Rollo or Gaange Rolf[5] (Norman: Rou; Old Norse: Hrólfr; French: Rollon; c.860 c.930 AD) was a Viking who became the first ruler of Normandy, a region in northern France. He is sometimes called the first Duke of Normandy. His son and grandson, William Longsword and Richard I, used the titles "count" (Latin comes or consul) and "prince" (princeps). His great-grandson Richard II was the first to officially use the title of Duke of Normandy.[6] His Scandinavian name Rolf was extended to Gaange Rolf because he became too heavy as an adult for a horse to carry; therefore he had to walk. Rollo emerged as the outstanding personality among the Norsemen who had secured a permanent foothold on Frankish soil in the valley of the lower Seine. After the Siege of Chartres in 911, Charles the Simple, the king of West Francia, ceded them lands between the mouth of the Seine and what is now Rouen in exchange for Rollo agreeing to end his brigandage, and provide the Franks with protection against future Viking raids.[7]

Rollo on the Statue of William the Conqueror in Falaise town square.
Duke of Normandy
Count of Rouen
PredecessorNew title[1]
SuccessorWilliam Longsword
Diedc.930 (aged 6970)
SpousePoppa of Bayeux
Gisela of France (possibly)
William Longsword
HouseNormandy (founder)
ReligionNorse Paganism
later Roman Catholicism

Rollo is first recorded as the leader of these Viking settlers in a charter of 918, and he continued to reign over the region of Normandy until at least 928. He was succeeded by his son William Longsword in the Duchy of Normandy that he had founded.[8] The offspring of Rollo and his followers became known as the Normans. After the Norman conquest of England and their conquest of southern Italy and Sicily over the following two centuries, their descendants came to rule Norman England (the House of Normandy), the Kingdom of Sicily (the Kings of Sicily) as well as the Principality of Antioch from the 10th to 12th century, leaving behind an enduring legacy in the histories of Europe and the Near East.[9]


The name Rollo is generally presumed to be a latinisation of the Old Norse name Hrólfr – a theory that is supported by the rendition of Hrólfr as Roluo in the Gesta Danorum. It is also sometimes suggested that Rollo may be a Latinised version of another Norse name, Hrollaugr.[10]

Rollo is generally identified with one Viking in particular – a man of high social status mentioned in Icelandic sagas, which refer to him by the Old Norse name Göngu-Hrólfr, meaning "Hrólfr the Walker" (also widely known by an Old Danish variant, Ganger-Hrolf). The byname "Walker" is usually understood to suggest that Rollo was so physically imposing that he could not be carried by a horse and was obliged to travel on foot. Norman and other French sources do not use the name Hrólfr, and the identification of Rollo with Göngu-Hrólfr is based upon similarities between circumstances and actions ascribed to both figures.

The 10th-century Norman historian Dudo records that Rollo took the baptismal name Robert.[11] A variant spelling, Rou, is used in the 12th-century Norman French verse chronicle Roman de Rou, which was compiled by Wace and commissioned by King Henry II of England, a descendant of Rollo.[12][13]

Origins and historiography

Rollo was born in the mid 9th century; his place of birth is unknown. The earliest well-attested historical event associated with Rollo is his part in leading the Vikings who besieged Paris in 885–886.[14]

Medieval sources contradict each other regarding whether Rollo's family was Norwegian or Danish in origin. In part, this disparity may result from the indifferent and interchangeable usage in Europe, at the time, of terms such as "Vikings", "Northmen", "Swedes", "Danes", "Norwegians" and so on (in the Medieval Latin texts Dani vel Nortmanni means "Danes or Northmen").

A biography of Rollo, written by the cleric Dudo of Saint-Quentin in the late 10th century, claimed that Rollo was from Denmark. One of Rollo's great-grandsons and a contemporary of Dudo was known as Robert the Dane. However, Dudo's Historia Normannorum (or Libri III de moribus et actis primorum Normanniae ducum) was commissioned by Rollo's grandson, Richard I of Normandy and – while Dudo likely had access to family members and/or other people with a living memory of Rollo – this fact must be weighed against the text's potential biases, as an official biography. According to Dudo, an unnamed king of Denmark was antagonistic to Rollo's family, including his father – an unnamed Danish nobleman – and Rollo's brother Gurim. Following the death of their father, Gurim was killed and Rollo was forced to leave Denmark.[15] Dudo appears to have been the main source for William of Jumièges (after 1066) and Orderic Vitalis (early 12th century), although both include additional details.[16]

A Norwegian background for Rollo was first explicitly claimed by Goffredo Malaterra (Geoffrey Malaterra), an 11th-century Benedictine monk and historian, who wrote: "Rollo sailed boldly from Norway with his fleet to the Christian coast."[17] Likewise, the 12th-century English historian William of Malmesbury stated that Rollo was "born of noble lineage among the Norwegians".[18]

A chronicler named Benoît (probably Benoît de Sainte-More) wrote in the mid-12th-century Chronique des ducs de Normandie that Rollo had been born in a town named "Fasge". This has since been variously interpreted as referring to Faxe, in Sjælland (Denmark), Fauske, in Hålogaland (Norway), or perhaps a more obscure settlement that has since been abandoned or renamed. Benoît also repeated the claim that Rollo had been persecuted by a local ruler and had fled from there to "Scanza island", by which Benoît probably means Scania (Swedish Skåne). While Faxe was physically much closer to Scania, the mountainous scenery of "Fasge", described by Benoît, would seem to be more like Fauske. Benoît says elsewhere in the Chronique des ducs de Normandie that Rollo is Danish.[19]

The claim that Rollo was the brother of a King of Norway, Harald Finehair, was made by an anonymous 12th-century Welsh author, in The Life of Gruffudd ap Cynan.[20]

Rollo was first explicitly identified with Hrólf the Walker (Norse Göngu-Hrólfr; Danish Ganger-Hrólf) by the 13th-century Icelandic sagas, Heimskringla and Orkneyinga Saga. Hrólf the Walker was so named because he "was so big that no horse could carry him".[21] The Icelandic sources claim that Hrólfr was born in Trondhjem (now known as Trondheim)[22] in western Norway, in the late 9th century and that his parents were the Norwegian jarl Rognvald Eysteinsson ("Rognvald the Wise") and a noblewoman from Møre named Hildr Hrólfsdóttir. However, these claims were made three centuries after the history commissioned by Rollo's own grandson.

There may be circumstantial evidence for kinship between Rollo and his historical contemporary, Ketill Flatnose, King of the Isles – a Norse realm centred on the Western Isles of Scotland. If, as Richer suggested, Rollo's father was also named Ketill and as Dudo suggested, Rollo had a brother named Gurim, such names are onomastic evidence for a family connection: Icelandic sources name Ketill Flatnose's father as Björn Grímsson,[23] and "Grim" – the implied name of Ketill Flatnose's paternal grandfather – was likely cognate with Gurim. In addition, both Irish and Icelandic sources suggest that Rollo, as a young man, visited or lived in Scotland, where he had a daughter named Cadlinar (Kaðlín; Kathleen).[24][25] Ketill Flatnose's ancestors were said to have come from Møre – Rollo's ancestral home in the Icelandic sources. Ketill was a common name in Norse societies,[26] as were names like Gurim and Grim.


Dudo tells us that Rollo seized Rouen in 876. He is supported by the contemporary chronicler Flodoard, who records that Robert of the Breton March waged a campaign against the Vikings, who nearly levelled Rouen and other settlements; eventually, he conceded "certain coastal provinces" to them.[27]

According to Dudo, Rollo struck up a friendship in England with a king that Dudo calls Alstem. This has puzzled many historians, but recently the puzzle has been resolved by recognition that this refers to Guthrum, the Danish leader whom Alfred the Great baptised with the baptismal name Athelstan, and then recognised as king of the East Angles in 880.[28]

Dudo records that when Rollo took Bayeux by force, he carried off with him the beautiful Popa or Poppa, a daughter of Berenger, Count of Rennes, took her in marriage and with her had their son and Rollo's heir, William Longsword.[29]

There are few contemporary mentions of Rollo. The earliest record is from 918, in a charter of Charles III to an abbey, which referred to an earlier grant to "the Normans of the Seine", namely "Rollo and his associates" for "the protection of the kingdom."[30] Dudo retrospectively stated that this pact took place in 911 at Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. In return for formal recognition of the lands he possessed, Rollo agreed to be baptised and assist the king in the defence of the realm. Rollo took the baptismal name Robert, as it was custom to take the name of godfather. The seal of agreement was to be marriage between Rollo and Gisla, daughter of Charles. Dudo claims that Gisla was a legitimate daughter of Charles.[31] Since Charles first married in 907, that would mean that Gisla was at most 5 years old at the time of the treaty of 911 which offered her in marriage.[32] It has therefore been speculated that she could have been an illegitimate daughter.[33] However a diplomatic child betrothal need not be doubted.[34]

After pledging his fealty to Charles III as part of the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, Rollo divided the lands between the rivers Epte and Risle among his chieftains, and settled with a de facto capital in Rouen.[35]

When Rollo had been given Rouen and its hinterland in return for his alliance with the Franks, it was agreed upon that it was both in his and his Frankish allies’ interest to extend his authority over Viking settlers.[36] This would appear to be the motive for later concessions to the Vikings of the Seine, which are mentioned in other records of the time. When King Charles the Simple abdicated the throne to Rudolph of France, Rollo felt that his pledge and oaths to the kings of France null and void, and began raiding in the west to expand his territory, putting pressure on other rulers to propose another compromise. The need for an agreement was particularly urgent when Robert I, successor of Charles the Simple, was killed in 923.[37] Rudolph is recorded as sponsoring a new agreement by which a group of Northmen were conceded the provinces of the Bessin and Maine. These Northmen were presumed to be Rollo and his associates, moving their authority westward from the Seine valley.[38] It is still unclear as to whether Rollo was being given lordship over the Vikings already settled in the region in order to domesticate and restrain them, or was given lordship over the Franks around Bayeux in order to protect them from other Viking leaders settled in eastern Brittany and the Cotentin peninsula.[39]

Rollo died sometime between a final mention of him by Flodoard in 928, and 933, the year in which a third grant of land, usually identified as being the Cotentin and Avranchin areas, was made to his son and successor William.[40]


Rollo's son and heir, William Longsword, and grandchild, Richard the Fearless, forged the Duchy of Normandy into West Francia's most cohesive and formidable principality.[41] The descendants of Rollo and his men assimilated with their maternal Frankish-Catholic culture and became known as the Normans, lending their name to the region of Normandy. A castle in Switzerland from the 12th century is named Ruello castle and is a part of a village dating as far back as the 11th century originally called Ruelloz then later Rolle. The castle and lands were later acquired by the Savoy Dynasty. It is now believed the castle and village were named after King Rollo, the great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror, or William I of England. Through William, he is one of the ancestors of the present-day British royal family, as well as an ancestor of all current European monarchs (and a great many claimants to abolished European thrones).

One daughter of Rollo, Gerloc (also known as Adele), who married William III, Duke of Aquitaine, was mentioned by Dudo. According to William of Jumièges, writing in the latter half of the 11th century, Gerloc's mother was named Poppa.[42]

According to the medieval Irish text An Banshenchas and Icelandic sources, another daughter, Cadlinar (Kaðlín; Kathleen) was born in Scotland (probably to a Scots mother) and married an Irish prince named Beollán mac Ciarmaic, later King of South Brega (Lagore). A daughter of Cadlinar and Beollán named Nithbeorg was abducted by an Icelandic Viking named Helgi Ottarsson,[43][44] and became the mother of the poet Einarr Helgason and grandmother of Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir (protagonist of the Laxdœla saga).

A genetic investigation into the remains of Rollo's grandson, Richard the Fearless, and his great-grandson, Richard the Good, was announced in 2011 with the intention of discerning the origins of the historic Viking leader.[45] On 29 February 2016 Norwegian researchers opened Richard the Good's tomb and found a lower jaw with eight teeth in it.[46] However, the skeletal remains in both graves turned out to significantly predate Rollo and therefore are not related to him.[47]


After Rollo's death, his male-line descendants continued to rule Normandy until 1204, when it was lost by John Lackland to the French King Philip Augustus.[48] Rollo's dynasty was able to survive through a combination of ruthless military actions and infighting among the Frankish aristocracy, which left them severely weakened and unable to combat the Rouen Vikings' growing determination to stay put.[49]

Depictions in fiction

Rollo is the subject of the seventeenth-century play Rollo Duke of Normandy, written by John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, Ben Jonson, and George Chapman.

A character, broadly inspired by the historical Rollo but including many events from before the real Rollo was born, played by Clive Standen, is Ragnar Lothbrok's brother in the History Channel television series Vikings.[50]


  1. David Bates (1990). "Government and Politics 1042–1154: the Norman Conquest and the Anglo-norman realm". In Christopher Haigh (ed.). The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland. Cambridge University Press. p. 66.
  2. Jim Bradbury (2004). The Routledge Companion to Medieval Warfare. Routledge. p. 83.
  3. Pierre Bouet (2016). Rollon : Le chef viking qui fonda la Normandie (in French). Tallander. p. 76.
  4. Kim Hjardar; Vegard Vike (2016). Vikings at War. Casemate Publishers & Book Distributors, LLC. p. 329.
  5. Gunnar Ander; Karl-Erik Löfqvist, eds. (1960). Allmänna Historien i berättelser 1 [Common History in Tales 1] (in Swedish). Norstedts. pp. 239–240.
  6. Marjorie Chibnall (2006). The Normans. Blackwell. pp. 15–16.
  7. David Bates (1982). Normandy Before 1066. Longman. pp. 8–10.
  8. "Rollo | duke of Normandy". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  9. François Neveux; Howard Curtis (2008). A Brief History of the Normans: The Conquests that Changed the Face of Europe. Robinson.
  10. Robert Ferguson (2009). The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings. p. 180.
  11. Crouch, David (2006). The Normans: The History of a Dynasty. A&C Black. ISBN 978-1852855956.
  12. Christopher Harper-Bill; Nicholas Vincent (2007). Henry II: New Interpretations. Boydell Press. p. 77.
  13. Glyn Sheridan Burgess; Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts (2004). "Introduction". Roman de Rou. Boydell Press. p. 11.
  14. Little, Charles Eugene (1900). Cyclopedia of Classified Dates: With an Exhaustive Index, by Charles E. Little...for the Use of Students of History, and for All Persons who Desire Speedy Access to the Facts and Events, which Relate to the Histories of the Various Countries of the World, from the Earliest Recorded Dates. Funk & Wagnalls Company.
  15. Dudo of St. Quentin (1998). "5". In Eric Christiansen (ed.). History of the Normans. Translated by Eric Christiansen. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. Dudo uses terminology of the day, Scandia for the southern part of Scandinavian peninsula and Dacia for Denmark (also the name of a Roman province near the Black Sea).
  16. Robert Ferguson (2009). The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings. p. 177.
  17. The Deeds of Count Roger of Calabria & Sicily & of Duke Robert Guiscard his brother, Geoffery Malaterra. Translated by Graham A. Loud.
  18. William of Malmesbury, The Kings before the Norman Conquest. II, 127. Translated by Sharpe, Rev. J. and revised by Stephenson, Rev. J. Seeleys, London: Llanerch (published 1989). 1854. p. 110.
  19. Rollo and his followers are referred to as Daneis throughout the Chronique. For example, Iriez fu Rous en son curage [...] Ne lui nuire n’à ses Daneis (Francisque Michel edition, page 173, available online on Internet Archive).
  20. The history of Gruffydd ap Cynan. Welsh text with translation, introduction and notes by Arthur Jones. Manchester University Press. 1910.
  21. "4 – To Shetland and Orkney". Orkneyinga saga. pp. 26–27.
  22. Sturluson, Snorri (1966). King Harald's Saga: Harald Hardradi of Norway. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  23. Andrew Jennings; Arne Kruse (2009). "From Dál Riata to the Gall-Ghàidheil". Viking and Medieval Scandinavia (5): 129.
  24. Edvard Bull; Anders Krogvig; Gerhard Gran (eds.). Norsk biografisk leksikon (1921–1982) (in Norwegian). 19 volumes. Oslo: Aschehoug. 1921–1982. FHL book 948.1 D36n., Vol. 4, pp. 351–353.
  25. La Fay, Howard (1972). The Vikings. National Geographic Society Special Publications. Washington: National Geographic Society. JWML book DL65 .L3., pp. 146, 147, 164–165.
  26. Alex Woolf (2007). From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 296.
  27. The Normans in Europe, trans and ed. Elizabeth Van Houts (Manchester 2000), p. 43.
  28. Dudo of St-Quentin: History of the Normans, trans. and ed. Eric Christiansen (Woodbridge 1998), p. xiv; Robert Ferguson, The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings (2009), pp. 177–182.
  29. Dudo, pp. 38–9.
  30. The Normans in Europe, trans and ed. Elizabeth Van Houts (Manchester 2000), p. 25.
  31. Dudo of St-Quentin: History of the Normans, trans. and ed. Eric Christiansen (Woodbridge 1998), pp. 46–47.
  32. Ferguson 2009, p. 187.
  33. Pierre Bauduin, Chefs normands et élites franques, fin -Début siècle, (181–194), in Pierre Bauduin (éd.), Les Fondations scandinaves en Occident et les débuts du duché de Normandie, Publications du CRAHM, 2005, p. 182.
  34. Ferguson 2009, p. 187.
  35. David Bates Normandy Before 1066, pp. 20–21.
  36. Crouch, David (15 October 2006). The Normans: The History of a Dynasty. Bloomsbury, Pennsylvania: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 6.
  37. Crouch, David (15 October 2006). The Normans: The History of a Dynasty. Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 6.
  38. Crouch, David (15 October 2006). The Normans: The History of a Dynasty. Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 6.
  39. Crouch, David (15 October 2006). The Normans: The History of a Dynasty. Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 8.
  40. Ferguson 2009, p. 183
  41. Eleanor Searle, Predatory Kinship and the Creation of Norman Power, 840–1066 (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1988), p. 89.
  42. Dudo, pp. 69–70 and 201; Guillaume de Jumièges ed. van Houts (1992), vol. 1, pp. 68–69
  43. Norsk biografisk leksikon (1921–1982), grunnlagt av Edv. Bull, Anders Krogvig, Gerhard Gran, (19 volumes. Oslo : Aschehoug, 1921–1982), FHL book 948.1 D36n., Vol 4, pp. 351–353.
  44. The Vikings (1972), La Fay, Howard, (National Geographic Society Special Publications. Washington: National Geographic Society, 1972), JWML book DL65 .L3., pp. 146, 147, 164–165.
  45. "Viking is 'forefather to British Royals'". Views and News from Norway. 15 June 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  46. "Was Viking Ruler Rollo Danish or Norwegian?". The Local. 2 March 2016. Retrieved 6 October 2016.
  47. "Skeletal shock for Norwegian researchers at Viking hunting". Norway Today. 23 November 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  48. Van Houts, Elizabeth (200). The Normans in Europe. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. p. 15.
  49. Van Houts, Elizabeth (200). The Normans in Europe. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. p. 15.
  50. Turnbow, Tina (18 March 2013). "Reflections of a Viking by Clive Standen". Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 March 2013.

Further reading

Primary texts

  • Dudo of St. Quentin (1998). Eric Christiansen (ed.). History of the Normans. Translated by Eric Christiansen. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press.
  • Elizabeth van Houts, ed. (1992). The Gesta Normannorum Ducum of William of Jumièges, Orderic Vitalis and Robert of Torigni.
  • Elizabeth van Houts, ed. (2000). The Normans in Europe. Translated by Elizabeth van Houts. Manchester and New York: Manchester University.
  • Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney. Translated by Pálsson, Hermann; Edwards, Paul. London: Hogarth Press. 1978. ISBN 0-7012-0431-1.. Republished 1981, Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044383-5.

Secondary texts

  • Crouch, David (2002). The Normans: the History of a Dynasty. London: Hambledon and London. ISBN 1-85285-387-5.
  • Christiansen, Eric (2002). The Norsemen in the Viking Age. Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
  • Ferguson, Robert (2009). The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings. London: Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Group.
  • Fitzhugh, William W.; Ward, Elizabeth (2000). Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga. Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Konstam, Agnus (2002). Historical Atlas of the Viking World. Checkmark Books.
French nobility
New title Count of Rouen
Succeeded by
William I

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