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The Roland of legend blowing his horn Oliphaunt to summon the emperor to his aid Roland (Frankish: Hruodland) (died 14 August 778) was a Frankish military leader under Charlemagne who became one of the principal figures in the literary cycle known as the Matter of France. Historically, Roland was military governor of the Breton March, with responsibility for defending the frontier of Francia against the Bretons. His only historical attestation is in Einhard's Vita Karoli Magni, which describes him as Hruodlandus Brittannici limitis praefectus ("Roland, prefect of the limits of Brittany") when narrating his death at the Battle of Roncesvalles, when the rearguard, under his command, and the baggage train of a Frankish army was beset by rebellious Basques.[1]

Roland's death during retreat from the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in Iberia was transmogrified in later medieval and Renaissance literature. He became the chief paladin of the emperor Charlemagne and a central figure in the legendary material surrounding him, collectively known as the Matter of France. The first and most famous of these epic treatments was the Old French Chanson de Roland of the eleventh century. Two masterpieces of Italian Renaissance poetry, the Orlando innamorato and Orlando furioso, are even further detached from history than the earlier Chansons. Roland is poetically associated with his sword Durendal, his horse Veillantif, and his horn Oliphaunt.



There exists only one historical mention of a Frankish Roland, found in the section of Vita Karoli Magni on the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, written by Charlemagne's courtier and biographer Einhard. The passage, which appears in Chapter 9, mentions that Hroudlandus (a Latinization of the Frankish Hroudland) was among those killed in the battle:

Roland was evidently the first official appointed to direct Frankish policy in Breton affairs, as local Franks under the Merovingian dynasty had not previously pursued any specific relationship with the Bretons. Their frontier castle districts such as Vitr , Ille-et-Vilaine) south of Mont Saint-Michel are now divided between Normandy and Brittany. The distinctive culture of this region preserves the present-day Gallo language and legends of local heroes such as Roland. Roland's successor in Brittania Nova was Guy of Nantes, who like Roland, was unable to exert Frankish expansion over Brittany and merely sustained a Breton presence in the Carolingian Empire.

According to legend, Roland was laid to rest in the basilica at Blaye, near Bordeaux, on the site of the citadel.


First page of the Chanson de Roland in the Oxford Manuscript Roland was a popular legendary figure in medieval Europe. Over the next several centuries, Roland became a "pop icon" in medieval minstrel culture. According to many legends, he was a nephew of Charlemagne (whether or not this was true is unknown), and turned his life into an epic tale of the noble Christian killed by Islamic forces, which forms part of the medieval Matter of France.

The tale of Roland's death is retold in the eleventh century poem The Song of Roland, where he is equipped with the Olifant (a signalling horn) and an unbreakable sword, enchanted by various Christian relics, named Durendal. The Song contains a highly romanticized and embellished account of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and Roland's death, setting the tone for later fantastical depiction of Charlemagne's court. It was adapted and modified throughout the Middle Ages, including an influential Latin prose version Historia Caroli Magni (also known as the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle), which also includes Roland's battle with a Saracen giant named Ferracutus who is only vulnerable at his navel (the story was later adapted in the anonymous Franco-Venetian epic L'Entr e d'Espagne (c.1320) and in the 14th century Italian epic La Spagna (attributed to the Florentine Sostegno di Zanobi and likely composed between 1350 1360).

Other texts give further legendary accounts of Roland's life. His friendship with Olivier and his engagement with Olivier's sister Aude are told in Girart de Vienne by Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube. Roland's youth and the acquisition of his horse Veillantif and sword are described in Aspremont. Roland also appears in Quatre Fils Aymon where he is contrasted with Renaud de Montauban against whom he occasionally fights.

Statue of Roland, facade detail of the railway station, Metz, France

In Norway, the tales of Roland are part of the 13th century Karlamagn s saga.

In the Divine Comedy Dante sees Roland's spirit in the Heaven of Mars together with others who fought for the faith.

Roland appears in Entr e d'Espagne, a 14th century Franco-Venetian chanson de geste (in which he is transformed into a knight errant, similar to heroes from the Arthurian romances) and La Spagna, a 14th century Italian epic.

From the fifteenth century onwards, he appears as a central character in a sequence of Italian verse romances (as "Orlando"), including Morgante by Luigi Pulci, Orlando Innamorato by Matteo Maria Boiardo, and Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto. (See below for his later history in Italian verse). The Orlandino of Pietro Aretino then waxed satirical about the "cult of personality" of Orlando the hero.

In Germany, Roland gradually became a symbol of the independence of the growing cities from the local nobility. In the late Middle Ages many cities sported the display of a defiant Roland statue on their marketplace. The Roland in Wedel was erected in 1450 as symbol of market justice, and the Roland statue in front of the town hall of Bremen (1404) is listed together with the town hall on the List of World Heritage Site from the UNESCO since 2004.

In Arag n there are several placenames related to Rold n (o Rolando): la Breca de Rold n (in Spanish la Brecha de Rold n, in French La Br che de Roland) and Salto d o Rold n (in Spanish El Salto de Rold n).

In Catalonia Roland (or Rotll , as it is rendered in Catalan) became a legendary giant. Numerous places in Catalonia (both North and South) have a name related to Rotll . In step with the trace left by the character in the whole Pyrenean area, Basque Errolan turns up in numerous legends and place-names associated with a mighty giant, usually a heathen, capable of launching huge stones. Interestingly, Basque word erraldoi ("giant") stems from Errolan.

In the Faroe Islands Roland appears in the ballad of "Runtsivalstr i " (Battle of Roncevaux)

More recently Roland's tale has been exploited by historians exploring the development of the early-modern Christian understanding of Islamic culture. In 1972 P. M. Holt used Roland's words to begin an essay about Henry Stubbe: "Paien ont tort e crestiien ont dreit" — "Pagans are wrong and Christians are right."

The Orlando narrative inspired several composers, amongst whom were Claudio Monteverdi, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Antonio Vivaldi and George Frideric Handel, who composed an Italian-language opera with Orlando.

The English expression, "to give a Roland for an Oliver", meaning either to offer a quid pro quo or to give as good as one gets, recalls the Chanson de Roland, and Roland's companion Oliver.[2]

In popular culture

  • Childe Rowland is a fairy tale, the most popular version being by Joseph Jacobs in his English Folk and Fairy Tales, published in 1892.
  • English poet Robert Browning composed an epic poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came; the title of which comes from a line in William Shakespeare's play King Lear.
  • American writer Stephen King has written a seven-volume series of epic fantasy novels called The Dark Tower, concerning the thousand-year quest of Roland Deschain, of Eld, based in part on Browning's Childe Roland.
  • The game "Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken" has a character named Roland, one of the ancient heroes of the Scouring, who passes the sword Durandal to the main character. Several other characters in the game also take their names from the Song of Roland.
  • The darkwave band The Cruxshadows released a song entitled "Roland," inspired by this legend, on their single Quicksilver.
  • Roland is the leader of the Paladins in the live action movie Jumper (2008).
  • Roland is the default name for the Paladin champion class hero in the game Master of Magic.
  • Roland is in Age of Empires II.
  • The Orlando character who appears in Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series is an amalgamation of this character and several other fictional Orlandoes/Rolands.
  • The song "Rolandskvadet" by Norwegian folk-metal band Glittertind is about Roland.



  • Adriana Kremenjas-Danicic (Ed.): Roland's European Paths. Europski dom Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik 2006 (ISBN 953-95338-0-5).
  • Susan P. Millinger, "Epic Values: The Song of Roland," in Jason Glenn (ed), The Middle Ages in Texts and Texture: Reflections on Medieval Sources (Toronto, University of Toronto, 2012),

an:Rold n bg: ca:Rotll cy:Rolant da:Grev Roland de:Hruotland el: es:Rold n eu:Errolan fa: fr:Roland it:Orlando (paladino) la:Rolandus lv:Rolands hu:Roland lovag nl:Roland (ridder) ja: ( ) no:Roland (greve) nn:Roland pl:Roland (rycerz) pt:Rolando ro:Roland ru: scn:Orlannu (cavaleri) sk:Rytier Roland sh:Roland fi:Roland (kuvitteellinen hahmo) th: uk:

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