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Roland (right) receives Durendal from Charlemagne

Durendal or Durandal is the sword of Roland, legendary paladin of Charlemagne in French epic literature. It is also said to have belonged to young Charlemagne at one point, and, passing through Saracen hands, came to be owned by Roland.

The sword has been given various provenances. Several of the works of the Matter of France agree that it was forged by Wayland the Smith, who is commonly cited as a maker of weapons in chivalric romances[1]


The name Durendal arguably begins with a French dur- stem, meaning "hard". Thus Rita Lejeune argued it may break down into "durant dail" meaning "strong scythe".[2][3] Gerhard Rohlfs suggested "dur + ent" or "strong flame"[2][4] It may also connote "enduring".[5]

The Pseudo-Turpin explains that the name "Durenda is interpreted to mean it contains hard strike within (Durenda interpretatur durum ictum cum ea dans). It has been argued also that the fact that Pseudo-Turpin needed to gloss the name was evidence it was not a name readily understood in French,[a] hence a foreign name.[6]

One non-French etymology is Edwin B. Place's attempt to construe it in Breton as "diren dall", meaning "blade [that] dulls cutting edge" or "blade blinds".[6] Another is James A. Bellamy's Arabic etymology "Ḏū l-jandal" meaning "master of stone".[7][2][b]

Chanson de Roland[edit]

According to La Chanson de Roland, (The Song of Roland) the sword was brought by an angel to Charlemagne who was at the vale of Moriane, and Charles then gave it to Roland.[8][c]

In the poem, the sword is said to contain within its golden hilt a tooth of Saint Peter, blood of Basil of Caesarea, hair of Saint Denis, and a piece of the raiment of Mary, mother of Jesus, and to be the sharpest sword in all existence.[10][11]

At the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, Roland took the rear-guard to hold off the Saracen army troops long enough for Charlemagne's army to retreat into France.[12] Roland slew a vast number of enemies wielding Durendal. With the sword Roland even succeeded in slicing the right arm of the Saracen king Marsile, and decapitated the king's son, Jursaleu, sending the one-hundred-thousand-strong army to flight.[13][14]

Roland later attempted to destroy the sword in battle, to prevent it from being captured by the attacking Saracens. But Durendal proved indestructible.[10] After being mortally wounded, Roland hid it beneath his body as he lay dying along with the oliphant, the horn used to alert Charlemagne[15][16] before succumbing to his injury.


The sword was capable of cutting through giant boulders of stone with a single strike.[citation needed]

Previous ownership[edit]

Durendal was once captured by the young Charlemagne, according to a 12th-century fragmentary chanson de geste Mainet, whose title signified the pseydonym Charles adopted in his youth, when he fled to Spain.[17] Young Charles (Mainès in the text) slays Braimant, obtaining his sword (Durendaus).[18][19] This content is better preserved in some non-chanson de gestes French text,[20] and in other language adpatations such as the Franco-Italian Karleto.[21] The place of combat was near the vale of Moriane (Vael Moriale), near Toledo, according to the Low-German version Karl Mainet.[22] The place of combat was near the vale of Moriane (Vael Moriale), near Toledo, according to the Low-German version Karl Meinet.[22]

The owner of Durendal previous to Roland was a Saracen named Aumon, son of king Agolant,[d] according to another 12th century chanson de geste Aspremont. Young Roland, mounted on Naimes horse Morel without permission,[23] and armed only with a rod, defeated Aumon, conquering the sword, as well as the horse Veillantif.[24]

These material were combined in the Italian prose L'Aspramonte by Andrea da Barberino in the late 14th to early 15th century. This source states that after young Carlo (Charlemagne) came in possession of Durindarda (Durendal) by killing Bramate in Spain, Galafro gave it to Galiziella,[e][25] who then gave it to Almonte [f][26][27] Here Galiziella is glossed the bastard daughter of Agloante,[28] making her Almonte's half-sister. Durindana is of course eventually won by Orlandino (young Orlando).[29]

Andrea da Barberino was a major source of later Italian writers. Boiardo's Orlando innamorato traces the sword's origin to Hector of Troy; it belonged for a while to Amazonian queen Pantasilea, and was passe down to Almonte, before Orlando gained possession of it.[30]

According to Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, it once belonged to Hector of Troy, and was given to Roland by Malagigi (Maugris).

Local lore[edit]

fragment of Rocamadour Durendal
Alleged fragment of Durendal in Rocamadour
sketch of Rocamadour Durendal
Mock sketch[31]

Tradition has it that when Roland cut a huge gash in the rocks with one blow, it created Roland's Breach in the Pyrenees in the process.[32]

Legend in Rocamadour, Limousin claims that the true Durendal was deposited in its chapel of Mary, but it was stolen by Henry Curtmantel in 1183.[31]

Local folklore also claims Durendal still exists, embedded in a cliff wall in Rocamadour. In this version, twelfth century monks of Rocamadour claim Roland threw the sword rather than hiding it beneath himself creating a crevice "due to its sharpness" in the wall. However, the local tourist office now calls the sword a replica of Durendal.[33]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Like Halteclere or Joyeuse.
  2. ^ Encouraged by the fact that there are many Arabic sword names with this prefix, e.g. Ḏū-l-Faqār.
  3. ^ The scene of the angel giving the sword to Karl (Charlemagne) is depicted in a manuscript of Der Stricker's Karl der Große.[9]
  4. ^ This is actually alluded to in Mainet also: "Quant il occist Yaumont fil le roi Agoulant".[19]
  5. ^ Come lo re Galafro.. donò Durindarda a Galiziella "; "..e fu poi di Mainetto, cioè di Carlo; e con spada uccise Carlo lo re Bramante, e chiamavasi Durindarda.. Per questa spada Galiziella col cuore feminile ebbe piatà del re Galafro..", Boni (1951), pp. 12–13, Mattaini (1957), p. 422.
  6. ^ "Come Galiziella donò Durindarda a Almonte", Boni (1951), p. 13.

In Popular Culture[edit]

In the Fire Emblem series, the main character of one of the games has a signature sword named Durandal. And in game, it is explained that it used to belong to his ancestor, who happened to be named Roland.


  1. ^ Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia (1902). Proceedings of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia. p. 65. 
  2. ^ a b c Wright, Michelle R. (1993). Excalibur, an Arthurian Artifact. Stanford University. p. 254, note 43. 
  3. ^ Lejeune (1950), p. 158.
  4. ^ Rohlfs, Gerhard (1936), "Was bedeutet der Schwertname Durendal?", Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen, CLXIX: 57–64 
  5. ^ Sayers, Dorothy L. (tr.) (1957). The Song of Roland. Hammondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books. p. 38. ISBN 0-14-044075-5. 
  6. ^ a b Place, Edwin B. (1949), "Once more Durendal", Modern Language Notes, 64 (3): 161– 
  7. ^ Bellamy, James A. (1987), "Arabic names in the Chanson de Roland: Saracen Gods, Frankish swords, Roland horse, and the Olifant", Journal of the American Oriental Society, 107 (2): 267–277 
  8. ^ Moncrieff (1920), pp. 75–76, laisse CLXXII
  9. ^ Brault (1978), p. 443, note 16
  10. ^ a b Moncrieff (1920), pp. 76–77, laisse CLXXIII
  11. ^ Auty, Robert (1980). Traditions of Heroic and Epic Poetry. London: Modern Humanities Research Association. p. 126. ISBN 0-900547-72-3. 
  12. ^ Chalmers, Rebecca (2013). Chanson de Roland, la. Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature. Routledge. pp. 87–88. ISBN 9781136594250. 
  13. ^ Moncrieff (1920), pp. 62–63, laisse CXLIV
  14. ^ Geddes, J., Jr. (1920). La Chanson de Roland: Roland "a modern French translation of Theodor Müller's text of the Oxford Manuscript. Macmillan. pp. lix, 78–79.  (laisse CXLIV)
  15. ^ Moncrieff (1920), p. 77, laisse CLXXIV
  16. ^ Cox, George William (1871). Popular Romances of the Middle Ages. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. p. 340. 
  17. ^ Keller, Han-Erich (1995). King Cycle. Medieval France: An Encyclopedia. Garland. pp. 964–965. ISBN 9780824044442. 
  18. ^ Mainet IVa, vv.24–41, Paris (1875), pp. 24–25
  19. ^ a b Morgan (2009), p. 144.
  20. ^ Morgan (2009), p. 143.
  21. ^ Morgan (2009), pp. 113, 143.
  22. ^ a b Settegast, Franz (1904). Quellenstudien zur galloromanischen epik. O. Harrassowitz. p. 27. 
  23. ^ Brandin (1919–1921), Newth (1989), pp. 138–139 vv. 5749–5755.
  24. ^ Brandin (1919–1921), Newth (1989), pp. 146–147, vv. 6075–80.
  25. ^ Barberino, L'Aspramonte I, x, 6–10; cfr. III, LX, 4.
  26. ^ Barberino, L'Aspramonte I, xi, 4
  27. ^ Boni (1951), p. 347 (Notes to Durindarda)
  28. ^ Boni (1951), p. 350–351 (Notes to Galiziella)
  29. ^ Barberino, L'Aspramonte III, xxxviii, 7
  30. ^ Ross (2004), pp. 508–509: Bk III, Canto I .
  31. ^ a b de Veyrières, Louis (1892), "L'épée de Roland à Roc-Amadour", Bulletin de la Société scientifique, historique et archéologique de la Corrèze, 14: 139–143 
  32. ^ Walsh, William Shepard (1914). Heroes and Heroines of Fiction. London: J. B. Lippincott Co. p. 264. 
  33. ^ Caro, Ina (1996). The Road From the Past: Traveling Through History in France. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Co. pp. 106–107. ISBN 0-15-600363-5. 
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