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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16 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!

    • Michael Tauscher says:

      According to genealogical research, my mother’s family is descended from him as well so, .. Hello cousin.

      • Mary says:

        Supposedly my Bundy family too.

        • Aaron says:

          Supposedly I am too, cousins.. From rollo, to William the conqueror, down and down and down, to peregrine white the first baby born that survived the mayflowers voyage to Plymouth colony, MA born in 1621

      • Lana Pennington says:

        If genealogy is correct I also am descended from Rollo via Pennington’s of Muncaster

        • Ray says:

          Figuring if you have 2 grand parents, 4 great grandparents 8 great great grandparents, 16…. in 30 generations you will have over 1 million great, great great great ect. grandparents. (do the math) so basically pretty much over 1/2 of Americans will have his blood in them.

  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.

  4. Penelope Manderson says:

    I am descended from Waleran the Hunter friend of William the Conqueror – would love to hear from other descendants

  5. Raina says:

    Hi
    My mums family ‘Tobitt’ are apparently descendants of Vikings and Rollo gets a mention in the family history. That might be why my mum never wears shoes and drinks beer from a handle every evening! Lol
    I identify myself as a modern day pagan. The pagan religion resonates a lot more with me than the bible. Love this series ❤️

  6. Chris says:

    We take a left turn two generations before William the conqueror and slide down the Sinclair (St Clair) line… the people who owned and built Rosslyn Castle and chapel. Full on Knights Templar, Lords, Barons and … oh my. This is super interesting.

  7. Teresa A Dudek says:

    I am a descendant of Rollo and am so excited to learn about him. Researching…

  8. Robert C Light says:

    I am a descendant of Rollo the Dane…one of his whatever grandsons…we have been to Normandy twice to tour various related sites…fascinating…

  9. Carlos says:

    According to wikitree, I’m related too him directely too, he’s my 36 great grandfather… 20 gen to John Drummond (clan chief of Drummond of Scotland) and from him to Rollo more 16 gen. Since the wikitree tool finds only links until 30 gen, I had to research in “steps”.

  10. Lana says:

    Yes I agree…makes sense to me that most Americans are related to some king queen or infamous person.
    You take a few hundred people from Europe and they populate North America. My dna and haplo group put me right dab in the Viking lineage and so much more…

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