Roland (; frk|*Hrōþiland; lat-med|Hruodlandus or ''Rotholandus''; it|Orlando or ''Rolando''; died 15 August 778) was a Frankish military leader under Charlemagne who became one of the principal figures in the literary cycle known as the Matter of France. The historical Roland was military governor of the Breton March, responsible for defending Francia's frontier against the Bretons. His only historical attestation is in Einhard's ''Vita Karoli Magni'', which notes he was part of the Frankish rearguard killed in retribution by the Basques in Iberia at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. The story of Roland's death at Roncevaux Pass was embellished in later medieval and Renaissance literature. The first and most famous of these epic treatments was the Old French ''Chanson de Roland'' of the 11th century. Two masterpieces of Italian Renaissance poetry, the ''Orlando Innamorato'' and ''Orlando Furioso'' (by Matteo Maria Boiardo and Ludovico Ariosto), are further detached from history than the earlier ''Chansons'', similarly to the later ''Morgante'' by Luigi Pulci. Roland is poetically associated with his sword Durendal, his horse Veillantif, and his oliphant horn. In the late 17th century, French Baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully wrote an opera titled Roland, based on the story of the title character.


The only historical mention of the actual Roland is in the ''Vita Karoli Magni'' by Charlemagne's courtier and biographer Einhard. Einhard refers to him as ''Hruodlandus Brittannici limitis praefectus'' ("Roland, prefect of the borders of Brittany"), indicating that he presided over the Breton March, Francia's border territory against the Bretons. The passage, which appears in Chapter 9, mentions that ''Hroudlandus'' (a Latinization of the Frankish ''*Hrōþiland'', from ''*hrōþi'', "praise"/"fame" and *''land'', "country") was among those killed in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass: Roland was evidently the first official appointed to direct Frankish policy in Breton affairs, as local Franks under the Merovingian dynasty had not previously pursued any specific relationship with the Bretons. Their frontier castle districts such as Vitré, Ille-et-Vilaine, south of Mont Saint-Michel, are now divided between Normandy and Brittany. The distinctive culture of this region preserves the present-day Gallo language and legends of local heroes such as Roland. Roland's successor in ''Brittania Nova'' was Guy of Nantes, who like Roland, was unable to exert Frankish expansion over Brittany and merely sustained a Breton presence in the Carolingian Empire. According to legend, Roland was laid to rest in the basilica at Blaye, near Bordeaux, on the site of the citadel. thumb|left|The eight phases of ''The Song of Roland'' in one picture


Roland was a popular and iconic figure in medieval Europe and its minstrel culture. Many tales made him a nephew of Charlemagne and turned his life into an epic tale of the noble Christian killed by hostile forces, which forms part of the medieval Matter of France. The tale of Roland's death is retold in the 11th-century poem ''The Song of Roland'', where he is equipped with the olifant (a signaling horn) and an unbreakable sword, enchanted by various Christian relics, named Durendal. The ''Song'' contains a highly romanticized account of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and Roland's death, setting the tone for later fantastical depiction of Charlemagne's court. thumbnail|Attributed arms according to [[Michel Pastoureau: ''Échiqueté d'or et de sable'']] It was adapted and modified throughout the Middle Ages, including an influential Latin prose version ''[[Historia Caroli Magni]]'' (latterly known as the ''Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle''), which also includes Roland's battle with a Saracen giant named Ferracutus who is only vulnerable at his navel. The story was later adapted in the anonymous Franco-Venetian epic ''L'Entrée d'Espagne'' ( 1320) and in the 14th-century Italian epic ''La Spagna'', attributed to the Florentine Sostegno di Zanobi and likely composed between 1350 and 1360. Other texts give further legendary accounts of Roland's life. His friendship with Olivier and his engagement with Olivier's sister Aude are told in ''Girart de Vienne'' by Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube. Roland's youth and the acquisition of his horse Veillantif and sword are described in ''Aspremont''. Roland also appears in ''Quatre Fils Aymon'', where he is contrasted with Renaud de Montauban against whom he occasionally fights. In Norway, the tales of Roland are part of the 13th-century ''Karlamagnús saga''. In the ''Divine Comedy'' Dante sees Roland, named Orlando as it is usual in Italian literature, in the Heaven of Mars together with others who fought for the faith. Roland appears in ''Entrée d'Espagne'', a 14th-century Franco-Venetian chanson de geste (in which he is transformed into a knight errant, similar to heroes from the Arthurian romances) and ''La Spagna'', a 14th-century Italian epic. From the 15th century onwards, he appears as a central character in a sequence of Italian verse romances as "Orlando", including ''Morgante'' by Luigi Pulci, ''Orlando Innamorato'' by Matteo Maria Boiardo, and ''Orlando furioso'' by Ludovico Ariosto. (See below for his later history in Italian verse.) The ''Orlandino'' of Pietro Aretino then waxed satirical about the "cult of personality" of Orlando the hero. The Orlando narrative inspired several composers, amongst whom were Claudio Monteverdi, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Antonio Vivaldi and George Frideric Handel, who composed an Italian-language opera with ''Orlando''. In Germany, Roland gradually became a symbol of the independence of the growing cities from the local nobility. In the late Middle Ages many cities featured defiant statues of Roland in their marketplaces. The Roland in Wedel was erected in 1450 as symbol of market and Hanseatic justice, and the Roland statue in front of Bremen City Hall (1404) has been listed together with the city hall itself on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 2004. In Aragón there are several placenames related to Roldán or Rolando, including the mountain pass Roland's Breach and the rock formation Salto de Roldán. In Catalonia Roland (or ''Rotllà'', as it is rendered in Catalan) became a legendary giant. Numerous places in Catalonia (both North and South) have a name related to ''Rotllà''. In step with the trace left by the character in the whole Pyrenean area, Basque ''Errolan'' turns up in numerous legends and place-names associated with a mighty giant, usually a heathen, capable of launching huge stones. The Basque word ''erraldoi'' (giant) stems from ''Errol(d)an'', as pointed out by the linguist Koldo Mitxelena. In the Faroe Islands, Roland appears in the ballad o
"Runtsivalstríðið" (Battle of Roncevaux)
A statue of Roland also stands in the city of Rolândia in Brazil. This city was established by German immigrants, many of whom were refugees from Nazi Germany, who named their new home after Roland to represent freedom.

Figure of speech

The English expression "to give a Roland for an Oliver", meaning either to offer a or ''to give as good as one gets'', recalls the ''Chanson de Roland'' and Roland's companion Oliver.



* Lojek, A. – Adamová, K.: "About Statues of Rolands in Bohemia", ''Journal on European History of Law'', Vol. 3/2012, No. 1, s. 136–138. (ISSN 2042-6402). * Adriana Kremenjas-Danicic (Ed.): ''Roland's European Paths''. Europski dom Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik 2006 (). * Susan P. Millinger, "Epic Values: The Song of Roland", in Jason Glenn (ed), ''The Middle Ages in Texts and Texture: Reflections on Medieval Sources'' (Toronto, University of Toronto, 2012).

External links

* * {{Authority control Category:778 deaths Category:Anglo-Norman folklore Category:Fictional knights Category:8th-century Frankish people Category:Frankish warriors Category:French folklore Category:French legends Category:Matter of France Category:Medieval legends Category:Year of birth unknown Category:Characters in The Song of Roland