Later known as Robert
Viking leader in northern France and founder of Normandy
Born c 885 died 928/933

The traditional Rollo

In the year 884 a Viking raiding party sailed up the Seine and captured Rouen and the following year laid siege to Paris. The siege lasted until early 886 and was only raised when the French king Charles the Fat paid them 700 pounds of silver to go away. Almost a generation later another Viking force challenged the French and were defeated at the Battle of Chartres in 911.

In the early eleventh century Dudo of Saint-Quentin wrote a history of the Normans1. In this work Dudo claimed that there were two brothers Rollo and Gurim, who were the sons of a Viking chieftain from "Dacia" (that is Denmark), and that after the death of their father, the king of Denmark killed Gurim and drove Rollo out. Rollo eventually came south to France and was the Viking leader at the battle of Chartres and subsequently agreed the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte with Charles Simplex (who had succeeded Charles the Fat as king) and was subsequently baptised as a Christian and assumed the name of Robert.

Much of what Dudo of Saint-Quentin wrote concerning Rollo was fictitious and simply drawn from Norse accounts of completely different people. It is probable that Rollo was not present at the battle of Chartres, where the Viking insurgents were in any case defeated by the French, and there is no contemporary evidence for any treaty signed at Saint-Clair-sur-Epte.

In any event not everyone agreed that Rollo was Danish; William of Malmesbury stated that he was Norwegian and the Historia Gruffudd vab Kenan2 claimed that he was 'Rodulf' the brother of Haraldr Hárfagri reputed founder of Norway.3

The Norse Sagas such as the the Orkneyinga Saga the Heimskringla and theLandnámabók also present a different tradition and mention a Hrólfr the Ganger4, a son of Rognvaldr, jarl of Møre, and brother of Torf-Einarr the Viking Jarl of Orkney and claim that this Hrólfr was non other than Rollo the founder of Normandy.

There has been debate about the validity of this association in the Sagas between Rollo and Hrólfr not least because 'Rollo' and 'Hrólfr' appear to be different names, (Hrólfr would be most obviously latinised as 'Rodulfus' or 'Rodulf' rather than 'Rollo') giving rise to the suspicion that the association was simply invented by the saga writers to give the earls of Orkney some famous relatives.

The historical Rollo

The historical evidence for Rollo and the Viking settlement of what was later known as Normandy amounts to;

  • a charter of king Charles Simplex in 918 which makes reference to a grant of land to an abbey "except for the part that we have given to the Northmen of the Seine, namely to Rollo and his companions."
  • references by the contemprary historian Flodoard of Reims who in partiuclar wrote that: "After the war that Count Robert waged against the Northmen at Chartres, certain maritime pagi, along with the city of Rouen (which they had nearly destroyed) and other pagi which were subjected to it, were conceded to them, and they agreed to take up the faith of Christ.
  • the record that the archbishop of Rouen wrote to the archbishop of Reims asking for advice regarding what to do about his problem with lapsed pagan converts

From which it can be concluded that there was unquestionably a Viking warlord whom the French called Rollo who was granted Rouen and its immediate environs sometime on or after the year 911, and that this territory was settled by a group of at least nominally Christian Scandinavians. The intention was undoubtedly that Rollo would seek to defend Rouen from attacks by other Viking raiders and therefore prevent any further raids along the Seine valley towards Paris itself.

This in itself was not unusual for the time, the northern coast of France was plagued by Viking raids and the reaction of the French kings was often to grant land to the insurgents in the confident belief that the grant was only temporary, and that they would later recover control. Rollo's singular achievement seems to have been to hold onto what he had been given and expand his control over neighbouring territories.

In this he was no doubt assisted by the disputes that arose over the French crown in the years after the battle of Chartres with Charles Simplex being driven out and eventually imprisoned and followed by by a sucession of relatively insecure kings named Robert and Ralph. Rollo appears to have been granted or at least given permission to aquire the lands of Maine and the Bessin and generally to have been used as some sort of agent or ally of whoever was trying to run France against other Viking insurgents.

Despite the fact that Rollo was later credited as being the first Duke of Normandy it is unlikely that there was a Duchy of Normandy at that time, and he was most likely simply the Count of Rouen. What he did do was to establish the nucleus of a Viking principality in northern France that was to give rise to a hybrid Frankish-Viking line of Norman rulers who later conquered England, southern Italy and sundry parts of the Holy Land.

Rollo himself died sometime between the years 928 and 933, as by 933 his son William Longsword was mentioned as leading the Normans in France, and was buried at the chapel of St. Romanus at Rouen.


Near the cathedral in Rouen stands a stone statue of Rollo sculpted in 1863 by Arsene Letellier and erected in 1865. In the year 1911 during the Norman Millennium celebrations it was decided to create two bronze copies of this statue. One was sent to Alesund in Norway, supposedly Rollo's birthplace and the other to the town of Fargo, North Dakota for some particular reason.


NOTES

1 The De moribus et actis primorum Normanniae ducum generally referred to as Dudo of Saint-Quentin's History of the Normans.

2Historia Gruffudd vab Kenan the extant Welsh translation of an earlier Latin life of the Welsh king of Gwynedd Gruffudd ap Cynan, who was himself part Viking through his mother.

3 Rollo very probably was Norwegian rather than Danish as his daughter was given what is apparently the unambiguously Norwegian name of Gerloc, but it is unlikely that he was the brother of Haraldr Hárfagri.

4 'the Ganger' that is the Walker because he was apparently to big for a horse to carry and was therefore forced to walk.


SOURCES

The entry for Rollo of Normandy at The Henry Project at http://sbaldw.home.mindspring.com/hproject/prov/rollo000.htm

Rollo, Count of Rouen at http://www.mondes-normands.caen.fr/angleterre/histoires/1/histoireNorm1_3.htm

The article by Robert Helmerichs Rollo as Historical Figure Hrólfr.com the Rollo of Normandy homepage at http://www.mm.com/user/rob/Rollo/

The article by Robert Helmerichs The Rollonid Principality http://orb.rhodes.edu/encyclop/high/Normandy/Normhist/N10th2-1.html

For information on the Rollo statue see David Bouschor, Dedication of Rollo statue in Fargo, ND 1912 at http://www.clansinclairusa.org/history/personalities/rollotheviking2.html

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