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For other uses, see Rollo (disambiguation).
Rollo statue in falaise.JPG
Rollo on the Six Dukes statue in Falaise town square.
Duke of Normandy
Reign 911–927
Predecessor None
Successor William I
Spouse Poppa of Bayeux
Gisela of France
William I
House House of Normandy
Born c. 846
Died c. 932
Burial Rouen Cathedral

Rollo (c. 846 – c. 932; Norse: Hrólfr), known in Icelandic sagas as Ganger Hrólf, and baptised Robert, was a Norse Viking who was the first ruler of the region of northern France which would become Normandy. Rollo came from a noble warrior family of Scandinavian origins. After journeying to Scotland and Ireland he took part in Viking raids on northern France, and emerged as a leader of the bands of Norsemen who were beginning to settle in the area around the city of Rouen. Charles the Simple, king of the Franks, granted them lands in the area of Rouen and the Seine valley as part of the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in exchange for their protection against other Norse war bands. Rollo is first recorded as the leader of these men in a charter of 918, and it appears that he continued to rule over the region until at least 927. After his death, his son William I of Normandy succeeded him and Rollo's offspring rose to become the Dukes of Normandy. Following the conquest of England and the conquest of southern Italy by the Normans over the succeeding centuries, the descendants of Rollo and his men ruled over Norman England (See: House of Normandy) and the Kingdom of Sicily from the 10th to 12th century AD, leaving a lasting legacy in the history of Europe.


Rollo was born in the latter half of the 9th century somewhere on the Atlantic side of Scandinavia. Details of his origins and parentage are obscure, though it is clear from his later status as a jarl that he belonged to a noble warrior family.[1] Later writers, notably Dudo of Saint-Quentin, refer to him as "Danish", a term which probably included the inhabitants of much of the Danish hegemony of Scandinavia.[2] He is encountered in The Life of Gruffud ap Cynan, a 12th-century history, which refers to him as the youngest of two brothers to the first king of Dublin. The 13th century Icelandic sagas, Heimskringla and Orkneyinga Saga, remember him as Ganger Hrolf (Hrolf the Walker) but seem to offer a contradictory account of his parentage: both state he was the son of the Norwegian Earl Rognavald of Moere, who was known to be an enemy of the brothers given in The Life of Gruffudd ap Cynan. Richer of Reims, who lived in the 10th century, named his father as one Catillus, or Ketil;[3] however the reliability of Richer's account has been dismissed by some scholars and Ketil is regarded by the historian D. C. Douglas as a legendary figure.[4]


The name "Rollo" is a Latin translation from the Old Norse name Hrólfr, (cf. the latinization of Hrólfr into the similar Roluo in the Gesta Danorum), but Norman people called him by his popular name Rou(f) (see Wace's Roman de Rou).[5] Sometimes his name is turned into the Frankish name Rodolf(us) or Radulf(us) or the French Raoul, that are derived from it.[Note 1]


Statue of Rollo in Rouen. There are two bronze replicas of this statue: one at Ålesund (Norway) and the other one at Fargo, North Dakota (United States)

According to Dudo, Rollo seized Rouen in 876 and led the Viking fleet which besieged Paris and attacked Bayeux and Evreux between 885 and 887. He subsequently married Poppa, daughter of Berengar, count of Rennes, who gave birth to Rollo's future successor, William Longsword. Douglas dismisses this account, pointing out that Rollo's death in or after 925 makes it very unlikely that he captured Rouen as early as 876, and that he had already fathered William before his arrival in France. Instead, Douglas asserts that Rollo likely came to France no earlier than 900, and probably after 905. Before then, he became an experienced Viking, visiting Scotland and probably Ireland.[6]

The sparsity of northern Gaulish chroniclers in the early 10th century has proved to be a barrier in piecing together Rollo's raids and invasion of the region around the Seine.[7] Rollo is first mentioned in a chronicle in 921, but the earliest documentary evidence of his presence in the region is a charter dated 918, which assigned the Parisian abbey of St Germain des Prés the monastery of La Croix-St Ouen on the Eure; it records "those properties which we have given for the protection of the kingdom of the Northmen on the Seine, that is, Rollo and his associates".[8][9]

There is, however, no contemporary record of the concession of these lands to Rollo. The chronicler Flodoard 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.[10] Dudo retrospectively stated that this pact took place in 911 at Saint-Clair-sur-Epte; this was roughly the time when the Vikings suffered a defeat at Chartres and the Frankish king, which may have prompted them to negotiate. David Crouch concludes that although probable, it is impossible to verify this;[11] however Douglas agreed with Flodoard's account in the History of the Church at Rheims: after the defeat at Chartres, the Normans formed a pact with Charles and converted to Christianity. He argued that Charles the Simple's plan to invade Lorraine would have also contributed to his willingness to negotiate a settlement in the north.[12][13]

Flodoard explicitly states that Charles granted Rollo and his men the city of Rouen and a number of dependent districts around the coast.[14] Charles was overthrown by a revolt in 923, and his successor, Robert of Neustria, was killed by the Vikings in 924; his successor, Ralph, conceded the Bessin and Maine to Rollo shortly afterwards.[15] Subsequent analyses of the region's place names reveal Scandinavian settlements stretching from the Seine valley to the coast, and from Rouen to Dieppe. However, compared to settlements along eastern England (especially East Anglia and Yorkshire), the appearance of Norse elements in place names was far from widespread or entrenched. The occurrence of the Gallo-Roman suffix "-ville" after Norse names is evidence for this.[16] Around these territories, Normandy emerged, with Rollo and his men gradually adopting the pre-existing administrative and ecclesiastical boundaries they inherited: the archbishopric of Rouen and the traditional civil province, or pagus.

Rollo was alive but frail in 927, when his son is recorded doing homage to King Ralph. His exact death date is not known, but he was certainly dead by 933 and most historians approximate the year of his demise to 928.[17]


Rollo's grave at the Cathedral of Rouen

Rollo divided the land between the Epte and Risle rivers among his chieftains, and settled there with a de facto capital in the area of Rouen. Over time, Rollo and his Vikings converted from Norse paganism to Christianity, and intermarried with the local women.[18] Rollo's son, William the Longsword, and his grandson, Richard the Fearless, would establish the Duchy of Normandy in the north of France. They assimilated into French Catholic culture and became known as Normans, lending their name to the region of Normandy.

Rollo is the great-great-great-grandfather of William I of England, or "William the Conqueror". 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. A genetic investigation into the remains of Rollo's grandson Richard the Fearless and great-grandson Richard the Good has been announced, with the intention of discerning the origins of the famous Viking warrior.[19] The "Clameur de Haro" in the Channel Islands is, supposedly, an appeal to Rollo.


A genealogical chart of the Norman dynasty

Dudo records that Rollo took Popa (or Poppa), a daughter of Berenger, Count of Rennes, as a concubine and with her had their son and Rollo's heir, William. It is impossible to verify this[20] and Douglas dismissed it.[21] Dudo also records that Charles the Simple gave one of his daughters, Gisela, in marriage to Rollo, but Douglas considers this in the "highest degree improbable".[22] Douglas accepts a story from an Icelandic saga that, while in Scotland, Rollo married a Christian woman and had a daughter, Kathleen; according to the sagas, she married a Scottish King called Beolan, and had at least a daughter called Nithbeorg, who was taken captive by and married to Helgi Ottarson.[23] Another daughter, Gerloc or Adele, who married William III, Duke of Aquitaine,[24] was identified by Dudo (who does not name the mother)[25] and accepted by Crouch as a daughter of Rollo and Popa,[26] an identification made by William of Jumieges in the latter-half of the 11th century.[27]

Depictions in fiction[edit]

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, played by Clive Standen, based on the historical Rollo is Ragnar Lothbrok's brother in the History Channel television series Vikings.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rou is the result of a series of French regular phonetic changes from Hrólfr > Rolf > Rouf to Rou (see Lepelley 15–16) and Norman names in -ouf and -ou(t) : I(n)gouf and Ygout < Old Norse Ingulfr / Ingólfr (Old Danish Ingulf). The variant form Rollo is just a latinization of the root Rol(l)- + Latin suffix -o / -one-, after the Latin names in -o. cf. Cicero / Cicerone and the latinized Germanic short names in -o > -o / -on, instead of -an in Germanic cf. Bero / Beran (see Lepelley 15–16). That is the reason why his name is Rollon in Standard French. Rollo is also known in the documents as Radulf(us) (Old Low Franconian) (or sometimes Rodulf(us)) > French Raoul, that is the French translation of Hróðulfr > Hrólfr, according to the Low Franconian variant form Radulf of Germanic Rodulf / Rudolf.


  1. ^ Crouch 2002, p. 1
  2. ^ Dudo of Saint-Quentin, in his 11th century De moribus et actis primorum Normannorum ducum, tells of a powerful Danish nobleman at loggerheads with the king of Denmark, who had two sons, Gurim and Rollo; upon his death, Rollo was expelled and Gurim killed. D. C. Douglas called this account "manifestly improbable in all its details". Even the statement that Rollo is a Dane cannot be wholly trusted owing to an alliance between Robert II or Normandy and Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark at the time of Dudo's writing (Douglas 1942, pp. 418-419).
  3. ^ Crouch 2002, pp. 297-300
  4. ^ Douglas 1942, p. 420
  5. ^ René Lepelley, Guillaume le duc, Guillaume le roi : extraits du Roman de Rou de Wace, Centre de publications de l'Université de Caen, Caen, 1987, p. 15 and 16.
  6. ^ Douglas 1942, pp. 424-425
  7. ^ Douglas 1942, p. 425
  8. ^ Douglas 1942, pp. 425-426
  9. ^ Crouch 2002, p. 3
  10. ^ Crouch 2002, p. 3
  11. ^ Crouch 2002, p. 4
  12. ^ Douglas 1942, pp. 427-428
  13. ^ Rollo likely converted to Christianity and adopted the name Robert (Crouch 2002, p. 8)
  14. ^ Douglas 1942, pp. 429-430
  15. ^ Crouch, p. 6
  16. ^ Crouch 2002, pp. 5-6
  17. ^ Crouch 2002, p. 8
  18. ^ Bates Normandy Before 1066 pp. 20–21
  19. ^ "Viking is 'forefather to British Royals'". Views and News from Norway. 15 June 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  20. ^ Crouch 2002, p. 25
  21. ^ Douglas 1942, p. 424, fn. 5
  22. ^ Douglas 1942, p. 429, fn. 4
  23. ^ Douglas 1942, pp. 422 and 435
  24. ^ Crouch 2002, pp. 9 and 298
  25. ^ Christiansen 1998, pp. 69-70 and 201
  26. ^ Crouch 2002, p. 5 (table 1)
  27. ^ Guillaume de Jumièges [ed. van Houts 1992], vol. 1, pp. 68-69
  28. ^ Turnbow, Tina (18 March 2013). "Reflections of a Viking by Clive Standen". Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 


  • Christiansen, Eric (ed. and trans.) (1998). Dudo of St. Quentin, History of the Normans. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press
  • Crouch, David (2002). The Normans: the History of a Dynasty. London: Hambledon and London. ISBN 1 85285 387 5
  • Douglas, D.C (1942). "Rollo of Normandy", English Historical Review, Vol. 57, pp. 414–436
  • William of Jumieges, and van Houts, Elizabeth (ed.) (1992). The Gesta Normannorum Ducum of William of Jumièges, Orderic Vitalis and Robert of Torigni

Further reading[edit]

Primary texts[edit]

Secondary texts[edit]

  • Arbman, Holgar (1961). Ancient People and Places: The Vikings. Thames and Hudson.
  • Christiansen, Eric (2002). The Norsemen in the Viking Age. Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
  • Fitzhugh, William W. and Ward, Elizabeth (2000). Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga. Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • van Houts, Elisabeth (2000). The Normans in Europe. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press. 
  • Jones, Gwyn (1984). A History of the Vikings, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press
  • Konstam, Agnus (2002). Historical Atlas of the Viking World. Checkmark Books
  • McKitterick, Rosamond (1983). The Frankish Kingdom under the Carolingians, 751–987. Longman
  • Oxenstierna, Eric (1965). The Norsemen. New York Graphics Society Publishers, Ltd.
  • Sturluson, Snorri (1992). Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway, translated Lee M. Hollander. Reprinted Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-73061-6
French nobility
Preceded by
New title
Duke of Normandy
Succeeded by
William I