admitted he knew all along it was her, Rollo was found guilty on two counts of accusation: "The one who says that you are the head of the woman and that you should have punished her. The other, that you were an accomplice to the theft and didn't want to reveal it. "He had them both hanged and finished them off with a cruel death, an action which, according to Dudo, so terrified the local inhabitants that the territory became and remained free of all petty crime for a century afterwards. (Ferguson, 186- 187)"

    In another case, he punished men guilty of dishonoring his reputation and that of his wife by having them executed in the public square of his capital at Rouen. This discouraged others from bearing false witness against their neighbors through gossip and slander.

    These measures appear to have seemed harsh to some bishops in the region who have appealed to the Pope for advice. They were told to view the conversion of Rollo, and the conversion of Gentiles in general, "not as an event, but as a process which would inevitably take time to come to fruition" (Ferguson, 188). Whatever problems the bishops had with Rollo's rule, they could not dispute his success in maintaining public order or the prosperity he brought to the land.

    These measures appear to have seemed harsh to some bishops in the region who have appealed to the Pope for advice. They were told to view the conversion of Rollo, and the conversion of Gentiles in general, "not as an event, but as a process which would inevitably take time to come to fruition" (Ferguson, 188). Whatever problems the bishops had with Rollo's rule, they could not dispute his success in maintaining public order or the prosperity he brought to the land.

    rollo presentation in vikings

    Depiction of Rollo in Vikings

    In the television series Vikings , Rollo is the brother of Ragnar Lothbrok who, after the siege of Paris, left for West Francia to hold a place on the Seine to allow future raids. Having learned from the village seer that he would one day rule over a kingdom, Rollo is easily persuaded by the Franks to betray his brother's trust and accept their offer of land and marriage to Princess Gisla. As mentioned, nothing is known of Rollo's early life, upbringing, parentage, or even place of origin, and there's no evidence that he was related to Ragnar Lothbrok. The historical Gisla was a very young girl at the time of her engagement to Rollo and thus her character in the series is fictionalized.

    The only events depicted in the television series that relate to the historical Rollo are those relating to the founding of Normandy and the defense of the region, including, apparently, his mastery of the language. Rollo was also said to have been quite tall and broad-shouldered (as depicted in the show) and given the epithet "the walker" because he preferred to walk on horseback (or else was too heavy for a horse to carry).

    Rollo retired around 927 CE and was succeeded by his son William Longsword (927-942), who died shortly afterwards around 930. William Longsword's illegitimate son, Richard I (also known as Richard the Intrepid ) ascended the throne around the age of ten, after the death of his father. Richard I honored the policies of his father and grandfather and this policy would be continued by Richard II.

    The reigns of his successors, Richard III (1026-1027 CE) and Robert I (1027-1035 CE) were marked by instability andcivil war which ended with the reign of William I (William the Conqueror), Duke of Normandy 1035-1087 and King of England between 1066-1087. ThereWilliam's conquest of England radically changed not only British society, but European culture as a whole, and its policies echo those put in place earlier by Rollo of Normandy.

    Leave a comment

    Comments will be approved before showing up.