Rodulf (petty king)

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Rodulf was a Germanic chieftain or petty king of the Migration Period, who briefly appears in Roman sources. Although it is not conclusive that the sets of accounts actually refers to the same king, he is always principally notable for his connection to the Ostrogothic king and ruler of Italy, Theodoric the Great.

Rodulf, a Scandinavian-Gaut[1] generally held to be described as king of one or more tribes in Scandza (in modern-day Norway), is mentioned in the Getica of Jordanes to have spurned and left his former kingdom to seek the sanctuary of Theodoric the Great in Ravenna, probably around 500. In other sources, a king of the Heruli tribe appears as an adopted "son in arms" of Theodoric. The Heruli king, in this context called Rodulf, died in battle against the Lombards around 508 after he had become an ally to Theodoric. Due to the similarity of the circumstances, it has been suggested that the various accounts describes the same individual, although this remains a disputed issue among historians.

Another debated issue is whether Rodulf could be the background for certain aspects of later heroic poetry, possibly including the Norse saga character Hrólfr Kraki.

King in Scandza[edit]

Locations of the tribes described by Jordanes in Norway, contemporary with, and some possibly ruled by Rodulf.

King Rodulf (Roduulf rex)[2] of the Ranii tribe appears in the Getica (De origine actibusque Getarum; "The Origin and Deeds of the Goths") of the Roman historian Jordanes. Building on the now lost Historia Gothorum ("History of the Goths") of Cassiodorus, Jordanes wrote his account at the request of Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths and ruler of Italy.[3] In the Getica, it is said that Rodulf spurned his own kingdom,[2] namely that of the "Ranii" tribe from Ragnaricii - Ranrike/Ranerike in today's Western Sweden. He therefore fled, likely together with a band of warriors,[4] to seek the sanctuary and support of Theodoric in Ravenna around 500.[1]

It is unclear whether he was king of the Ranii tribe alone, or if he ruled all, or any other[5] of the tribes described in the same context (as being the neighbours to the Heruli, who were driven from their homes), namely the "Granii, Augandzi, Eunixi, Taetel, Rugii, Aprochi."[2] This list has been transliterated to mean the "Grannii, A[u]gandzi, Eunixi <e>t Aetelrugi, Arothi,"[6] and the tribes described identified as the inhabitants of Grenland (Grannii), Agder (A[u]gandzi), the "island inhabitants"[7] possibly of Karmøy[8] (Eunixi), the "head Rugii" of Rogaland (Aetelrugi) and the inhabitants of Hordaland (Arothi).[7] The vast geographic distances between the tribes, scattered throughout the Norwegian coast,[5] and the unlikeliness of a unified kingdom of such a magnitude at this early point[9] has been cited as arguments against such a possibility.

Since the tribes are listed only in the context of being neighbours to the Heruli in the latter's former homeland, historian Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen thought it to be a linguistic error to interpret Rodulf as king of the tribes mentioned, instead holding that Rodulf should actually be read as king of the Heruli, as part of the greater context.[2] Assuming that Rodulf had ruled all the tribes mentioned, historian Axel Kristinsson has speculated that it could have been natural for Rodulf to seek out some of his kinsmen, namely the southern Rugians who had joined the Ostrogoths as the Rogii sub-tribe after their kingdom was destroyed in 487.[10] Historian A. H. Merrills, on the other hand, has proposed the possibility that placing Rodulf's origin with the Scandinavian tribes could have been politically motivated. Since Theodoric sought to expand his connections in the north at the time, his support of a northern exile would have given him significant benefits.[11]

Some modern historians have speculated that it could have been Rodulf, or potentially some of his subjects, who provided Cassiodorus or Jordanes with the information for their extensive lists and details of Scandinavian peoples and tribes.[12] In any case, Rodulf was not the only Nordic warlord who visited the Goths and potentially could have provided knowledge about Scandinavian tribes.[13]

King of the Heruls[edit]

The Byzantine scholar Procopius relates that the Heruli tribe had a king[14] or leader (hégemon)[15] called Rodulf (Rhodoulphos) during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Anastasius.[14] In the Historia Langobardorum ("History of the Lombards"), Paul the Deacon mentions that Rodulf was among the dead in a battle against the Lombards[14] under Tato, probably in 508.[16][17] According to Procopius, Rodulf was enticed by his people to declare war against the Lombards, despite the latter's attempt of maintaining peace.[18] A later version by Paul the Deacon gives Rodulf a legitimate casus belli,[19] as Rodulf purportedly declared war against the Lombards because his brother was murdered by Tato's daughter Rumetruda, after a fall-out between the two during his brother's return home after he had concluded peace with the Lombards.[20] Theodoric did not manage to intervene in time, and the Heruls thus suffered a crushing defeat.[17] The Heruls were split up as a result of the defeat in the battle.[14] As Rodulf lost both his standard (vexillum) and his helmet, both considered irreplaceable in Germanic thought, he was the last true king of the Heruls.[21]

Coin of Theodoric the Great.

Cassiodorus also tells of an unnamed king of the Heruli, who has been identified with Rodulf by some historians.[14] He writes that Theodoric adopted a king of the Heruli as his "son in arms," by giving him a horse, sword and shield (possibly around 507)[16] similarly to what his father Theodemir formerly had done with the Suebi chieftain Hunimund.[17] The accompanying letter to the king, which was translated into "German," read that the king would "hold the first rank among the peoples."[16][17] In a letter referred to by Cassiodorus, probably from between 507 and 514, Theodoric asks for the assistance of the kings of the Heruli, Thuringi and Varni tribes for a counter-attack against the pressure from the Franks.[14] Although Procipius claims the battle took place in 494, the battle, which led to Rodulf's death, is therefore considered unlikely to have occurred before 508.[14]

The Heruls are considered to have been an originally Scandinavian people.[14] After migrating southwards, the group later settled at the river Morava following the Ostrogothic departure from Pannonia in 473, and established a federated kingdom that extended across the Danube and into the Roman Empire. After becoming ruler of Italy, Theodoric travelled to what was described as the previous homeland of the Goths, and thereafter, according to historian Herwig Wolfram, wanted to establish an alliance with the Heruli king Rodulf. According to Wolfram, Rodulf "probably included in his sphere of influence the region north of Lake Balaton."[17]

Identifying Rodulf[edit]

The German classicist Theodor Mommsen argued that the Rodulf of the Ranii tribe and the Rodulf of the Heruli tribe constituted the same person. He proposed that Rodulf could have arrived to Theodoric in 489, when he was in Moesia.[5] Similarly, the scientist-explorer Fridtjof Nansen proposed that "Heruli" at first perhaps was a common name for bands of northern warriors, who to a certain degree consisted of Norwegians. In his book In northern mists, Nansen suggested that Rodulf of the Ranii tribe could have migrated south with a band of warriors, and that on arriving at the Danube, pressed by other warlike tribes in the vicinity, he sought alliance with Theodoric. Nansen believed this could have happened before Theodoric's invasion of Italy in 489, at the same time that the Heruli were just north of the Danube, and were the nearest neighbours of the Goths.[22]

Although particularly German scholarship have identified the unnamed Heruli king and the Rodulfs as the same person,[23] including the Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde in an entry by Norwegian historian Claus Krag,[14] others such as historian Walter Goffart and archaeologist Dagfinn Skre have questioned at least parts of these identifications.[24]


In the early 6th century, the Lombard king Wacho took Silinga as his third wife, who was said to be the daughter of the last king of the Heruls.[25] This has led some scholars to believe that Silinga probably was a daughter of Rodulf;[26] she again had the son Walthari.[27] The marriage between Wacho and Silinga functioned to legitimize the Lombards as the successors to the kingdom of the Heruls.[28]

It has been debated whether Rodulf may have influenced later heroic poetry, since the causes of the war between the Lombards and the Heruli (as reported by Paul the Deacon) concerns related issues. Some have furthermore argued that Rodulf could be the background for the character Hrólfr Kraki who appears in the later sagas. Evidence for this includes the significant similarities between the traditions of, on the one side, the Scyldings of the Skjöldunga saga and the Scylfings of the Swedish sagas, and on the other, historical knowledge of the environment around the Heruli, Goths and Huns.[29]

It has also been speculated that the Ráðulfr mentioned in the Rök Runestone (which also mentions Theodoric the Great) could be identical with Rodulf.[22]


  1. ^ a b Wolfram (2004) p. 49
  2. ^ a b c d Maenchen-Helfen (1973) p. 487
  3. ^ Helle (2003) p. 82
  4. ^ Skre (2008) p. 288
  5. ^ a b c Skre (2008) p. 257
  6. ^ Nordgren (2004) p. 387
  7. ^ a b Nordgren (2004) p. 464
  8. ^ Thurston (1996) p. 111
  9. ^ Koht (1955) p. 12
  10. ^ Kristinsson (2010) p. 225
  11. ^ Merrills (2005) p. 129
  12. ^ Christensen (2002) pp. 270–271, Fouracre (2005) p. 501, Skre (1998) p. 256, Goffart (2009) p. 64 and Merrills (2005) pp. 128–129
  13. ^ Skre (1998) pp. 256–257
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i Krag (2003) p. 58
  15. ^ Weibull (1987) p. 8
  16. ^ a b c Wolfram (2006) p. 50
  17. ^ a b c d e Wolfram (1990) p. 318
  18. ^ Goffart (2009) pp. 207–208
  19. ^ Goffart (2009) p. 208
  20. ^ Paul the Deacon, 1. XX
  21. ^ The Journal of Roman Studies. 40-42. Kraus Reprint. 1968. p. 204. 
  22. ^ a b Nansen (1911) pp. 137–139
  23. ^ Goffart (2009) pp. 335–336
  24. ^ Skre (1998) p. 257 and Goffart (2009) pp. 335–336
  25. ^ Waldman and Mason (2006) p. 389
  26. ^ Beck, Heinrich; Geuenich, Dieter; Steuer, Heiko, eds. (2006). Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde (in German). 33. Walter de Gruyter. p. 6. ISBN 978-3-11-018388-7. 
  27. ^ Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins (in German). 149. G. Braun. 2001. p. 36. 
  28. ^ Wolfram (1995) p. 21
  29. ^ Krag (2003) pp. 58–59


Primary sources[edit]

Modern sources[edit]