The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Rollo the Viking                               

Rollo Lothbrok is a character in the TV series Vikings that fans love and hate. He’s manipulative, backstabs, and betrays his brother Ragnar and other Viking raiders. However, Rollo, the Viking, shows a different side to him in his relationship with his wife, Gisla. He also shows leadership qualities when he becomes the Duke of Normandy.

Rollo’s character takes fans on a roller stocker, from being cruel to gentle. Fans find themselves rooting for Rollo in the TV series Vikings, which kept them on their toes. Who is the real Rollo?

The character of Rollo was based on the life of a real Viking who was the first ruler of Normandy. While the TV show was in line with some of the historical accounts of Rollo’s life, there were a few discrepancies. Let’s look at the life of the real Rollo, the Viking.

Rollo Viking’s Real Name and History

Hrolf Ganger, with his nickname “Rollo the Walker,” was a Norwegian Viking warlord who was considered the first ruler of the Duke of Normandy. The name Hrolf is now modern-day Rolf in German and Ralph in English. He was the leader of a group of Danes and Norwegians, pillaging the Northern Sea coast and serving as mercenaries on hire. After he was exiled from the Kingdom of Norway, he led an expedition to Scotland, England, Ireland, and Flanders together with the banks of the Seine River in Roman Province.


According to Norman writer Dudo, Rollo was of Danish origin, but Rollo seemed to be a generic inhabitant of Scandinavia. Other writers thought he was of Norwegian origin, which placed him on the Norwegian coast in the 19th century as the son of Count Rognvald Eysteinson. Due to all this confusion (Icelandic Sagas), he was nicknamed the walker. He was quite big that no horse could carry him.

How big was Rollo the Viking? According to Icelandic Sagas, Rollo was about 308 pounds and six feet five inches tall. This, however, is based on hearsay and rumors. It might even be that the real Rollo started this rumor to make himself fearful of potential enemies, or maybe he’s just as big as is said – the truth about this will never be known.

According to the TV series Vikings, Rollo was from Kattegatt, which was supposedly somewhere in Norway. In real life, the location of Kattegatt is a little bit complicated. It’s an area of the Sea that separates Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. Kattegatt was probably a place where Rollo sailed through a dozen times on his raids from the West and South.

Rollo of Normandy

Even though Rollo is referred to as the first Duke of Normandy, he was never given the title. He was sometimes referred to as count Rollo, but contemporary documents referred to him as just Rollo. As chieftain, he ruled Normandy by reforming passive laws that merely suggested acceptable behavior and implementing law codes that emphasized honor and responsibility.

Robbery, assault, fraud, and murder were punishable by murder. In other instances, people who dishonored Rollo and his wife were also punished in broad daylight at the Capital of Rouen to serve as an example to other people. The measures by which Rollo was seen to rule Normandy were somewhat harsh.

This made people appeal to the pope to revise Rollo’s conversion and the conversion of pagans. The appeal was taken into account as a process that could take time to complete. Even though other rulers had issues with how he ruled, Rollo refused to change his ruling style. Moreover, people couldn’t take away his success in maintaining the order and prosperity he brought to the land.

Rollo as a Vikings Cheiftain

He was a chieftain Viking leader who conducted raids in the Kingdom of West Francia. The raids devastated the region around Rouen. Viking raids started in 820 CE and continued regularly with ship incursions up the Seine River.

The first raid was unsuccessful since the Vikings didn’t know what they’ll encounter once they landed in Paris. However, the show guards easily defeated the Vikings. When they returned a second time under the command of Asgeir, they were better organized. The Vikings sacked and burned the City of Rouen, taking massive loots.

It was then followed by the Norse Chieftain of Reginherus in 845 CE. This was a siege of Paris, and the raid concluded after King Charles the Simple paid the Vikings to leave. By the year 858 CE, Vikings raids had become so lucrative in France.

Bjorn Ironside, allegedly the son of Ragnar, continued to raid France just after another successful raid occurred in the Mediterranean. More and more ships continued to lay waste on the banks of the Seine. All these raids were most likely to be led or co-led by Rollo. He also played a significant role in the siege of Paris.

By the time Charles the Simple understood that fighting off the Vikings was futile, it was already too late. The only time France had a successful war with Vikings raiders was when the King paid them to leave. Appeasement was very common in the Frankish Kingdom before Charles and Rollo struck the agreement.

Norman Conquest

Dudo of Saint Quentin continued to narrate in his writing how Rollo seized Rouen in the year 876. He led Viking raiders between 875 and 877 to conquer Paris. Rollo struck up a friendship with a man from England, Astem, which surprised many Historians. However, other writers believe he didn’t arrive in France until 900. Either way, his presence is documented in a letter in 918, where King Charles III offered him land in return for protecting the Kingdom.

The Viking raids continued to happen, giving way to settlements and an extended invasion of the heart of Frankia, modern-day France. King Charles brokered a treaty of Saint Clair Sur EPTE with Rollo. King Rollo agreed to take the land the Vikings already held and was to rule over it. Other Scandinavians continued to trickle into the new land, adopting the West Francia’s culture and customs.

After this pact with the Frankish king Charles III, Rollo and his fellow Vikings were to convert into Christians. Rollo, the Viking leader, was to conceive the City of Rouen and land on the coast of Neustria. Moreover, Rollo of Normandy was to adopt the pre-existing administration and ecclesial system gradually.

Its, however, unknown whether or not Rollo truly believed in Christianity. Encyclopedia Britannica depicted that Rollo reverted to paganism before his death.

Rollo as a Family Man

Eventually, Rollo would marry Poppa of Bayeux, daughter of Count Berenger of Rennes. They both had a son, William I Longsword. Other sources claim Rollo went on to marry the King’s daughter after repudiating Poppa.

The two marriages took the Danish style, which was basically the Nordic polygamous system. After the death of his wife, Princess Gisla, sources say he returned to Poppa. Rollo’s grandson Richard would then continue to turn those lands into the main power of France. Rollo’s descendants and his men would later name this region Normandy.

How Did Rollo Die?

It’s quite unclear how the Viking leader died. There’s no narration of Rollo dying on the battlefield or through disagreement. It’s said that his death was merely due to natural causes.

Today, fans of Vikings can visit the tomb of Rollo, which is kept at the Rouen Cathedral in Normandy, France. Rollo helped build the City of Rouen after the lands of Normandy were first ceded to him and his fellow Vikings.

Another monument kept at the Rouen Cathedral is the mummified heart of a descendant of Rollo, Richard Lionheart, who was the king of England.

Descendants of Rollo

After Rollo died, his son William I Lordswood and grandson Richard forged the Normandy Duchy into West Francia’s most cohesive and formidable principality. The descendants of the first Duke assimilated with the maternal French Catholic culture. One daughter of Rollo and Poppa by the Gerloc was married to William III, the Duke of Aquitaine.

According to a freelance writer, Rollo had another daughter named Cadlinar, whose mother was probably Scottish. Cadlinar was first married to an Irish King, Beollan Mac Ciarmaic, and later to the King of South Brega, Lagore. King Beollan Mac Ciarmaic and Rollo’s daughter, Cadliner, had a daughter who was abducted and married off to Helgi Ottarsson.

Rollo was the great great great grandfather of William the conqueror. In 1066, William the conqueror led the invasion of Normans into England and became the new King of England. It made the people of Norman change their culture, the English language, and destiny forever.

The Normandy ruler was a direct ancestor to Elizabeth II and the current European Monarchs. Moreover, the house of Plantagenet has its roots in the Norman Dynasty as Henry II was the son of Empress Matilda, who was a sister to Norman Kings.

In 2011, the fossils of Rollo’s grandson Richard the Fearless, and his great-grandson Richard the Good, were brought under genetic investigation. It was done to determine the origin of the historic Viking leader who ruled Normandy. Researchers in 2016 found eight teeth on the tomb of Richard the Good.

The Reign of Rollo’s Descendants

Shortly after Rollo’s death, his son William I took charge and became the second ruler of Normandy. He continued from where the father left off, expanding his territories in Seine Valley either by Norman Conquest or exacting new lands from the French King in Paris for the price of homage. William allied with Hugh the Great in the war against King Louis IV in France.

It was through the mediation of the pope that saw this war end. King Louis IV honored the agreement by renewing William’s investiture of rule Normandy in the year 940 CE. However, William continued with his ambitious territorial conquest, especially the Northward of Seine Valley.

He was drawn to an Island in Somme River and was assassinated by the orders of the count of Flanders. William’s illegitimate son, Richard I, took the ranks and continued with his father and grandfather’s legacy. Richard II would then take over from him, which followed in the same footsteps as his descendants. The rule of Normandy from Richard I to Richard III was characterized by war and instability, which all ended with the reign of William the conqueror.

William I reigned as Duke of Normandy between 1035-1087 CE and was also the King of England between 1066-1087 CE. England’s conquest by William radically changed British society and European culture. William’s policies also echoed the views of Rollo of Normandy.

Was Rollo Ragnar’s Brother?

In the TV series, Vikings, aired on History Channel, Rollo, a character acted by British actor Clive Standen was inspired by the historical Rollo (a real person) and suggested that Rollo was Ragnar’s brother. This was further from the truth, as no historical evidence supports this claim.

According to the TV series, Rollo remains in Francia after the siege of Paris to hold on the spot in Seine Valley to enable future raids. While in West Francia, Rollo is easily persuaded by the Franks to betray his brother Ragnar, which he did in favor of land and marriage to Gisla. There were no historical events of Rollo’s youth and origin. The only series of events that correlated with the ruler of Normandy were the foundations of the region.

Moreover, Gisla is also a fictitious depiction. By the time she was to marry Rollo, she was a very small girl. This means the marriage didn’t happen in real life. Fans were drawn by the Gisla character in the series, where she first hated the Viking leader and then grew to love him with time.

However, the story is murky as there’s no real evidence showing that the event occurred. The only instance the TV series was in line with real-life historical occurrences was when Rollo was defending the region and his mastery of language.

It’s unlikely that the two leaders were alive at the same time. Though they’re both prominent people in the 9th century, their timelines don’t match up. Rollo was born after Ragnar Lothbrok had already died in the year 852-856CE. Sources say Ragnar’s son led Viking raids in East Anglia sometime after his death. On the other hand, the real Rollo is thought to have been born in 860.

Rollo’s Connection to the Legendary Robin Hood

William the conqueror, a descendant of Rollo, went on to have many descendants like Richard the Lionheart. He ruled England for many years after succeeding William. Richard has been highly immortalized due to his connection with the legendary Robin Hood.

According to this Legend, Robin Hood fought in Richard’s army during the times of the crusades. Once Robin of Loxley returned, he found the local sheriff had taken his land plus involved himself in various corrupt dealings while the king was away. Historians don’t know whether or not this legendary soldier turned outlaw still existed.

Bottom Line!

Rollo’s life actions have contributed to historical events in British Society and England Culture. His life is the best of both worlds; the good and the bad. Rollo’s decision, in one way or another, made him become a prominent person that historian’s today study.

Frequently Asked Questions

Was the Character of Rollo Lothbrok Based on a True Story?

Definitely, it is! The life of Rollo in the movie was in line with the life of Hrolf Ganger, a Viking warlord.

How Big Was Rollo?

Rollo was quite huge such that a horse couldn’t carry him. He was at least 300 pounds and six feet five inches tall.

Was Rollo Married to Princess Gisla?

In real life, there was no occurrence of such events. No evidence was found to back the storyline depicted in the Vikings TV series.

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