The Historical Truth Behind Rollo
Rollo is one of the main characters in the Irish-Candian TV series ‘Vikings’ on History Channel who is played by British actor Clive Standen. Although portrayed in the TV series as the brother of Ragnar Lothbrok, in actuality, according to the Norse sagas, Rollo is completely unrelated to the 9th century legendary Norse chieftain.
While the producers and writers of the serial ‘Vikings’ accurately hint the fact that Rollo will become the Count of Rouen at some point in time, they also exceed (to a considerable extent) the artistic license regarding the depiction of his destiny throughout the three seasons of the series that have been released to date.
According to the same Norse sagas, Rollo was likely born in the mid 9th century (in circa 846) in Møre og Romsdal, modern day western Norway. In spite of the fact that details concerning his ethnic origins remain quite obscure even to this date, it is known from his later social status of earl (jarl) that he was raised in a family of noble warriors. There is an ongoing controversy between Danish and Norwegian historians regarding Rollo’s ethnicity, with both sides claiming he was either Danish or Norwegian.
In most Old Norse texts, he is known under the name Hrólfr. His Norse name was subsequently translated in Latin texts as ‘Rollo’ and is sometimes referred to as ‘Rollon’ or ‘Robert’. In the Icelandic sagas, he is referred to as ‘Ganger Hrólf’.
What remains clearly known about his life is that he had become Count of Rouen, and that he was subsequently baptized under the name Robert. Prior to his arrival in the northwestern part of modern day France (where he would firstly take part in frequent raids along the Seine river), he had journeyed to both Scotland and Ireland where he had led his very first raids as Norse chieftain.
After he had set foot on the northern shores of modern day France, he and his crew raided the nearby settlements on the course of the river Seine and afterwards settled in the proximity of modern day Rouen. After hearing the news of the Norse raids that took place in the region, Charles III the Straightforward, the then king of Western Francia, decided to grant him and his men lands between Rouen and the Seine valley.
These lands have been granted by Charles III of Western Francia to him in exchange for his protection against subsequent incursions on behalf of other Norse war bands. Thus, Rollo became the Count of Rouen and so, far more important than that, the direct ancestor of William the Conqueror. In fact, the region where a certain group of Norsemen permanently settled under Rollo’s leadership became known as Normandy, given the fact the denomination actually stemmed from the Old French word ‘normanz‘, meaning ‘northman’.
Rollo continued to reign over the region of Rouen until at least 927. After his death, his descendants rose to be the Dukes of Normandy. Furthermore, after the conquest of both England and southern Italy at the hands of the Normans during the 11th century, his offspring along with his subjects started to reign in Norman England (the House of Normandy) and the Kingdom of Sicily respectively, from the 10th to the 12th century, as such marking a significant royal legacy in the history of medieval Europe.
Documentation sources and external links:
- Rollo Rognvaldsson “The Dane” Duke of Normandy on www.deloriahurst.com
- Rollo Rognvaldsson Duke of Normandy on www.homepages.rpi.edu
- Medieval lands – Dukes of Normandy www.fmg.ac
- Rollo on www.wikipedia.org (in English)
- The Founding of Normandy on www.durhamworldheritagesite.com
- History of Normandy on www.en.normandie-tourisme.fr
- The Vikings in Normandy: Timeline on www.viking.no (in English)
- Was Viking ruller Rollo Danish or Norwegian? on www.thelocal.no