How Rollo the Viking Conqueror Settled in Normandy

How Rollo the Viking Conqueror Settled in Normandy

Rollo was a well-known Viking leader who lived between the 9 th and 10 th centuries AD. He is best-known for becoming the ruler of Normandy and is therefore sometimes referred to as the first Duke of Normandy . As a matter of fact, Rollo is not known to have used this title. Instead, it was one of his descendants who began to use the ‘Duke of Normandy’ title officially. In modern times, Rollo has become a part of popular culture, thanks to his depiction by the English actor Clive Standen in the television series Vikings. It must be pointed out, however, that the Rollo of the series is only loosely based on the real Viking leader and is, therefore, a largely fictional account of this historical figure.

Rollo is known also as Rollon (in French), Rou (in Norman), and Hrólfr (in Old Norse). There are various sources written during the Middle Ages about Rollo’s life. Most of these sources were written by Norwegian or Danish writers. A biography of Rollo is also found in the official history of the Normans, which was written by Dudo of Saint-Quentin during the late 10 th century AD. In 986 AD, Dudo, who was a canon of Saint-Quentin, was sent by Count of Vermandois to the Normans, in order to seek their help against Hugh Capet, the first King of the Franks from the Capetian dynasty . Subsequently, Dudo was employed by Richard I, Rollo’s grandson, to write a history of the Norman dukes. Between 1015 and 1026 AD, Dudo completed his De moribus et actis primorum Normanniae ducum (“Concerning the Customs and Deeds of the First Dukes of the Normans”).

Statue of Rollo, Falaise, France. ( CC BY-SA 2.5 )

Rollo the Viking and His Rise to Power

Rollo is believed to have been born around 860 AD, though his place of birth is unclear. Although it is clear that Rollo was born in Scandinavia it is not clear whether he was from Norway or Denmark. According to Dudo, for instance, Rollo is said to have hailed from the Alps-surrounded area of Dacia in Eastern Europe. Some have interpreted this to mean Denmark. Other sources, however, claim that Rollo was from Norway. In Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, for instance, there is a story about a Norwegian Viking called Rolf Ganger, whom some have identified as Rollo. Incidentally, the name ‘Rolf Ganger’ means ‘Rolf the Walker’, and this epithet was given to him because he was “of so stout a growth that no horse could carry him, and wheresoever he went he must go on foot”. This Rolf Ganger also appears in other Norwegian-Icelandic sources, such as the Latin Historia Norvegiae , and the Fagrskinna.

Viking Ships besieging Paris. ( Public domain )

Rollo may have been Danish or Norwegian, but he was certainly expelled from his homeland. According to Dudo, there was a king of Dacia who was antagonistic towards Rollo’s family. When Rollo’s father (who, like the king, is unnamed) died, he was succeeded by his two sons, Rollo and Gurim. The king saw the death of Rollo’s father as an opportunity to seize his lands, and to “take revenge on the sons for the deeds of the father”. Eventually, the king attacks Rollo, but is unable to defeat him. As a result, the war dragged on for a year. The king realised that he would not be able to conquer Rollo by force, so he resorted to deceit, and pretended to make peace with his enemy. Rollo welcomed the peace-making offer, being completely unaware of the king’s intended treachery. When night fell, the king attacked Rollo again, and set up an ambush near the walls of the city. The king pretended to flee from Rollo and once the latter was out of his city, the trap was sprung. Rollo found himself caught between two armies, and many of his men, including his brother, were killed. Fortunately, Rollo managed to escape from Dacia and sailed to the island of Scania with his remaining men.

The story of banishment is also found in the Heimskringla. According to Sturluson, Rollo was the son of Earl Ragnvald, a close friend of the Norwegian king, Harald Fairhair , and Hild, a daughter of Rolf Nefia. Rollo had a brother called Thorer, as well as several half-brothers. When Rollo grew up, he became a formidable Viking. One summer, Rollo raided the coast of Viken. Harald, who so happened to be in Viken at that time, heard of the raid and was enraged, as he had forbidden his men to plunder within the boundaries of Norway. The king summoned a Thing, or an assembly, and Rollo was declared an outlaw. Rollo accepted his punishment and sailed westwards, where he continued his raids.

  • Ragnar Lothbrok: A Real Viking Hero Whose Life Became Lost to Legend
  • Bjorn Ironside: Son of Famed Viking Ragnar Lodbrok Became Legendary King of Sweden
  • Vikings Used Sherwood Forest Long Before It Was Known as the Hideout of Robin Hood

Viking attack on Paris in 845 ( Public domain )

Rollo and The Viking’ Raids on Paris, France

Rollo lived during a time in European history called the ‘ Viking Age ’. This era lasted from around the end of the 8 th century AD to the 11 th century AD. During the Viking Age, Scandinavian raiders, like Rollo, frequently made their fortunes by plundering coastal sites. Although the British Isles suffered the most from these raids, the Vikings also set foot on the European mainland, and even reached as far away as eastern Europe. The Vikings, however, did not have a great impact on continental Europe, and their activities in eastern Europe seem to have been less violent than in the West. In the British Isles and in eastern Europe, the Vikings eventually became settlers. In mainland Europe, on the other hand, the Vikings were not so successful in establishing settlements, with the exception of Rollo.

Detail of a miniature of the arrival of Duke Rollo in Normandy, with the city of Rouen on the left. ( Public domain )

Whilst Rollo founded Normandy, he was certainly not the first Viking to raid France, or West Francia as it was then known. Viking raids on France are known to have occurred as early as the end of the 8 th century AD. As France was part of the Carolingian Empire , the emperor, Charlemagne, built coastal defences to protect his realm. Although these defences reduced the number of Viking raids, they did not stop them completely. One of the most famous Viking raids was the Siege of Paris in 845 AD. That year, about 5000 Vikings laid siege to Paris. The Vikings arrived in Paris via the Seine on board 120 ships led by a chieftain named Reginherus or Ragnar. This chieftain is sometimes identified as Ragnar Lothbrok , a figure from the legendary Norse sagas. Four years before the siege, Ragnar was given some land in Flanders by the king, Charles the Bald. Soon, however, Ragnar lost the king’s favour, and was forced to return his land to him.

Important European Vikings Voyages (Bogdangiusca / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

In retaliation, Ragnar decided to launch a raid on France. The Vikings sailed up the Seine, and plundered Rouen on their way to Paris. Charles was determined to defend the Abbey of Saint-Denis , to the north of Paris, so he assembled his army, divided them into two garrisons, and stationed them on both banks of the Seine. Ragnar attacked the smaller of the two garrisons, defeated them, and even managed to take some prisoners. After this victory, the Vikings continued their journey, and reached Paris on Easter. Ragnar and his men entered the city and sacked it. The Vikings only left Paris after a ransom of 7000 livres of silver and gold were paid to them. As Ragnar withdrew, he plundered several other Frankish sites.

In the decades that followed, the Vikings carried out further raids on West Francia. Paris itself was attacked three more times during the 860s. On each occasion, the Vikings only left after they sacked the city, or were paid off. At the same time, however, the Franks took measures to deter these raids. In 864 AD, for example, two footbridges crossing the Seine to Paris (located on the Île de la Cité) were built. Moreover, the city was further fortified to better resist the Vikings. These defensive measures were put to the test in 885 AD, when the Vikings attacked Paris again.

Although Paris was well fortified, the kingdom of West Francia had grown weaker in the years leading up to 885 AD. For example, Charles died in 877 AD, and was succeeded by a number of short-lived kings. The Vikings saw the weakness of the Franks as an opportunity to attack Paris again. The Vikings, led by Sigfred, Sinric, and Rollo, initially issued their demands to the king, Charles the Fat (who was also a Holy Roman emperor). When these demands were not met, the Vikings launched an attack on Paris.

Viking attack in France. (Internet Archive Book Images / Public domain )

The defence of Paris was mainly overseen by Odo, Count of Paris. He prepared for the arrival of the Vikings by erecting two towers to guard the bridges that were built in 864 AD. The Viking fleet arrived at the end of November, 885 AD. The Vikings asked for tribute again, but their demands were refused again. Therefore, they began to besiege the city. The greatest obstacle to the Vikings were the two bridges, one of stone, and the other of wood. Since the wooden bridge was the weaker of the two, the Vikings concentrated their efforts there. The tried to take the tower defending the bridge, but only succeeded after three months. In February 886 AD, the Vikings tried to destroy the wooden bridge by setting it on fire with burning boats. Although the bridge was not destroyed it was weakened. Subsequently, a flood that occurred after a heavy rain brought the bridge down. The tower was now isolated and was soon captured by the Vikings.

The city, however, was still standing. Instead of attacking Paris, the Vikings began to pillage the surrounding countryside. This gave the defenders a chance to replenish their supplies, and to seek aid from outside. By April Sigfred realised that it was impossible for him to continue the siege. Therefore, he asked for a small tribute (about 60 livres of silver) which was granted, and he withdrew his army. Rollo and his men, however, continued the siege. During the summer, the remaining Vikings made one last attempt to take the city but were unsuccessful. Soon after the king arrived with his army and surrounded the besiegers.

Instead of fighting the Vikings, however, Charles decided to pay them 700 livres of silver to lift the siege. The Vikings then attacked Burgundy, which was revolting against Frankish rule. Naturally, the people of Paris felt betrayed by the king’s actions. When the Vikings were on their way home after raiding Burgundy, the Parisians refused to allow them to use the Seine. As a result, they were forced to drag their boats over a long stretch of land to an area of the river outside the city. After Charles was deposed in 888 AD, Odo, who was hailed as the ‘saviour of Paris’, became the new king of West Francia.

As for Rollo, he returned to his homeland, but was back in West Francia at the beginning of the 10 th century AD. By 911 AD, Rollo had established himself in the Seine Valley. In that year, he tried to attack Paris, but was unsuccessful. Rollo also tried to besiege Chartres, but that ended in failure as well. The king, Charles the Simple, decided that instead of trying to get rid of Rollo, it may be better to make a truce with him. As a result the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte was negotiated between the two sides. In return for a part of Neustria, Rollo was to give up his Viking ways. This area became known as Normandy, and its people Normans, a reference to the Vikings as ‘Northmen.’ Thus, Rollo was no longer an enemy of the Frankish king, but one of his vassals.

Rollo and the Establishment of the Normandy Dynasty

According to Dudo, Rollo was given the hand of Charles’ daughter, Gisela, in marriage, to seal the treaty. Dudo also tells a story in which Rollo was to kiss Charles’ foot, as a sign of submission. Since this was perceived as a way to humiliate Rollo, he was not too happy about it. Instead a compromise was made: one of Rollo’s men would kiss the king’s foot. The man who was to kiss the king’s foot, however, did not bend down, but lifted the king’s leg, and kissed his foot. Naturally, the king fell over, causing much amusement amongst the people at the ceremony. In another part of his work, Dudo mentions that Rollo married Popa of Bayeux, the daughter of a ‘Count Berengar,’ and the pair had a son, William Longsword, Rollo’s successor.

Rollo died around 932 AD. According to Dudo, Rollo handed over his power to his son, William Longsword, shortly before his death. While some sources state that Rollo converted to Christianity, others claim that he remained a pagan till his death. Rollo’s dynasty flourished in the centuries that followed. The Normans expanded their realm, setting up dynasties in England, southern Italy (the Kingdom of Sicily), and the Near East (the Principality of Antioch).

Rollo and the Norman colony

A glance at the Frankish annals recording events over the years since 820, when the first small fleet of thirteen Viking ships raided around the mouth of the Seine, shows how persistently the raiders used the great river to penetrate the territories of the Frankish empire. In the 840s, fleets under the commands of Asgeir and Ragnar sailed as far as Paris, looting and burning as they went. Rouen was captured and burnt by Asgeir in 841, and when he returned to the Seine in 851 Rouen served as a base from which to raid on foot in the region of Beauvais. A permanent camp was established on the fluvial island of Jeufosse, from which successive generations of Viking leaders were able to exercise control over access to the Seine. The Norwegian Sigtrygg, who spent time in both Ireland and Francia, joined forces with a leader named Bjørn to raid along the Seine as far as Chartres until beaten back in a rare military triumph for Charles the Bald. In 857 the two armies attacked Paris and captured and sacked Chartres. Bjørn was joined by Hasting early in 858 and the attacks from the Seine valley continued. As we saw in an earlier chapter, the power struggle that followed the death of Louis the Pious made things much easier for the Vikings.

Carolingian efforts to preserve order within the divided empire were made more difficult by a development in the system of royal administration whereby those royal officials like the counts, who had formerly been peripatetic and derived their authority from their position within the Carolingian hierarchy, claimed an increasing autonomy that turned them into magnates with local, geographically determined power bases. Dynasties developed, several of which established themselves in the region around what would later become Normandy, known as the Breton or Neustrian march. In the days of Charlemagne it extended from Calais to the borders of Brittany and its military role within the empire was to prevent the incursions of the notoriously independent Bretons from the west. Fifty troubled years after Charlemagne&rsquos death it was clear that the region could not be defended and in 867 the Cotentin and the Avranchin were ceded to the Bretons. Chronic instability in the region persisted as they continued to push eastward without ever establishing themselves as the dominant power in the region.

At the same time the Carolingian churches and monasteries were abusing their privileges of royal immunity to the point at which they more or less rejected any obligations at all to central government. Having neither money, lands nor reliable armies, the Carolingian monarchy was reduced to issuing ineffectual decrees and ordinances. Lawlessness and theft were combated by decrees advising that violators be &lsquoadmonished with Christian love to repent&rsquo punishment was to be meted out to the guilty &lsquoas far as the local officials could remember them&rsquo. One forlorn decree even required royal officials to swear on oath not to become highway robbers themselves. 1

To this brew of royal intrigue and looming anarchy Viking raiders added their own particular form of terror. Hasting and Bjørn raided again and again in the Cotentin and Avranchin and turned them into deserted wastelands. In 865 the crews of some fifty ships built a new camp on the Seine at Pîtres, and in 876 another fleet of about 100 ships sailed up the Seine and were bought off in the following year for 5,000 livres by Charles the Bald. Just as it had done in England, Viking terror devastated and demoralized the Christian Church. Bishops were killed at Noyon, Beauvais and Bayeux, and the record of bishops at Avranches ceases after 862, at Bayeux after 876 and at Sées after 910.

The policy of a sometimes well-meaning appeasement had been practised by Frankish rulers for almost a century prior to the agreement made in 912 between Charles the Simple, king of the Western Franks, and a Viking leader named Rollo. Usually these deals involved Frisia, from Rüstringen in the north to Antwerp in the south, and the beneficiaries were Danes. Hemming was given the harbour of Dorestad on the Waal, a tributary of the Rhine, in 807 Louis the Pious gave it to Klak-Harald in 829, between 855 and 873 it was in the hands of Rorik, and in 882 Godfrid took it over. 2 None of these episodes turned into a full-scale attempt to settle in Frisia and the archaeological record of the Viking presence there is sparse, but the story of Godfrid&rsquos agreement of 882 with Charles the Fat, in which he was given &lsquoland to live on&rsquo and a royal bride named Gisla, makes an interesting overture to Rollo&rsquos establishment of the colony in Normandy.

Vikingsd used the rivers of the north west Furopean mainland to penetrated deep into Frankish territory and capitalize on the rivalry that broke out between the sons of Louis the Pious after his death.

Also known to his biographers, chroniclers and poets as Rollo, Rollon, Robert, Rodulf, Ruinus, Rosso, Rotlo and Hrolf, Ganger Rolf or Rolf the Walker, founder in about 911 of what became the duchy of Normandy, is another of those, like Ragnar Hairy-Breeches and Ivar the Boneless, whose prominence among their contemporaries conspired over the years with an almost complete lack of biographical information to transform them from ordinary mortals into dense hybrids of men, myth and legend. As we noted earlier, Dudo of St-Quentin&rsquos claim that Rollo was one of the Viking leaders at the long siege of Paris in 885 seems doubtful. A canon of St-Quentin in Picardy, Dudo was commissioned in 994 to write his history of the duchy of Normandy by Rollo&rsquos grandson, Duke Richard I. Dudo&rsquos account of the creation of the duchy and its subsequent development has suffered more than most from the rigours of source criticism. Much of his information about Rollo&rsquos activities prior to the foundation of the duchy is probably the product of a desire to insert retrospectively into significant events someone whose rise to prominence went almost unnoticed in the contemporary record, and thereafter to portray him in as sympathetic a light as possible. 3 Yet Dudo&rsquos is the closest we have to a local and contemporary history of the duchy. His successors as historians of the duchy were William of Jumièges, writing some time after 1066, and Orderic Vitalis, who died in about 1142. Both used Dudo as their source, and though they did so with discretion and were able to provide a few extra items of information they did not substantially alter his account of the early days of the duchy. There are only three references to Rollo in independent contemporary sources, each of them brief, none that tell us anything about who he was or where he came from.

His origins, not unsurprisingly, are uncertain. The tradition Dudo records is that he was from Dacia or Denmark, of aristocratic family, and driven out of the country either as a result of what Dudo implies was a form of population control in Denmark that involved the expulsion of whole generations of young men by the drawing of lots, or because the Danish king considered the popular Rollo too great a threat to his power. Rollo made his way to Skåne and from there embarked on a career as a Viking that included making tributaries of the Frisians in Walcheren. In England he struck up an immediate and close rapport with a king whom Dudo calls &lsquoAlstem&rsquo, and agreed terms of perpetual friendship and support with him. This is regarded as one of Dudo&rsquos wilder fictions and a grotesque misjudgement of Alfred of Wessex&rsquos character. Yet its oddness is diminished if we take the reference to be not to Alfred, king of Wessex, or even a misdated Athelstan, grandson of Alfred, but to Guthrum, the Danish leader whom Alfred baptized and then recognized as king of the East Angles in 880. &lsquoAlstem&rsquo is an acceptably close approximation to Guthrum&rsquos baptismal name Athelstan, and we know that Athelstan used the name in minting his coins. Identifying Alstem as Guthrum/Athelstan, king of the East Angles, makes credible the warmth and respect that Dudo tells us sprang up between these two men, apparently spontaneously. 4 When Rollo&rsquos emissaries reveal to Alstem that they are Danes, the king&rsquos reported reply - &lsquoNo region brings forth extraordinary men, and ones actively instructed in arms, more than does Dacia&rsquo - has the unique ring of one ex-pat fondly greeting another. Guthrum/Athelstan died in 890 and had been king in East Anglia since 880, dates that easily accommodate these associations. Dudo tells us that Rollo lived to an advanced age and died in about 929 or 930, so if we hazard a guess at a birthdate of about 860 this would make him active by 880 at the latest.

The identification also supplies a logic for this Danish Alstem&rsquos recurring problems with a respectless and rebellious native population: &lsquoThe English, puffed up and perverse with their audacious insolence, refuse to obey my commands&rsquo, he complained to Rollo. 5 Placing Rollo at the siege of Paris that took place in 885, Dudo writes as though this were indeed the state of affairs:

And when the English heard that Rollo had laid siege to the city of Paris, and was occupied with Frankish matters, they reckoned that he would not come to the assistance of his friend king Athelstan, and they renounced their fealty. They began to grow insolent and arrogant and fierce, and opposed the king by vexing him with battles. 6

Dudo goes on to refer to the English as &lsquoperfidious&rsquo, illogically for a supporter of the house of Wessex, logically for the supporter of a Danish conqueror struggling to assert his authority over the natives. He even tells us that Alstem offered a half share of his kingdom to Rollo, an incredible gesture for Alfred, but for Guthrum/Athelstan only a sensible attempt to solve problems of order in his new kingdom.

The identification of Alstem with the Guthrum/Athelstan known to us from Anglo-Saxon Chronicle strengthens Dudo&rsquos claim that Rollo was of Danish origins but in general Dudo&rsquos account of Rollo&rsquos origins and career has all the vagueness and general applicability of a newspaper horoscope. It suffers by comparison with Snorri Sturluson&rsquos more detailed account. In Snorri&rsquos Saga of Harald Fairhair the future conqueror of Normandy is a Norwegian youth named Hrolf, a son of that Ragnvald, earl of Møre, who was Harald&rsquos main ally during the campaign to unify Norway and his ceremonial hairdresser once it was successful. Snorri tells us that Rollo was so big that no horse could bear his weight and he had to walk everywhere, and was for this reason known as Ganger Rolf or Rolf the Walker. It makes him a sort of legendary inversion of Ivar the Boneless who, in one set of stories about him, could walk nowhere at all and had to be carried everywhere. For once it is Dudo who has the more sober explanation for this tale, conceding that in the last year of his life Rollo was &lsquounable to ride a horse&rsquo but adding that this was owing to &lsquohis great age and failing body&rsquo. There is no hint of his being an unusually large man.

Like Dudo&rsquos Rollo, Ganger Rolf was a successful Viking. He made the mistake of harrying on the shores of the Vik at a time when King Harald himself was in the region. Harald promptly outlawed the young man. Rolf&rsquos mother Hild, whose family name was Nevja, tried to persuade him to change his mind, but the king was adamant. Hild then composed this sorrowing verse:

The name of Nevja is torn
Now driven in flight from the land
Is the warrior&rsquos bold kinsman.
Why be so hard, my lord?
Evil it is by such a wolf
Noble prince to be bitten
He will not spare the flock
If he is driven to the woods. 7

The lines enjoy the special credibility generally extended to poems embedded in saga texts as more likely to be creations describing contemporary events yet they have no direct bearing on the identification of Rolf with Rollo of Normandy. This comes unequivocally with Snorri&rsquos summation of Rolf&rsquos fate after his banishment: &lsquoRolf the Ganger afterwards crossed the sea to the Hebrides and from there went south-west to France he harried there and possessed himself of a great earldom he settled many Norsemen there, and it was afterward called Normandy. &rsquo 8 Among Rollo&rsquos three half-brothers was Rollaug, a name that transmutes more easily into Latin &lsquoRollo&rsquo than does Rolf. Snorri quotes, moreover, a verse by Einar, earl of Orkney, which shows that Rolf and Rollaug were at some point together in the Orkneys. But arguing against the faint possibility that Snorri somehow got the brothers confused and that it was Rollaug who was actually &lsquoRollo&rsquo of Normandy, is the story mentioned earlier of how Rollaug was told to settle in Iceland by his father, for he had &lsquono disposition for war&rsquo.

Rollo&rsquos Hebridean connections are further supported, despite some passing confusion, by the anonymous twelfth-century Welsh history The Life of Gruffyd ap Cynan, where the genealogy of Gruffyd&rsquos grandfather includes Rollo, here a brother of King Harald Finehair, who subdued &lsquoa large part of France which is now called Normandy, because the men of Norway inhabit it they are a people from Llychlyn&rsquo. 9 &lsquoLlychlyn&rsquo looks like a variant spelling of that independent island kingdom, mentioned earlier, comprising the northern and western isles as well as parts of mainland Scotland.

At the close of the nineteenth century, with the Scandinavian nations jostling for position over the emerging reality of a &lsquoViking Age&rsquo and laying claims to its various heroes, the question of Rollo&rsquos nationality became for a short time a matter of urgent debate. The Danish historian Johannes Steenstrup used the surviving fragments of a Planctus for William Longsword, a grief-poem written by an unknown author shortly after the murder of Rollo&rsquos son and successor William Longsword, in 942, to advance arguments for accepting the reliability of Dudo&rsquos history that would make Rollo a Dane. The Norwegian Gustav Storm employed the Planctus to opposite effect to reinforce Snorri&rsquos case for his Norwegian origins, pointing out that the Planctus&rsquos description of William as &lsquoBorn overseas from a father who stuck to the pagan error/and from a mother who was devoted to the sweet religion&rsquo directly contradicts Dudo&rsquos claim that William was born in Rouen. Snorri&rsquos tale of Rolf&rsquos Hebridean interlude, along with the Planctus&rsquos reference to his Christian wife, both appear to complement a tradition, recorded in the Icelandic Book of the Settlements, and repeated in the so-called Great Saga of Olaf Tryggvason, 10 that Rolf had a daughter named Kathlín, or Kathleen, who married the Hebridean King Bjólan. 11 Dudo makes no reference to this daughter, whose name is both Celtic and Christian. 12

Snorri is very sure of himself in the identification of Rolf with Rollo, and the enigma of Dudo&rsquos ignorance of detail concerning his subject&rsquos origins that was available to Snorri over 200 years later remains. It may well be that he was trying to rationalize the fact that Rollo was Norwegian but most of his followers Danes. In his Saga of St Olav, king of Norway between 1016 and 1028, Snorri revisits Rolf/Rollo&rsquos great triumph at the conclusion of a typically brisk genealogical round-up: &lsquoFrom Rolf the Ganger are the jarls of Ruda (Rouen) descended, and long afterwards they claimed kinship with the chiefs of Norway and set great store by it for many years they were always the Norsemen&rsquos best friends, and all Norsemen, who would have it, had peace land with them.&rsquo 13

Though there are other alternatives - William of Jumièges cautiously gives no pedigree for Rollo and says he was chosen by lot to lead his generation of Seine raiders and the late tenth-century historian Richer of Reims trenchantly refers to Rollo as a &lsquopirate&rsquo and names his father as a certain Catillus (Ketill) 14 - Snorri&rsquos identification remains the most popular, though it is certainly not definitive. Nor is the anonymous thirteenth-century Saga of Ganger Rolf, a sublimely wild account of the doings of a man who shares nothing but his name with the hero of Snorri&rsquos and Dudo&rsquos histories, and the legend of his great size with Snorri&rsquos. Contemplating some of his more obvious outrages against both history and common sense, the author admits with a disarming shrug that &lsquomaybe this saga doesn&rsquot tally with what other sagas have to say about the same things, not in regard to the various events, or the names of the people, or the brave and bold deeds done by this one or that, or where the various chieftains ruled&rsquo. He assures his readers, however, that

those who have assembled these tidings must have based them on something, either ancient verses or else the testimonies of learned men. And in any case, few if any of the stories from the old days are such that people would swear that everything happened just as related therein, since in most cases a word here and there will have been added. And sometimes it&rsquos not possible to know every word and every happening, for most things happen long before they&rsquore told about. 15

As we have noted earlier Dudo put the date of Rollo&rsquos arrival on the Seine at 876 and placed him at a siege of Paris which, if there be any truth in the story, is more likely to be that of 886. Thereafter he treats him as the only significant Viking leader on the lower Seine. At some point Rollo captured the city of Rouen. Unlike his predecessors, he managed to keep control of it. The Historia Norwegie describes in admiring terms the tactics that won the day. The crew of his fleet of fifteen ships dug pits disguised with turfs between the city walls and the river and then lured their mounted opponents into the traps by pretending to run for their ships once the battle was under way. The trick was so successful that they were able to enter Rouen unopposed. 16 Indeed, it seems that Rollo had established himself so firmly there that defeat in a battle against the Neustrian count Robert I in about 911 led not to flight but instead to an invitation from Charles the Simple to join him at the negotiating table, where the king formally recognized Rollo&rsquos right to remain in possession of a large part of north-west Francia, pointedly described as already &lsquotoo often laid waste by Hasting and by you&rsquo. 17 In return Rollo agreed to be baptized and to assist the king in the defence of the realm. The seal of agreement was to be marriage between Rollo and Charles&rsquos daughter, Gisla. 18

The treaty agreed upon in 912, at a meeting between Rollo and Charles the Simple at Saint-Claire-sur-Epte, has not survived and is a historical presumption only but there is a reference to it in a royal charter of March 918 which deals with the matter of an abbey whose patrimony had been bisected as a result of it:

we give and grant this abbey of which the main part lies in the area of Méresias on the River Eure to Saint-Germain and to his monks for their upkeep, except that part of the abbey [&rsquos lands] which we have granted to the Normans of the Seine, namely to Rollo and his companions, for the defence of the kingdom . . . 19

Rollo received a further grant of land in central Normandy in 924. The contemporary French analyst Flodoard of Reims tells us:

The Northmen entered upon peace with solemn promises in the presence of Count Hugo, Count Herbert and also Archbishop Seulf. King Ralph was not there, but with his consent, their [the Normans&rsquo] land increased with Maine and the Bessin, which in a pact of peace was conceded to them . . . 20

Rollo died sometime between a final mention of him by Flodoard in 928, and 933, the year in which a third grant of land, usually identified as being the Cotentin and Avranchin areas of Brittany, was made to his son and successor William, known as Longsword. This completed the basic territory of what would become known as the duchy of Normandy. Its boundaries ran roughly from Eu, at the mouth of the river Bresle in the east, across to the river Vire in the west. It was bounded by the English Channel in the north and by the waters of the Avre in the south, an area corresponding to the modern French départements of Manche, Calvados, Seine Maritime and Eure. Orne was included, with the exception of Mortagne and Domfront. The validity of Dudo&rsquos claim that Brittany was included in the initial grant of land remains uncertain. One small piece of possible evidence in favour is a coin found at Mont-St-Michel bearing the inscription + VVILEIM DUX BRI that is thought to refer to Rollo&rsquos son William and to have been issued by him as a duke of Brittany. 21

Along with the agreement of 878 between Alfred and Guthrum, sometimes known as the Treaty of Wedmore, and the trade agreements negotiated in 907 and 911 between the Kievan Rus and the Byzantine emperor, Saint-Claire appears to be the third example available to us of a negotiated settlement between pagan Vikings and Christian rulers. Each in its own way attempted to invite the raiders into the fold of the nominally civilized world of Christian culture, and each in its own way succeeded. Charles&rsquos aims were to put an end to the century-old threat from Viking fleets that used the Seine to attack Paris and to bring stability to a volatile region by sponsoring the authority there of a &lsquogood&rsquo Viking leader. From the time Rollo&rsquos occupation of its lower regions was legalized he remained loyal to the agreement and Viking attacks on Paris effectively ceased.

Following the original grant of land to Rollo in 911 the duchy of Normandy had grown to include the Cotentin peninsual by about 933.

The early years of the colony&rsquos history are turbulent and hard to follow. In 923 Rollo&rsquos forces fought alongside those of Charles around Beauvais, and the grant to him of Bayeux and Maine in the following year may have been an attempt by Charles&rsquos enemy, King Ralph of Burgundy, to split the alliance. In 925 the Vikings devastated Amiens and Arras in the east, but were stopped at Eu by a coalition of Ralph&rsquos allies in their attempts to expand further east into modern-day Picardy. A further complication was the activities of another band of Viking raiders on the Loire, under the leadership of the otherwise obscure Rognvald. After the death of Duke Alan the Great in 907, the Vikings showed an increasing interest in Brittany, whose Celtic population had maintained a fierce independence of Frankish attempts to incorporate it. By about 919 Rognvald&rsquos army had control of all Brittany. In 921 he was formally given Nantes by Count Robert of Neustria, and it seems he may have been expecting the concessions to Rollo in 924 to lead to a Frankish version of the Danelaw which would also involve him, for Flodoard tells us that in anger at not being awarded any land within France at this settlement he led his forces on a series of devastating raids into Frankish crown land, between the Loire and the Seine, until defeated by Hugh the Great, the Robertian count of Paris and duke of the Franks, and compelled to fight his way back to Nantes. He seems to have died shortly after this and with him any prospect of a Viking axis of power connecting Rouen and Nantes and posing the same sort of threat to the whole of France as the York-Dublin axis might have done to the kings of Wessex. His Vikings survived for a few more years, but had been driven out of the area by 939 following a campaign by the Breton leader Alan Barbetorte, or Twisted Beard.

Dudo, in words similar to those in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that announced the Danish takeover in Northumbria and East Anglia, says that Rollo &lsquodivided that land among his followers by measure, and rebuilt everything that had long been deserted, and restored it by restocking it with his own warriors and with peoples from abroad&rsquo. 22 What flimsy documentary evidence there is suggests that he took seriously his new role as the representative of the king&rsquos authority in Normandy, and for his own sake and the sake of his sponsor attempted to restore order and respect for the law to the region. The government of the Norman rulers was illiterate for most of the first century of its existence and as Dudo tells us so little about the specific nature of Rollo&rsquos administration we do not even know whether he continued to surround himself as a Frankish count with the hird of a typical Viking chieftain, nor whether he imported from Scandinavia the system of naval levy known as the leithanger. There is, however, nothing to suggest that he introduced government by thing meeting, and plenty of hints that it was autocratic in the Frankish tradition. Dudo claims that Rollo passed laws against robbery and violence that made them punishable by death, a novelty by comparison with Carolingian law, which exacted only a fine. 23 Two of his anecdotes show that, from the very start, Rollo responded to slights or challenges to his authority with the same implacable faith in the efficacy of terror he had shown as a Viking.

Rollo had introduced a decree ordering that farm implements be left out in the field and not taken into the house at the end of the day. To make it appear as though they had done so and been robbed, it seems that a farmer&rsquos wife hid her husband&rsquos ploughing implements. Rollo reimbursed the man for his loss and ordered the trials by ordeal of the potential suspects. When all survived the ordeals he had the wife beaten until she confessed. And when the husband admitted that he had known it was her all along, Rollo handed down a finding of guilty on two counts: &lsquoThe one, that you are the head of the woman and ought to have chastised her. The other, that you were an accessory to the theft and were unwilling to disclose it.&rsquo He had them both hung &lsquoand finished off by a cruel death&rsquo, an action which Dudo credibly claims so terrified the local inhabitants that the territory became and remained free of petty criminality for a century afterwards.

The second tale also shows how central was the Viking idea of personal honour, and how fatal to it the taint of unmanliness. Shortly after Rollo&rsquos marriage to Charles&rsquos daughter Gisla, two of Charles&rsquos warriors paid her a visit. Gisla entertained them in private. Presently rumours began circulating, to the effect that Rollo had failed to consummate the marriage. Any suggestion of sexual impotence, casting doubt on the legitimacy of his heirs, would have seemed particularly dangerous to Rollo. Suspecting that Gisla&rsquos visitors were the probable authors of the rumours, he had them arrested and summarily executed in the public market place in Rouen. The story, with its possible hint at Rolf&rsquos homosexuality, provides another glancing point of contact with the Saga of Ganger Rolf, whose &lsquoRolf&rsquo is said to have been uninterested in women. As an illustration of Rollo&rsquos decisive ways, the tale has a certain symbolic value but as history it is compromised. Gisla was one of the king&rsquos six daughters by his first wife, Frédérune, and as the couple did not marry until 907 Gisla would have been, at most, five years old at the time of the Saint-Claire treaty. 24 That the child-marriage took place as a diplomatic seal on the agreement that gave Rollo a foothold in the Frankish aristocracy need not be doubted.

Dudo is more interested in persuading his readers of the genuine nature of Rollo&rsquos conversion than in providing details of the legislative and executive structures of the new regime. He solves the delicate problem of how to deal with Rollo&rsquos Heathendom in the years before baptism and the respectability of legitimate rule by a literary trick involving Hasting, or Anstign, as he calls him, amplifying whatever natural qualities of cruelty Hasting may have possessed to turn him into a Heathen archetype of purest evil:

Death-dealing, uncouth, fertile in ruses, warmonger-general,
Traitor, fomenter of evil, and double-dyed dissumulator,
Conscienceless, proudly puffed up seducer, deceiver, and hot-head.
Gallows-meat, lewd and unbridled one, quarrel maintainer,
Adder of evil to pestilent evil, increaser of bad faith,
Fit to be censured not in black ink, but in charcoal graffiti. 25

He lists the holy places burnt by Hasting during his ravages in Western Francia, including his own monastery at St-Quentin, the churches of St-Médard and St-Éloiat Noyon, and St-Denis and Ste-Geneviève. Rollo, by easy contrast, becomes the &lsquogood&rsquo Heathen, the Viking whose natural instincts always inclined him towards the Christianity he eventually espoused. Dudo credits him with the restoration of churches he and his men had been responsible for ravaging, the reopening of monasteries they had made uninhabitable, and the rebuilding of the walls and defences of cities and towns torn down by them. He even makes Rollo&rsquos piety retrospective and tells an incredible tale of how he brought over with him from England the relics of a holy virgin, Hameltrude, carried them up the Seine on board his longship and deposited them in the church of St-Vaast. In further proof of Rollo&rsquos piety, while still wearing the white baptismal robes and under his baptismal name &lsquoRobert&rsquo, he spent, we learn, the first seven days of his expiation at St-Claire in handing out gifts of land to various churches in the diocese of Rouen, having first ascertained which of them were considered most venerable and which were protected by the most powerful saints. Not until the eighth day did he finally turn his attention to the allocation of land to his own men.

Many of these, it seems, were not willing to join their leader in abandoning their Heathen beliefs. In a letter written before 928 Guy, the archbishop of Rouen, approached his colleague Hervé at Reims for advice on the best way to deal with apostate Heathen converts. In language that recalls the exasperation of Louis the Pious&rsquo bishops at the behaviour of Klak-Harald&rsquos following, who practised their own form of serial baptism in the 820s, Hervé passed the question to Pope John X, asking what was to be done with Heathens, &lsquowhen they have been baptized and rebaptized, and after their baptism carry on living as Heathens, killing Christians as the Heathens do, slaughtering priests and eating animals that have been sacrificed to their idols&rsquo. 26 In reply, the pope counselled patience and persistence, urging them to regard Rollo and his colonists as merely inexperienced in the ways of the new faith, and their conversion as not an event but a process which would inevitably take time to complete. He also reminded Hervé that &lsquothe calamities, the oppression, the dangers which have threatened our regions have come not only from the Heathens but from Christians too&rsquo. 27 Flodoard tells us that in 943 there was an engagement between the Frankish Duke Hugo and a group of Normans &lsquowho had arrived as Heathens or who were returning to Heathendom: a large number of his own Christian soldiers were killed by them&rsquo. Later in the entry for the same year we hear of an otherwise unknown Viking Norman leader named Turmod, &lsquowho had reverted to idolatry and to the gentile religion&rsquo and was apparently also trying to &lsquoturn&rsquo the Norman ruler Richard (Rollo&rsquos grandson) and involve him in a plot against the Frankish King Louis. In 1906 a tenth-century longship burial on a commanding headland on the Île de Groix, some 6 kilometres off the coast of southern Brittany, was excavated and found to contain two bodies as well as the remains of dogs and birds. Among the wealth of finds recovered were swords, arrowheads, lance-heads, rings, tools, gaming pieces and dice. Like the Oseberg ship, it had been dragged overland to a previously prepared site. Unlike the Oseberg ship it had then been burnt, the spectacle being framed by twenty-four shields. 28 This is the only known archaeological evidence of a ship being burnt as part of a Viking burial ritual, and Ibn Fadlan&rsquos literary description of the Rus funeral ceremony for their dead chieftain on the banks of the Volga gives us some idea of what the ritual may have involved. 29 One of the two bodies was that of an adolescent and the archaeologist Julian D. Richards has suggested that here, too, may be the signs of a human sacrifice. The Île de Groix funeral probably took place after the official conversion to Christianity of most of the Vikings in the region, and the sumptuous nature of the ceremony may hint at a conscious act of apostasy. 30

In his detailed study of the Norman conversion, the French scholar Olivier Guillot noted that Flodoard seems to have regarded the conversion of Rollo and his settlers as a process that was demonstrably under way as early as 923, and there is evidence that Rollo was sincere in his desire to embrace certain aspects of Christian culture. As we saw earlier, tradition tells us that his Scottish-born daughter bore the Christian name Kathleen, and both the children of his later association with a woman named Poppa were given Christian names. If his son Guillaume (William Longsword) also had a Scandinavian name then this has not come down to us. Rollo&rsquos daughter had both a Norwegian name, Gerloc, and a baptismal name, Adèle. The reference in the Planctus for William Longswordto William as &lsquoborn overseas from a father who stuck to the pagan error/and from a mother who was devoted to the sweet religion&rsquo might be no more than a factual comment on Rollo&rsquos early life. Adémar of Chabannes, however, writing about 100 years after Rollo&rsquos death, described his last days as a time of religious madness, in which the Heathen &lsquoRollo&rsquo rose up against the Christian &lsquoRobert&rsquo and in a desperate attempt to atone for the betrayal of Odin and Thor ordered the beheading of 100 Christians as sacrifices to them. 31 This was followed by a frenzied attempt to balance the books yet again when he distributed &lsquoone hundred pounds of gold round the churches in honour of the true god in whose name he had accepted baptism&rsquo. 32 Adémar is the only ancient historian to doubt the truth of Rollo&rsquos conversion. His story provides a rare and persuasive insight into the violent tensions that could arise when devout men change the object of their devotion as a matter of political convenience. In Rollo&rsquos case they were seemingly mind-wrenching.

The large and consistent Viking military presence throughout the ninth and tenth centuries in the western Frankish kingdom has left little material archaeological trace. In 1927 the Norwegian archaeologist Haakon Shetelig visited museums along the Loire and the Seine and compiled a list of holdings that included an axe, seven spears and twenty-one swords, most of them dredged from the rivers or constituting stray finds. The Swedish archaeologists Arbmann and Nilsson complemented Shetelig&rsquos list in 1968 with another two axe-heads from Rouen, and in 1987 a Viking Age sword was unearthed in the basement of the museum at Denain. A lance ferrule and a helmet fragment, possibly of Nordic origin, were excavated in Brittany, at the Camp de Péran (Côtes d&rsquoArmor). 33 The discovery in the burnt ramparts of Camp de Péran, originally a Celtic fortified settlement, of a coin from York minted between 905 and 925 dates its restoration by Vikings to the early years of the tenth century. Alain Barbetorte is known to have landed at Dol in 936 and fought with the Vikings, an event that has been associated with the evidence of the destruction of the camp. 34 Another earthwork, at Trans, Ille-et-Vilaine, may have been built or renovated by the Loire Vikings as they retreated from Nantes in 939.

In 1870 a navvy working on a road near Pîtres on the Seine came across two characteristically Viking Age brooches known as &lsquofibulas&rsquo, which archaeologists have related to the presence of a Viking fleet at Pîtres in 865. Dated to the second half of the ninth century and of probable Norwegian origin, they come from the grave of a female and provide further evidence that Viking bands travelled with women who were either camp-followers or, as in the case of Hasting in the 890s in Wessex, wives. During a particularly low tide at Reville, in the Bay of Seine, a Frankish necropolis that included possible Viking Age graves was uncovered in 1964. Two ship-settings were seen, of a type familiar from Gotland and parts of Denmark and Sweden, and a third with an unusual arrangement of stones with four right-angled slabs ringed by three stone circles. 35 A vase resembling vases found at Birka is the only artefact to have been found, and the cemetery is once again under water. A recent excavation of the area around Rouen Cathedral shows that the layout of streets appears to have been redesigned in the early tenth century and that the modifications gave the ancient town a layout reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon towns. 36

The linguistic traces of the Scandinavian roots of the Norman colonists are slightly more extensive. Dudo&rsquos silence on the subject of how the Viking colonists administered Normandy is only partially broken by the survival of a small number of words of Scandinavian origin into the duchy&rsquos thirteenth-century law codes. 37 The word ullac, meaning a sentence of outlawry, derived from Old Norse útlagr, and hamfara, or the crime of assault inside a house, from heimsókn. A number of words to do with fishing, whaling, boat-building and the laws covering the status of wrecks were also of Scandinavian origin. 38 The settlement of the land by Rollo&rsquos captains produced over the years a small crop of place-names of Scandinavian origin. Compounds first recorded between 1025 and 1200 include Bramatot, Coletot, Esculetot, Gonnetot, Herguetot and Ketetot. These were formed by combining the personal name of the Viking landowner with a genitive &lsquos&rsquo - respectively Bramis, Kolis, Skúlis, Gunnis, Helgis and Ketils - and -tot, deriving from the Old Norse word tomt or toft (cf. &lsquoLowestoft&rsquo in the English Danelaw), meaning &lsquoplot&rsquo or &lsquopiece of land&rsquo. Other typical Scandinavian elements compounded in place-names include bec, dalle, hom, hogue, londe and torp (cf. English &lsquoScunthorpe&rsquo). A number of personal and family names found in present-day Normandy can also be traced back to the Viking settlement via intermediary Latinized forms known from the eleventh century. These include Ásbjørn - Osbernus - Auber Ásfridr - Ansfridus - Anfray Ásketill - Anschetillus - Anquetil Thorvaldr - Turoldus - Thouroude. 39 Names like Murdac and Donecan may indicate that some of the colonists were Norwegians who arrived via Ireland and Scotland, just as certain personal names and examples of agrarian terminology that occur in the region between Bayeux and the river Orne indicate that others came via England.

For all that Dudo is now regarded with some scepticism as a reliable source for the settlement of Normandy, his history remains a vivid and interesting document. Two of his anecdotes have played a major role in creating the image of the Viking as an independent, heroic, proud and manly ideal. It seems that once the details of the meeting at Saint-Claire had been agreed upon, Rollo was advised that, as Charles&rsquos vassal, it would now be fit and proper for him to kiss the king&rsquos foot. Rollo declined: &lsquoI will never bow my knees at the knees of any man, and no man&rsquos foot will I kiss.&rsquo He ordered one of his men to do so instead. The man stepped forward, took hold of the king&rsquos foot and lifted it to his lips without bending himself. The king fell over backwards, provoking &lsquoa great laugh, and a great outcry among the people&rsquo. 40 The laughter was presumably from the Vikings and the outcry from the Franks but the story is a good illustration of the reality behind the agreement, that Charles&rsquos grant to Rollo was a concession to reality.

When William of Jumièges tells us that Rollo was chosen as a leader by the drawing of lots we add the tacit presumption that he was also known by his peers to be the best leader and yet an insistent streak of egalitarianism attaches to the Viking war band. As part of his claim that Rollo was present at the 886 siege of Paris, Dudo describes an encounter at Damps between the Vikings and Charles&rsquos go-between. The emissary asked by what title their leader was known, and was told &lsquoBy none, because we [are] equal in power.&rsquo 41 They were then asked if they would be willing to bow to Charles the Simple and devote themselves to his service and accept grants of land from him, to which the reply was: &lsquoWe will never subjugate ourselves to anyone nor cling to anyone&rsquos service nor take favours from anyone. The favour that would please us best is the one that we will claim for ourselves by force of arms and in the hardship of battle.&rsquo The sentiments recall Ibn Rustah&rsquos story of the Rus father throwing down a sword in front of his infant son and convey a specifically Viking ethic of self-reliance and self-assertion through violence. Despite the rapid cultural and linguistic assimilation to Frankish ways that took place, this code survived the transition from Viking to Norman. In his Deeds of Count Roger and his brother Duke Robert, written about 1090, Geoffrey Malaterra, a Norman writer living in southern Italy, formulated a set of general characteristics of the Normans which seem to reflect this continuity of values. 42 He writes of an astute people, eager to avenge injuries and looking to enrich themselves from others rather than from work at home. Much interested in profit and power, they are hypercritical and deceitful in all matters, &lsquobut between generosity and avarice they take a middle course&rsquo. Mindful of their reputations, the leaders are notably generous. They are skilled in flattery and cultivate eloquence &lsquoto such an extent that one listens to their young boys as though they were trained speakers&rsquo. They work hard when necessary and can endure hunger and cold. When times are good they indulge their love of hunting and hawking, and they cultivate a sizeable streak of dandyism in their clothing. The aesthetic care that was formerly lavished on the longship was transferred to the horses&rsquo livery as Viking pirates became Norman cavalry, and the practice of decorating and personalizing one&rsquos weapons continued. It is another reminder that Viking culture was not so much primitive, as contemporary Christian scribes so determinedly described it, but essentially different.

Richer of Reims tells a story that epitomizes the determination of the first generations of Viking leaders in Normandy not to be deprived of their newly won land and their status as Frankish aristocrats. In 941, as a vassal of the Frankish King Louis IV, William Longsword made his way to Attigny, where the most powerful leaders in Francia were gathered to confer. Finding the doors barred against him on his arrival, he simply broke them down and voiced his rightful claim to a place at the table. The sight of the Emperor Otto and not his patron in the seat of honour affronted him, however, and before allowing the meeting to proceed he obliged Otto to yield his seat to Louis. A year later and, according to Richer, as a direct result of the insult to Otto, William was murdered. 43 The succession passed to his ten-year-old son Richard and precipitated the most serious crisis the colony had faced so far in its short life. In 944 Louis IV and Hugh the Great mounted a joint attack on Normandy, with Hugh attacking Bayeux and Louis occupying Rouen. It seems that Louis could not countenance the thought of Hugh&rsquos occupation of Bayeux and, as so often before, dissension among the Frankish allies worked to the advantage of the Vikings. Hugh took the king into captivity and ended his hostility to the Normans. His troops helped Richard&rsquos men regain possession of Rouen, and in the wake of their victory Hugh gave his daughter Emma in marriage to the young count. The family ties thus established with the Capetians further increased the status of Normandy&rsquos ruling family, and with surprising speed the threat to the survival of the duchy had vanished. 44 Hugh continued to offer military support to Richard I and in 954 defeated a certain Harold in what may have been another attempt to retake the duchy. Richard&rsquos marriage to Emma was childless, and after her death he married Gunnor, the mother of his two children and a member of a powerful family of Viking settlers from the west of Normandy. This second marriage strengthened his position in the Cotentin region. 45

When a large group of people settles in a foreign country it tends initially to accentuate its roots in an attempt to stave off cultural entropy. Smaller groups, like the Vikings who settled in Normandy, let go more quickly. Dudo tells us that William Longsword had to send his son Richard to Bayeux to learn the Danish tongue, since the language was no longer spoken in the area around Rouen although this is generally regarded as, at best, an exaggeration, the linguistic position of those in Normandy was unlike that of their fellow-Scandinavians in the colonies of the Danelaw across the Channel, where the native and immigrant languages resembled one another closely enough for a fusion of the two to evolve. Mutual incomprehen sibility must have hastened the demise of the spoken Scandinavian languages in Normandy, much as it did among the Kievan Rus, another warrior aristocracy who settled in a minority in a linguistically remote community. But even though they had traded in their longships for horses, the Normandy Vikings retained a number of their cultural traditions. While slavery was being replaced in other parts of the Carolingian empire by serfdom, the colonists in Normandy developed Rouen as an important centre for the trading of slaves. The trade brought such prosperity to the region that it was still thriving at the end of the eleventh century, occasioning a rebuke from the Lombard cleric Lanfranc to his master, William the Conqueror, and a request that he forbid slavery throughout his territories.

There are many possible suggestions for a date at which the assimilation process could be said to have advanced so far that it is no longer meaningful to refer to the Normans as Vikings and to look for Scandinavian elements in their cultural manifestations. Olav Haraldson, the future saint-king of Norway, was baptized at Rouen in 1013, the last Norwegian king to visit the duchy and those soldiers from Normandy who fought beside the Dublin king Sihtric Silkbeard at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 were the last to do so in a Scandinavian cause. As late as 1025, the court of Richard II at Rouen received a visit from Olav Haraldson&rsquos court poet, Sigvat, who may have done what skalds do and composed praise poetry for his host in return for honour and gifts. Richard II, known as &lsquothe Good&rsquo, was the first of the Norman rulers to use the title &lsquoduke&rsquo, which he did from 1006. Perhaps the clearest sign of the irrevocable transition from Viking to Norman is the history his father asked Dudo of St Quentin to write in 994. It must have been among the last acts of Richard I, and there is profound significance in the fact that he chose to have his family remembered in prose, on parchment and in Latin and not, as his forefathers would have done, in verse, on stone and in Old Norse.

Rollo Ragnvaldsson – The Viking

Rollo Ragnvaldsson, sometimes known as Rollo the “Ganger”. It is estimated he lived between 846 and 931 AD, and was the first ruler of a Viking settlement in France that later became Normandy. His direct descendants became the British royal family after the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066, when Rollo’s great-great-great-grandson, William the Conqueror (William I of England) , successfully conquered England. William the Conqueror’s direct descendants include current Queen Elizabeth II.

In 911, a group of Vikings lead by Rollo besieged Paris and Chartres. After a victory near Chartres on 26 August, Charles “the Simple” King of the Franks decided to negotiate with Rollo, resulting in the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. For the Viking’s loyalty, they were granted all the land between the river Epte and the sea, as well as Brittany, which at the time was an independent duchy which France had unsuccessfully tried to conquer. Rollo also agreed to be baptised and to marry Charles’ daughter, Gisela.

Norway Falls to the Vikings

When Rollo was told that he must kiss the foot of the sovereign, he responded, “Never will I bend my knee before any man, and no man’s foot will I kiss.” Finally, he was persuaded to instruct another Viking to perform the task. This Norseman grabbed the foot of the King so quickly that Charles nearly fell from his horse. According to legend, laughter erupted among those gathered.

Rollo received a land grant from Charles the Simple that stretched from Rouen across the valley of the Seine. In exchange, Rollo pledged to protect Charles’ realm from raids by other Viking bands. Eventually, the region ceded to Rollo became known as Normandy, or the Land Controlled by the Norse. Rollo died around the year 931, and was interred in the Cathedral of Rouen. His descendants claimed the title of Duke of Normandy.

In 1035, Rollo’s great-great-great grandson, William I, became Duke of Normandy. Three decades later, William crossed the English Channel and won a great victory at the Battle of Hastings. The first Norman king of England, he became known as William the Conqueror.

4. Leif Eriksson: Beat Columbus to the New World by 500 years

Generally considered the first European to set foot on the North American continent, Leif got there nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Believed to have been born in Iceland around 970, Leif later moved to Greenland, where his father, Erik the Red, founded the first Norse settlement. Around 1000, Leif sailed off in search of territory that had been spotted years earlier by an Icelander named Bjarni Herjolfsson when his vessel blew off course on the way to Greenland. During his expedition, Leif reached an area he called Helluland (𠇏lat stone land”), which historians think could be Baffin Island, before traveling south to a place he dubbed Markland (𠇏orestland”), thought to be Labrador. The Vikings then set up camp at a location that possibly was Newfoundland and explored the surrounding region, which Leif named Vinland (“wineland”) because grapes or berries supposedly were discovered there. After Leif returned to Greenland with valuable timber cargo, other Norsemen decided to journey to Vinland (Leif never went back). However, the Viking presence in North America was short-lived, possibly due in part to clashes with hostile natives. The only authenticated Norse settlement in North America was discovered in the early 1960s on the northern tip of Newfoundland at a site called L𠆚nse aux Meadows artifacts found there date to around 1000.

The true history of Rollo, the Viking from whom all current European monarchs descend

One of the most interesting chapters of the Vikings television series is the one where we witness the twist given to the story thanks to the character of Rollo, who here is shown as brother of King Ragnar Lothbrok. In reality the character, like many others in the series, is inspired by a real person.

This is Hrolf Ganger, known by the nickname of Rollo the Walker, a Norwegian Viking warlord who is considered the first Duke of Normandy.

Rollo headed a group of Norwegians and Danes who, in addition to pillaging the coasts of the North Sea, served as mercenaries of whoever hired them. Exiled from the kingdom of Norway, he commanded expeditions to Scotland, Ireland, England and Flanders, as well as devastating the banks of the Seine.

His origin is not very clear. The Norman writer Dudo of Saint Quentin refers to him as Danish, but this appellation seems to be generic to the inhabitants of Scandinavia. Geoffrey Malaterra in the 11th century and William of Malmesbury in the 12th century claim that he was Norwegian of noble origin. Icelandic sagas of the thirteenth century place him on the Norwegian coast in the ninth century as the son of Count Rognvald Eysteinsson. It is these sagas that give him the nickname of the Walker, because he was so big that no horse could transport him. It is said that he weighed more than 140 kilos and has a height of more than 2 meters.

According to Dudo of Saint Quentin Rollo seized Rouen in the year 876 and commanded the Viking fleet that besieged Paris between 885 and 887. Other authors think that he did not arrive in France before the year 900. In any case his presence is documented in a letter of 918 where King Charles the Simple grants him lands for the protection of the kingdom.

After this pact with the Frankish king the Vikings, including Rollo, would have converted to Christianity, they would have been conceived the city of Rouen and other lands on the coast of Neustria. Rollo and his men would gradually adopt the pre-existing administrative and ecclesial system. He would marry Poppa of Bayeux, daughter of Count Berengar of Rennes, and had a son, William I Longsword. Other sources claim that he married the king’s daughter, Gisela, after repudiating Poppa. Although most likely his marriage was Danish style, the Nordic polygamous system, since at the death of Gisela the sources said he returned with Poppa. His grandson Richard would turn those lands into the main power of France. His descendants and those of his men, the Normans, would give name to the region, since then known as Normandy.

The exact date of his death is not known, but most historians give the approximate year 928. His tomb can be visited in the cathedral of Rouen.

Rollo would be the great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror (William I of England), and through him, the direct ancestor of all current European monarchs.

The History Blog

Scandinavian researchers have exhumed the bones of two direct descendants of Rollo, the 10th century Viking founder of the Duchy of Normandy, in an attempt to answer the long-debated question of whether Rollo was Danish or Norwegian.

Historians have differed on the matter of Rollo’s national origins since at least the 11th century. Norman historian Dudo of Saint-Quentin (ca. 965-1043) said in his Historia Normannorum that Rollo was the son of a “Danish” king who was exiled and made his way to France, but at the time Dudo was in the employ of Richard II of Normandy who was allied to the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard. He had a dog in the hunt, as it were, and cannot be considered reliable on this question. Goffredo Malaterra, a monk in Sicily writing in the late 11th century, said Rollo hailed from Norway. In the 13th Norwegian-Icelandic sagas Heimskringla and Orkneyinga, Rollo appears as Ganger-Hrólf, the son of Rognvald Eysteinsson, yarl of Møre in western Norway. (Rollo is a Latinization of Hrólf.)

With these conflicting and vague sources, historians have argued the point for centuries. It matters because of how important Rollo was to European history. His raids along the Seine so bedevilled Charles III, aka Charles the Simple, King of Western Francia, that he finally bought Rollo off with huge tracts of land between the city of Rouen and the mouth of the Seine in exchange for him switching from raider to protector. He appears in only one primary source: a charter from 918 which mentions the lands ceded to Rollo and his “Northmen on the Seine.” It seems Rollo ruled those lands as Count of Rouen until at least 927 after which his son William I Longsword acceded to what would become known during his rule as the Dukedom of Normandy, after the Norsemen who founded it. William Longsword’s son was Richard I of Normandy. Richard I’s son was Richard II. Richard II’s son Robert I was the father of William the Conqueror.

/>This January, French government and church authorities granted the research team permission to open the tomb of Rollo’s grandson Richard I and great-grandson Richard II. This is only the second time a French king’s tomb has been opened since World War II. On Monday, February 29th, Per Holck, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oslo, and University of Copenhagen geneticist Andaine Seguin Orlando, opened the two small ossuary coffins buried under the floor southern transept of the gothic church of Fécamp Abbey. Inside one of them were the skeletal remains of Richard II, known as Richard the Good, including a lower jaw with eight teeth.

They were hoping to find teeth because extracting ancient DNA is tricky and the genetic material inside teeth is well-protected by the outer layers. Holck and Orlando retrieved five of the teeth. They will be tested at the University of Oslo and the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen. If all goes well, the research team and French authorities will announce the results in the autumn.

/>The remains of the Richards have been moved before. Richard I, who rebuilt the church after it was destroyed in Viking raids, and Richard II, who made it a Benedictine monastery, were initially buried outside the church. Richard II’s great-great-great-grandson Henry II of England had his ancestors’ bones reburied inside the church. Remains that are not in their original location can be problematic to authenticate. I don’t know if this study plans to do anything specific to confirm first and foremost that they really are the bones of Richard II. Also, if the bones were treated at any point — boiled to remove the flesh and make them a clean fit for a small coffin — DNA extraction will be even more challenging, albeit not impossible. Teeth are the Fort Knox of the body.

If you’ve been watching Vikings on the basic cable station formerly known as the History Channel, Ragnar’s brother Rollo is very loosely based on the historical Count of Rouen. They had to conflate sagas and mess with the timeline to make them brothers, so who knows if he’ll wind up in Normandy on the series, but he’s in France and married to Charles the Simple’s daughter, who may or may not have existed and if she existed, may or may not have survived to adulthood, but is mentioned as Rollo’s wife in William of Jumièges 11th century chronicle Gesta Normannorum Ducum and in Dudo’s history which relied heavily on Jumièges’.

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 6th, 2016 at 11:27 PM and is filed under Medieval. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Fact 3: The Vikings became the Normans

As the Vikings spent more time in their new home Normandy, cultivating land and growing crops, they began to mingle more with the French people and their customs.

Many Vikings got married to French people, became farmers and fought for the French king in times of warfare. By the year 1000, most of the Vikings in France had abandoned their Viking beliefs and converted to Christianity. They still had their Viking love for conquest, but most Vikings had now completely blended into medieval European society.

The Vikings who lived in Normandy, soon became known as the Normans.

Let’s watch a video about how the Vikings became French!

DNA hunters has opened Viking grave in Normandie

Normandie, France.Professor Emeritus at the University of Oslo, Per Holck, (T. H.) and Andaine Seguin Orlando by DNA lab Centre for Geogenetics at the University of Copenhagen was Monday in Normandy and opened the graves of two of the Viking leader Rollo of Normandy their descendants..Photo. Vegard Strømsodd/Explico / NTB scanpix

Norwegian researchers have finally got to open the tomb of the Viking leader Rollo’s descendants. They will find out whether Rollo was the same Rollo as Rollo from Møre. In that case the British royal family originaed from Norway.

A Norwegian-led delegation was in Normandy on Monday and opened the sarcophagus of two of Rollo’s descendants. The aim is to put an end to a centuries-long debate: Was Rollo Danish or Norwegian?
– We have been working to get this investigated in about seven years, so to finally get collected material to test DNA was huge historian and project initiator Sturla Ellingvåg of the foundation Explico said.
Rollo was the founder of Normandy, Count of Rouen and great great great grandfather of William the Conqueror, who is the ancestor of the English royal house. While Norwegian-Icelandic historical documents and historians have argued since the Snorre Sagas that Rollo and Rollo are one and the same person, the Danish historians believed that he came from Denmark. Rollo, the son of Rognvald was exiled from Norway and was said to have settled in France.
Plucked out teeth
In January the French authorities and the French church granted the Norwegian application to open the tomb of Rollo’s grandson and great-grandson, Duke Richard the fearless and son Duke Richard the good. The tomb is a sarcophagus in the floor of a monastery in Fécamp. When they opened the grave Monday, researchers found, among other things, a lower jaw with eight teeth in the tomb of Richard the good:
– The key is to find teeth, for the DNA of the teeth may, even all these years, be sufficent for a DNA analysis. Two forensic experts from Norway and Denmark snatched five of his teeth and those teeth are now being sent to the Institutes of Forensic Medicine in both of the countries for analysis, Chairman of Samlerhuset and The Norwegian Mint, Ole Bjørn Fausa says.
A result of the analysis will probably be available in the autumn and will be presented in cooperation with the French authorities. So it remains to be seen whether the results indicates Denmark or Norway.
The small sarcophagi at first glance looks like they only accommodate toddlers, but Fausa explains:
– When they were buried in a floor, it was a matter of space. The most important thing was to preserve the skeleton. We do not know how this was done here, but it was common to either cut the bodies into pieces or boil them so the meat loosened from the bones. This meant that the the sarcophagus didn’t have to be longer than a femur, which is the longest bone in the body, Fausa says.
Rare event
Fausa describes the atmosphere at the tomb as an amazing experience:
– As far as we know this is only the second time since the war that a king’s tomb has been opened in France. Just being a part of it, and find the skeletons in there, it was exciting, solemn and unreal at the same time.
In the work process, he also found that he is a 35th generation descendant of Rollo.
– Of course it enhances this experience, to know that this was my ancestors, Fausa says.
If Rollo and Rollo proves to be the same person, it will be of historical significance:
– If the British royal family originates from the northwest coast it will, among other things, change the notion that the Norwegian royal family is young, with origins from the British and Danish, says Fausa.


The period in history known as the Viking Age was violently heralded in with the Lindisfarne raid of 793 AD. That bloody encounter off the northeast coast of England between Christian monks and raiding Norsemen, known as Vikings, marked the start of an age that would last until the end of the 11th century. During that time, Norse explorers would reach as far as Newfoundland in the west and Baghdad in the east, leaving a significant and long-lasting mark on the cultures they interacted with.

After Lindisfarne, Vikings raids were soon recorded in Scotland, Ireland and western France. At first, the marauding Norsemen returned home after their raids but it wasn’t long before they began conquering lands and creating settlements.

In 865, 72 years after Lindisfarne, a large Viking army returned to Anglo-Saxon England not to raid but to conquer. The collection of annals in Old English known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called this invading force the Great Heathen Army. Led by fearsome warrior brothers Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan Ragnarsson, the Vikings picked off the English kingdoms one-by-one until only one was left - Wessex.

Alfred, the King of Wessex, managed to claim a decisive victory against the Great Heathen Army at the Battle of Edington in 878. For his victory, Alfred was bestowed the title of ‘the Great’. An agreement was made shortly afterwards between Alfred and the Vikings that not only saw the defeated Viking leader Guthrum convert to Christianity but also divided England up. Lands to the north and east were to be ruled by the Vikings, this area came to be known as Danelaw.

The Vikings and Anglo-Saxons lived side-by-side in England for some 80 years. Although peace had been made conflicts continued and eventually the Viking rule over Danelaw was forcibly ended with the defeat of Eric Bloodaxe to the Northumbrians in 954.

By the middle of the 9th century, the Vikings had established bases across Europe. Viking ship enclosures known as longphorts had been established along Ireland’s northern and eastern coasts, one of which became the foundation for the city of Dublin. The Scottish isles of Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides came under Norse control, resulting in the creation of independent settlements.

In 845, a Viking fleet of 120 ships and 5,000 men aimed to take advantage of a divided Frankish Empire, the predecessor of modern-day France and Germany. Under the command of legendary Norse chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok, the Viking fleet sailed up the Seine and conquered Paris. They plundered the city and only withdrew after receiving a large ransom from the Frankish king. It wasn’t long before the Vikings began to overwinter in northern France, the French region of Normandy would get its name from the invading Norsemen or ‘men of the North’.

Although they are best remembered as fearsome warriors, the Vikings were also great traders

The first ruler of Normandy was a Viking named Rollo. Rollo and his men had carried out a series of attacks in France, including one on Paris in 885. The ruler of West Francia, Charles the Simple, decided to make Rollo an offer in an attempt to stop any further Viking raids. Rollo agreed to the terms and in 911 he was granted lands and titles. Rollo’s men assimilated into the local population and formed a people that would eventually become known as the Normans, a dynasty that would go on to change the world. Over a century later, William the Conqueror, a direct descendant of Rollo would become the first Norman King of England.

In the Mediterranean, the Vikings landed in Italy, Spain and Portugal as well reaching North Africa. In Eastern Europe they settled on coastal areas along the Baltic Sea and their presence was felt in what is now modern-day Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. The Norse settlers of these regions became known as the Rus’ people. The Rus’ would provide the first members of the Varangian Guard, an elite fighting force sworn to protect the Byzantine Emperor.

Although they are best remembered as fearsome warriors, the Vikings were also great traders. They traded as far east as Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, the eastern wing of the old Roman Empire. Some even made it further to Baghdad in Iraq, returning home with ships laden with silks, spices and silver. In return, the Vikings sold items such as amber, fur, wool and leather. They also sold slaves, known as thralls in Old Norse. These were people whom the Vikings had captured during their raids, many of them monks and clergyman since the Vikings often targeted monasteries and churches.

As for the Vikings who went west, they were rewarded with the discovery of new lands. Facilitated by advanced seafaring skills and technology, Norse explorers discovered the Faroe Islands before a Viking named Naddodd got lost on his way from Norway and stumbled across Iceland. In the early 870s, Norwegian Chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson became the first settler of Iceland and lived with his family in an area he called Reykjavík (Smoke Cove), after the steam rising from hot springs there.

Iceland has one of the strongest claims to the oldest surviving parliament in the world. The Norse settlers established their parliament, known as the Althing, in 930. All free men could attend the gatherings that were held at the same location each summer, where they would discuss legislation and dispense justice.

Such justice was dispensed to Erik the Red in 982 when he was exiled from Iceland after being found guilty of murder. He sailed west and discovered Greenland in 985. He returned to Iceland and persuaded others to follow him there and in 986 Norse settlements began cropping up across along Greenland’s southwest coast.

The discovery of Greenland would quickly lead to the discovery of North America. Norse explorer Bjarni Herjólfsson left Iceland for Greenland in the hopes of finding his father who had recently left with Erik the Red. Blown off course by a storm, Herjólfsson found himself looking upon the shores of North America, the first European to do so. He did not land but instead continued his voyage to Greenland, where he would settle with his father.

His stories of lands to the west encouraged others to explore the region including the son of Erik the Red, Leif Erikson. Around 1000 AD, Leif retraced Herjólfsson’s journey and successfully found his way to North America, standing on America soil some five centuries before Christopher Columbus would. His exploration led to the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, the first known attempt at settlement by Europeans on the Americas.

The Vikings called this newfound land Vinland although their presence there would be short-lived. Unlike Greenland and Iceland, North America was already occupied. Conflict between the Viking settlers and the Native American’s escalated to the point that Vinland was no longer a viable place for the Vikings to live. They packed their bags and returned to Greenland.

By the 11th century, united kingdoms had been established in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. This, combined with the spread of Christianity across the Scandinavian region, brought the Viking Age to a close. Historians often attribute 1066 as the symbolic year it all ended.

After the demise of Danelaw in England, the Vikings retreated but were not done with England just yet and successfully conquered the country in the early 11th century. In 1013, Sweyn Forkbeard became the first Danish King of England. His son, Cnut the Great, held the throne until his death in 1035. The Viking presence in England was finally ended in 1066 when an English army under King Harold defeated the last great Viking king, Harald Hardrada of Norway, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, near York.