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 ‘Vikings’ accurately hint the fact that Rollo will become the Count of Rouen, they also exceed to a considerable extent the artistic license regarding the depiction of his destiny throughout the three seasons of the serial that have been released to date.

Rollo played by the British actor Steve Claven in History Channel's TV series Vikings.

Rollo played by British actor Clive Standen in History Channel’s TV series ‘Vikings’.

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.

Artwork of Rollo, Count of Rouen. Image source: www.pinterest.com

Artistic depiction of Rollo, Count of Rouen. Image source: www.pinterest.com

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 baptised 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’.

Statue of Rollon in the city of Rouen, France. Image source: www.wikimedia.commons.org

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.

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5 Responses to The Historical Truth Behind Rollo

  1. Deborah Mckinney says:

    Love the Vikings, the characters are great. I wish I could just watch one live show being filmed, I’ve never been able to travel but that’s just one wish to be able to go to Ireland. It’s not only for that, it’s just breath taking beautiful. Thank you for letting me post my opinion.

  2. Hello from Rollo’s great… grandson. Bonne Journee!

  3. Peter says:

    Hello,

    I love that painting of King Rollo. Do you know the artist or have any other information on it?

    Thank you.

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