Viking Age – Rollo the Viking Duke

Who was Rollo the Viking in real life ? Was Rollo actually Ragnar Lothbrok’s brother ? Did he really become a duke of France? Here are the answers to all these questions as accurate as they could be given considering the scarcity of written records regarding those times.

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The Walker (also known as Rollo or Rollon or Rolla). He was so giant that no horse could be found strong enough to carry him, therefore he had to walk. Image Source

First and foremost, it will make things a lot easier to state at this point that Rollo in Vikings by History Channel is a character very loosely based on the real Rollo, that is, Duke Rollo of Normandy.

The producer, Michael Hirst and the team behind Vikings already told many times during different interviews that Vikings is based on Viking sagas and records regarding the adventures of Northmen (which were mostly oral records) but historical accuracy was not  the main focus of the TV show.

Rollo was one of the most important Vikings in the history and that is probably the reason why the producer wanted to add the character to the mix. That being said, there are a lot of discrepancies with history and we will start with that.

Was the Real-life Rollo Ragnar Lothbrok’s Brother?

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Ragnar Lothbrok (<< click to read about him) was a legendary Viking hero who raided England and France many times and the father of some very important names in the history of Vikings such as Björn Ironside, Ivar the Boneless, Ubbe, Hvitserk and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.

Ragnar Lothbrok’s raids on England and France and the deeds of his sons, particularly Björn Ironside and Ivar the Boneless (click to read about his life and death), had significant effects on the structure of these lands. However, there are a lot of theories about the identity of the real Ragnar Lothbrok.

Considering the accounts telling us of Ragnar are mostly oral records and sagas, it is not possible to know exactly who Ragnar was. Some experts suggest that these sagas are merely compilations of stories regarding different Viking heroes (different heroes given the name Ragnar or similar names according to some.)

Nevertheless, there is one thing we can be sure of;  Rollo was not Ragnar Lothbrok’s brother. Firstly, there is a huge gap between the times Ragnar and Rollo lived in.

Ragnar Lodbrok Sigurdsson is assumed to be born between 740 and 780.  Although there is no exact information about any of these dates, he is assumed to have died in Northumbria in 840.

Rollo, on the other hand, is known to be born in 860 while his death is assumed to have happened between 928 and 933.

In addition to that, there are absolutely no historical records or accounts suggesting a relation between Rollo and Ragnar Lothbrok. Some historians already argued that the large-scale attacks on Paris depicted in the TV series happened a long while after Ragnar Lothbrok died.

In the show, these attacks are the reason Rollo gets involved with the French court and becomes a member of it. That part is actually historically accurate. But, according to the accounts of the time, it was not Ragnar Lothbrok but Rollo and some other Viking chieftains who made the attack on Paris resulting in him being baptized and becoming the Duke of Normandy (more on that later in the article).

In conclusion, Rollo’s jealousy of Ragnar Lothbrok over many things (including Shieldmaiden Lagertha – read about Lagertha here) and the sibling rivalry between the two are purely fictional as they were not related.

But might the real-life Rollo have met other characters on the show, Floki maybe? As I specified in the article regarding Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson, Floki is assumed to be born around the year 830 which makes him about 30 years old when Rollo the Walker first started walking this earth. Therefore, although a meeting between these two “might” have happened, it probably did not considering nothing in the limited resources links these two historical figures to each other.

As another thing maybe we should clarify here, even if he was Ragnar Lothbrok’s brother, it would simply be wrong to call him “Rollo Lothbrok”. Lothbrok ( meaning “hairy breeches” )  was an epithet given to Ragnar because of the hairy breeches (or dirty breeches according to some accounts) he wore fighting a poison-breathing serpent. Therefore, Rollo Lothbrok would not be an accurate use.

Rollo the Walker – Origin of the Name “Rollo”

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The name “Rollo” is assumed to be the latinized version of “Hrólfr”. According to the legend, Hrólfr the Walker was a very large Viking who had to walk since no horse could carry him. In his work, Gesta Danorum (“Deeds of the Danes”), the 12th century author Saxo Grammaticus suggests that Hrólfr the Walker is actually Roluo.

Similarly, in Icelandic sagas Rollo is identified with Göngu-Hrólfr (Ganger-Hrolf in Old Danish language – “Hrólfr the Walker”).

Denmark or Norway – Where Was Rollo From ?

There are several theories regarding the birthplace and origin of Duke Rollo of Normandy.

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According to Historia Normannorum (also known as Libri III de moribus et actis primorum Normanniae ducum),  a biogprahy on Rollo written by Dudo of Saint-Quentin, Rollo was the son of a Danish nobleman and had a brother named Gurim. After the death of his father, his brother was killed and Rollo was forced out of Denmark.

Dudo probably had the chance to work with family members and other people who actually met Rollo as his work was commissioned by Rollo’s grandson Richard I of Normandy. This, however, might be a reason to not consider Historia Normannorum an official biography as it might be a biased narrative.

Goffredo Malaterra (Geoffrey/Gaufredo Malaterra), an eleventh-century Benediction monk and historian, stated that Rollo was from Norway and came to the coasts of Christian lands with his Norwegian army. This was later supported by William of Malmesbury, an English historian who lived in 12th century.

In addition to that, a Welsh author suggests in The Life of Gruffudd ap Cynan that Rollo the Viking was actually the brother of Harald Fairhair/Harald Finehair, King of Norway (another character loosely based on a real-life character in History Channel’s Vikings).

Icelandic sagas Heimskringla and Orkneyinga identifies Rollo with Hrolf the Walker. According to these sagas, Hrolf was born in More, a western region of Norway in the 9th century as the son of Rognvald Eysteinsson (“Rognvald the Wise”) the Jarl/Earl of More  and Hildr Hrólfsdóttir a noblewoman. This information might also be biased as these claims were made by Rollo’s descendants three centuries after he died.




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