Rollo the Walker and Relatives
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THE HISTORY of the Viking Age contains some gruesome reading. Icelandic sagas tell of a Viking hulk called Rolv Ganger (Rolv Walker), aka Rollo or Rollon. He was too big for small horses to carry him, a saga tells. Viking horses may not have been large.
Rolv killed many people and became an ancestor of the British monarchy, and he had relatives . . . The main content that follows is from the Icelandic sagas.
This is a basic "recipe" of success in later Scandianavian folktales, where the hero conquers some and opposes others, and ends up reigning. In other words, the life of Rollo conforms well to several types of plot often expressed in Scandinavian folktales, such as Strong John. The success tale of Rollo contains a fair amount of fairy tale motifs, but unlike Scandinavian folktales - collected in the 1800s and into the early 1900s for most part - the Rollo story is largely historical fact, according to the Icelander Snorre Sturlason in Heimskringla, Book 3, section 24; Book 7, section 19, and other Icelandic sagas from medieval times, as the Orkneyingers' Saga, section 4.
Was Rollon really Norwegian? A Snapshot
An announced project in search of the origin of Rollon by gene technology
"History has many cunning passages". - T. S. Eliot
The Medieval Chronicle of the Kings of Norway (online) contain sagas that teem with descriptions of how Norwegians flocked abroad as pillaging murderers and traders. We also find suggestive mentions on how to survive and accommodate in barbarian settings. Norse sagas inculcate certain norms, and some of them suit persons still. [Nok]
The wicked won . . . It was an evil age. "A time of . . . trolls, gnomes and goblins". - Per Simonnæs, preface. [Noko]
Once King Harald Harfager moved out with his army from Trondheim and went southwards to More. Hunthiof was the king who ruled over the district of More. Solve Klove was his son, and both were great warriors. There was a great battle. King Harald won (AD 867?). (10)
Two kings were slain, but Solve escaped by flight; and King Harald laid both districts under his power. Ragnvald Earl of More, a son of Eystein Glumra, had the summer before become one of Harald's men; and the king set him as chief over these two districts, North More and Raumsdal. Ragnvald was propped up with men of might and bondes and called Ragnvald the Mighty, or the Wise; and people said both names suited him well. This was the father of Rollon according to the Icelander Snorre who flourished in the first half of the 1200s. (10)
The following spring (AD 868?) King Harald raised a great force and gave out that he would proceed to South More. Solve Klove had passed the winter in his ships of war, plundering in North More, and had killed many of King Harald's men; pillaging some places, burning others, and making great ravage. But sometimes during the winter Solve had been with his friend King Arnvid in South More. Now he gathered people, and was strong in men-at-arms; for many thought they had to take vengeance of King Harald. Solve said:
"it is now clear that we all have to rise against King Harald, for we have strength enough; for becoming his servants, that is no condition for us, who are not less noble than Harald."
King Harald won, but Solve escaped. Solve became afterwards a great sea-king. He often did great damage in King Harald's dominions. They were many around the northern sea. (11)
Harald subdued South More; but Vemund, King Audbjorn's brother, still had Firdafylke. It was now late in harvest, and King Harald's men gave him the counsel not to proceed south-wards round Stad. the weather-beaten West Cape of Norway. Then King Harald set Earl Ragnvald over South and North More and also Raumsdal, and he had many people about him. The same winter (AD 869) Ragnvald went over Eid, and southwards to the Fjord district. There he heard news of King Vemund, and came by night to a place called Naustdal, where King Vemund was living in guest-quarters.
Earl Ragnvald surrounded the house in which they were quartered, and burnt the king in it, together with ninety men. The berserk Berdlukare came to Earl Ragnvald with a complete armed long-ship and joined forces, and they both returned to More. The earl took all the ships Vemund had, and all the goods he could get hold of. (12)
A LITTLE NOTE:
Very severe discontent with the brutal tyranny of King Harald led many to settle elsewhere too - not only in distant parts of Norway, but also the out-countries of Iceland and the Faroe Isles. They were discovered and peopled - in part by Celtic women, as genetic studies of Icelanders document.
The Northmen had also a great resort to Hjaltland (Shetland Isles) and many men left Norway, flying the country on account of King Harald, and went on Viking cruises into the West sea. In winter they were in the Orkney Islands and Hebrides; but marauded in summer in Norway, and did great damage.
Many were also the mighty men who took service under King Harald and became his flock in the land with him. (20)
KING HARALD heard that the Vikings who were in the West sea in winter, plundered far and wide in the middle part of Norway; and therefore every summer he made an expedition to search the isles and out-skerries on the coast. (Skerries are uninhabited dry or halt-tide rocks of a coast.) Later he sailed with his fleet right out into the West sea. He came to Hjaltland (Shetland), and he slew all the Vikings who could not save themselves by flight. Then to the Orkney Islands, and cleared them all of Vikings. After that he proceeded to the Sudreys (Hebrides).
Many a battle was fought, and King Harald was always victorious. He then plundered far and wide in Scotland itself, and had a battle there. When he was come westward as far as the Isle of Man, the report of his exploits on the land had gone before him; for all the inhabitants had fled over to Scotland, and the island was left entirely bare.
In this war fell Ivar, a son of Ragnvald, Earl of More; and King Harald gave Ragnvald, as a compensation for the loss, the Orkney and Shetland isles.
Ragnvald immediately gave both these countries to his brother Sigurd, he got the earldom of them. Thorstein the Red, a son of Olav the White and of Aud the Wealthy, entered into partnership with him; and after plundering in Scotland, they subdued Caithness and Sutherland, as far as Ekkjalsbakke. Earl Sigurd killed Melbridge Tooth, a Scotch earl. Many Vikings set themselves down then in those countries.
After King Harald had subdued the whole land, he was one day at a feast in More. Then King Harald went into a bath, and had his hair dressed. Earl Ragnvald now cut his hair. They were best friends. Earl Ragnvald gave him the distinguishing name - Harald Harfager (i.e., fair hair); and all who saw him agreed he had the most beautiful and abundant head of hair. (23)
EARL RAGNVALD was King Harald's dearest friend, and the king had the greatest regard for him. He was married to Hild, a daughter of Rolf Nefia, and their sons were Rolf and Thorer. Earl Ragnvald had also three sons by concubines, - the one called Hallad, the second Einar, the third Hrollaug; and all three were grown men when their brothers born in marriage were still children. Rolf became a great Viking, and was of so stout a growth that no horse could carry him. Wherever he went he must go on foot; and therefore he was called Rolf Ganger. (Later Rollon)
He plundered much in the East sea. One summer, as he was coming from the eastward on a Viking's expedition to the coast of Viken, he landed there and made a cattle foray. As King Harald happened, just at that time, to be in Viken, he heard of it, and was in a great rage; for he had now forbid the plundering within the bounds of the country. The king assembled a Thing, and had Rolf declared an outlaw over all Norway.
When Rolf's mother heard of it she hastened to the king, and entreated peace for Rolf; but the king was so enraged that here entreaty was of no avail. Then she spoke up:
"Do you think, King Harald, in your anger,
Rolf Ganger went afterwards over sea to the West to the Hebrides, or Sudreys; and at last farther west to Valland, where he plundered and subdued for himself a great earldom, which he peopled with Northmen, from which that land is called Normandy.
Rolf Ganger's son was William, father to Richard, and grandfather to another Richard, who was the father of Robert Longspear, and grandfather of William the Bastard, from whom all the following English kings are descended. From Rolf Ganger also are descended the earls in Normandy. (24)
From the ◦Landnama Book [Lb]:
Rögnvald, Earl of Mæri, son of Eystein Glumra, the son of Ivar, an Earl of the Upplendings, the son of Halfdan the Old, had for wife Ragnhild, the daughter of Hrolf the Beaked; their son was Ivar, who fell in the Hebrides, fighting with King Harald Fairhair. Another son was Gaungu-Hrolf who conquered Normandy; from him are descended the Earls of Rouen and the Kings of England. (Part 4, ch. 7)
"NORMANDY was created by the three consecutive grants of 911, 924 and 933". [Tnn 20] Especially in Lower Normandy the Scandinavian influences and custom remained rather strong. [Cf. Tnn 21 and 41n] Normandy was in part colonised. Rollo and his successors, as rulers of Normandy, obtained the title of count and valuable rights from before, along with widespread domains. [Cf. Tnn 22]
Their buildings seem to document remarkable strength or solidity. The churches were much like bastions. But the duke of Rouen controlled the whole church and his bishops owed him military service for their lands - [Cf. Tnn 32]
"From (their) Scandinavian inheritance the Normans derived their sea-faring, much of their trade and commercial prosperity which they shared with the Nordic world, their love of adventure, their wanderlust which led to the great period of Norman emigration in the eleventh century, their dynamic energy, and above all perhaps, their powers of assimila
(In AD 911) Charles the Simple, king of the west Franks, granted to a band of Vikings, operating in the Seine valley under Rollo their leader, territory corresponding to Upper or Easter Normandy. [Tnn 20] To this was subsequently added by two further grants, first the district of Bayeux, and the districts of Exmes and Seez in 924, and second the districts of Coutances and Avranches in 933 in the time of William Longsword, son and successor of Rollo. [Tnn 20] (2)
And from the French Histoire de la Normandie (1862) we find, in the fourth chapter, how Rollo, son of the Norwegian Rognevald, was made an outlaw by the Norwegian tyrant king Harald Harfager. He arrived at Rouen with his companions. The inhabitants spontaneously submitted to the giant. King Charles at first wanted to fight the Viking, but dropped it. Instead they bargained - Rollo won, he got land and permanent welcome. [Hnam 80 pp]
The historian R. Brown puts the matter into relief: "Normans were pagans when they came (and they continued to come long after 911)." [Tnn 30] But their leader, the Viking Rollo, said yes to getting ◦baptised, and many others followed. More surprisingly, "Rollo . . . is (also - later) said to have wanted to become a monk (at Jumieges). That could have been due to a genuine flame deep inside. [Cf. Tnn 26]
In short time the Normans got the back-up of their astute castles and strongholds, helped themselves to most of it - often they were served by ditches and stockades too. [Cf. Tnn 44-5]
Their treaty at St. Claire-sur-Epte became a fact, and Rollo got baptised and married Gisele.
[It is thought that Rollo showed exceptional skills in navigation, warfare, leadership, and administration. He abdicated to his son Guillame (William) and died in a monastery in 933. Among his people he was for hundreds of years the personification of justice and good government under law. Others, who thought differently, found him cruel and arrogant.]
His son Guillame Longue-Epee (William Longsword) succeeded him. The third duke was Richard sans Peur (the Fearless), and there were many intrigues and hard fights. This Richard died and was succeeded by Richard 2 who massacred Saxons in England at war. The French king Robert became the ally of Richard 2. After his death, Richard 3 succeeded him and died prematurely. Robert le Diable succeeded him and, before he died in Terre-Sainte, became the father of Guillame le Conquerant: William the Conqueror. [Hnam 80 pp]
WE FIND the family tree of William the Conqueror in the book of the historian R. Brown. It looks like this:
Rollo's great-granddaughter, Emma married two kings of England, Æhelred the Unready and Knut who was also king of Norway and Denmark. Her son, Edward the Confessor, from the first marriage, was King of England from 1042-1066.
A few more dukes of Normandy may be added for the sake of survey of that dynasty line that ruled over Normandy and its English (British) domain:
"It was a direct result of the Viking onslaught upon Western Europe . . . tidy and precise." [Tnn 20]
"The Norman monasteries were, by and large, distinguished . . . new . . . vibrant with . . . careless rapture of spiritual endeavour". The (Normans) became great spirituals - intensely aristocratic. [Tnn 28, 30]
Master builders in a very short time, (Normans) restored and built on monasticism in outstanding degrees. [Tnn 25-6]
Normans from the next century left grand architectural monuments, and some are still there, more or less intact. The Tower of London is a very Norman building, for example. King William had much of it built. [Cf. Tnn 25 pp]
"The tower at Rouen was built by Richard 1 (943-96) and is glimpsed from time to time in the reign of his successor and thereafter . . .. It may have been the prototype for the great Norman towers at Colchester and London. [Tnn 44n] (4)
Normans went on and built very monastic churches at such places as Jumieges [one still stands there] and lots of other places. "They added their cathedrals at Rouen, Bayeux [etc.] Many of these major works of Norman Romanesque architecture survive in whole or part". [Tnn 31-2]
Formerly hostile Scandinavians . . . became converted [in that way]. [Tnn 13]
"SOME (including Norman clergy) were patrons of the arts and scholarship . . . and almost all of them were mighty builders." [Tnn 31]
EARL RAGNVALD in More heard of the death of his brother Earl Sigurd, and that the Vikings were in possession of the country. He sent his son Hallad westward, who took the title of earl to begin with, and had many men-at-arms with him. But the Vikings cruised about the isles plundering the headlands, and committing depredations on the coast. Then Earl Hallad grew tired of the business, resigned his earldom, and afterwards returned eastward into Norway.
When Earl Ragnvald heard of this he was ill pleased, and said his Hallad was very unlike their ancestors.
Then said his other son, Einar, one more brother of Rolf Ganger, "I have enjoyed but little honour among you, I'll go west to the islands. You will never see me again."
Earl Ragnvald replied he would be glad if he never came back; "For there is little hope," he said, "that you will ever be an honour to your friends."
Einar got a vessel and sailed into the West sea at autumn. When he came to the Orkney Isles, two Vikings were in his way with two vessels. He attacked them instantly and slew the Vikings and their boatmen. He was called Torfeinar, he cut peat for fuel where there was no firewood, as in Orkneys.
He afterwards was earl over the islands, a mighty man, very sharp-sighted. (27)
WHEN King Harald was forty, two of his sons set off one spring with a great force, and came suddenly on Earl Ragnvald, earl of More, and surrounded the house [no castle] in which he was, and burnt him and sixty men in it.
When King Harald heard this he set out with a great force against one son, who had no other way left but to surrender, and he was sent to Agder.
King Harald then set Earl Ragnvald's son Thorer over More, and gave him his daughter Alof, called Arbot, in marriage. Earl Thorer, called the Silent, got the same territory his father Earl Ragnvald had possessed. (30)
HALFDAN, the other son who had murdered Earl Ragnvald, came unexpectedly to Orkney where Rolf Ganger's brother, Earl Einar, was in charge. Einar fled at once; but came back soon after about autumn, unnoticed. They met and after a short battle Halfdan fled the same night. As soon as it was light, Einar and his men searched the whole island and killed every man they could lay hold of.
Then Einar said, "What is that I see on the isle of Rinansey? A man or a bird? Sometimes it raises itself up, and sometimes lies down again." They went to it, and found it was Halfdan Haleg, and took him prisoner. Earl Einar sang this verse the evening before he went into this battle:
"Einar won't spare revenge
After that Earl Einar went up to Halfdan and struck his sword through his back into his belly, dividing his ribs from the backbone down to his loins, and tearing out his lungs. Yes, Halfdan died from that one. Einar then sang:
"For Ragnvald's death my sword is red:
Then Earl Einar took possession of the Orkney Isles as before. Now when these tidings came to Norway, Halfdan's brothers took it much to heart, and Einar heard of it. He sang:
"Before they lay Earl Einar low,
KING HARALD now ordered a levy, and gathered a great force. He proceeded westward to Orkney with it; and when Earl Einar heard that he was come, he fled over to Caithness. He made the following verses:
But men and messages passed between the king and the earl, and at last it came to a conference; and when they met the earl submitted the case altogether to the king's decision, and the king condemned the earl Einar and the Orkney people to pay a fine of sixty marks (15 kg) of gold. Earl Einar paid the whole fine to the king, who returned to Norway. The earls for a long time afterwards possessed all the udal lands in Orkney. (32)
Source: [Nbl 350-53]Rollo was the son of Earl Ragnvald of More, say Norse sagas. Two of his brothers were Ivar and Tore. Three more were Hallad, Einar and Rollaug. Hallad and Einar in due time became earls of the Orkneys, each in his turn. [eg, Harald Fairhair's Saga]
After being made an outcast by the tyrant king Harald Harfager, Rolf voyaged to the western isles. Obviously he could count on support from relatives. The earl of the Orkneys was his paternal uncle, succeeded by that uncle's son, that is, his cousin, and later again by his own brothers Hallad and Einar.
The old sources hold that Rolv took his residence in certain tracts of what today is the domain of Scotland. The Landnamaboka mentions Rolv got a daughter, Kathleen:
Helgi . . . harried Scotland, and took thence captives, Midbjorg, the daughter of Bjolan the King, and Kadlin, the daughter of Gaungu Hrolf or Rolf the Ganger; he married her. (Part 2, ch. 11).
Before Helgi had harried and married, Rolv of the Sagas had travelled from Scotland and the isles near it, to Valland, near the English Channel. The Vikings' Valland consisted of the southern Netherlands, Belgium and parts of Normandy, roughly said. He took over Normandy in three steps. The Sagas identify him with the Rollo that the Frank king Charles the Simple bestowed it on.
Spread over the plentiful space from the Danube to the neighborhood of the Scythian Black Sea, do there inhabit fierce and barbarous nations, which are said to have burst forth in manifold variety like a swarm of bees from a honeycomb or a sword from a sheath, as is the barbarian custom, from the island of Scania, surrounded in different directions by the ocean. For indeed there is there a tract for the very many people of Alania, and the extremely well-supplied region of Dacia, and the very extensive passage of Greece. Dacia is the middle-most of these. Protected by very high alps in the manner of a crown and after the fashion of a city. - [From chapter 2, second paragraph in Gesta Normannorum by the chronicler Dudo ca. 1015]
Three things stand out from Dudo's obscure and glorifying marvel. They are:
To add to Dudo's "back-up of Denmark":
The Dacians are called by their own people Greeks or Danes, and they boast that they are descended from Antenor. He entered with his followers the Illyrian borders, having slipped away from the midst of the Achaeans who pillaged Troy. [Gesta Normannorum, Chapter 2, paragraph 5]
Dudo's work has the nature of a romance, and has been regarded as untrustworthy on this ground by such competent critics as Ernst Dümmler and Georg Waitz. The Danish Johannes Steenstrup, on the other hand, while admitting the legendary element in the work, regards the book as of considerable value for the history of the Normans. Further, Leah Shopkow has more recently argued that Carolingian writing, particularly two saints' lives, the ninth-century Vita S. Germani by Heiric of Auxerre and the early tenth-century Vita S. Lamberti by Stephen of Liége, provided models for Dudo's work. [Wikipedia, s.v., "Dudo of Saint-Quentin"]
There are differences of opinion. The Danish scholar Johannes Steenstrup wrote in favour of Dudo's version back in 1876. But it is not very clear what that version is or implies. For judged from Dudo, Dacia is not Denmark [Norsd 30, 31] - the descriptions of the terrain and the geographic position do not fit.
Most historians have settled on the presentation of the Icelandic sagas. That position is held by many Icelandic, French, British and Norwegian historians. They have supported the Sagas of Icelandic origin.
Some Danes love to think that Rollo was Danish, without much valuable evidence that it was so. There is not a single mention of Rollo in the classical Danish sources, and it is often pointed out that a huge, vastly successful marauder from Scandinavia at that time would not go unmentioned in the country he came from - such a "prominent man". The Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus from about 1200, has no mention of any Danish Rollo in ◦The Danish History. But there is mention of Gange-Rolf in several Icelandic sagas, and the Orkneyingar Saga, and in the Chronicle of the Kings of Norway.
Vikings launched many attacks in France and elsewhere in Europe in times long gone. For example, a vast Viking army attacked Paris in 885. It was a huge army equipped for bombarding and breaking down huge walls - the king came to the aid and bought Paris back. [Noko 40] (6)
Sagas tell that Rollo the Walker took part in similar activities, and that this Hrolf (Rolv, Rollo) was the son of the Viking Ragnvald from Trondelag, a marauder that was granted the title Earl of More for helping Harald Fairhair. Sagas tell that Ragnvald's son Rolv was tall and heavy, and that the region he left when he sailed away as a Norse outlaw, was More.
Many Danes will disagree with many Icelandic sagas on the basis of a Norman chronicler's obscure tales about a tract he calls "Dacia," with key descriptions that do not fit the Danish geography at all, and despite the fact that the medieval Danish History of Saxo has no mention of the notable Rollo. [Noko 39]
Norwegian and other historians on the other hand have not swerved from the view that the Viking Rollo was Rolv, the son of Earl Ragnvald of More in Norway. And as it also shows up, Danes have changed their views. In short:
This pinpointing more than suggests that political interests may interfere with and/or colour versions and views.
Be that as it may, after Rollo and his companions settled in Normandy, they most likely kept the ties with their kin, according to Norse customs at the time. Rolv Ganger converted and wed according to Frank fashion and settled in Rouen. Next he granted many of his Viking companions ample landed property. It is likely that kin from up north came to join them in such a fine country as well. It was feasible to go north and fetch one's women and children and kin to the new land, for the soil was fit, there was much fish, and as members of the ruling class they were much safer or freer than those who submitted to the tyranny of Harald Harfager and his family in Norway and its colonies in several western islands. [Cf. Noko 43]
Normans built fortresses on strategic places, and many rustic castles were to come along with them in a short time. All able men had to serve in the Norman military forces. And the formerly ruined, marauded region was turned into one of the foremost in France, and Rouen became the second largest city in France, and Rolv became the originator of the Norman duchy. [Noko 39, 45-46]
In 1911, during the Norman Millennium celebrations, the city of Rouen in Normandy decided to create two copies of its Rollo statue. One replica was sent as a gift to Rollo's putative birthplace somewhere around Ålesund, Norway. The earls of Moere were headquartered somewhere nearby Ålesund, it is estimated.
The other replica went to Fargo in North Dakota. The two bronze statues were copied from an original stone statue sculpted in 1863 by Arsene Letellier, erected in Rouen in 1865.
In Fargo, the dedication ceremony in 1912 included a speaker from the French embassy in Washington. A proclamation by the mayor of Rouen, bound in leather with gold seal of the city, gold leaf and other ornamentation, read in part,
"Since these ancient times, these fierce warriors have populated and have become a hard-working people whose importance is shown by the powerful association of the Sons of Norway which has preserved the cult of memory, and which participated last year in the celebrations in the ancient Duchy of Normandy."
The celebrations were concluded with a parade down Broadway. The Rollo statue was relocated in the 1980s and now stands in a little park.
And the other copy of the now war-damaged statue in Rouen is in a small park in Aalesund, Norway. [Noko 39, 48, 40] Norse Viking Rollo, Rolf Ganger, Norman history
Ebu: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2008 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2008.
Hnam: Barthelemy, Ch.: Histoire de la Normandie ancienne et moderne. Mame. Tours, 1862.
Bnsi: Marongiu, Antonio: Byzantine, Norman, Swabian and later Institutions in Southern Italy. Collected Studies. Variolum Reprints, London, 1972.
Hee: Woodward, E.: A History of England. University Paperback/Methuen. London, 1965.
Lb: Ellwood, T., tr. The Book of the Settlement of Iceland (The Landnama-Book) . Kendal: T. Wilson, 1898. On-line.
Norsd: Steenstrup, Johannes: Normannerne, bd 1. Klein. København, 1876.
Noko: Simonnæs, Per: Normannerne kommer. Grøndahl Dreyer. Oslo, 1994.
Nok: Hødnebø, Finn, and Magerøy, Hallvard eds: Norges kongesagaer. Vols 1-4. Gyldendal. Oslo, 1979.
Tnn: Brown, R.: The Normans and the Norman Conquest. Constable. London, 1969.
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