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Medieval paining of Rollo

11 facts about Viking leader Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy

Unlike the legendary figures of Ragnar and Lagertha, there is extensive history to prove that Rollo was a real person.

Image: Public Domain

Fans of Sky HISTORY’s Vikings will need no introduction to the terrifying Rollo. But what about the real Viking behind the on-screen character?

Here are eleven interesting facts you might not have known about the real Rollo.

1. Was Rollo the Viking a real person?

A statue of Rollo in Ålesund, Norway
A statue of Rollo in Ålesund, Norway | (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Yes, Rollo was a real historical figure. Unlike the legendary figures of Ragnar and Lagertha, there is extensive history to prove that Rollo was a real person. His descendants became some of the most influential and powerful leaders of the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries.

2. Was Rollo related to Ragnar Lothbrok?

Sadly the truth is that Ragnar and Rollo likely didn’t cross paths. They certainly weren’t brothers, and although they were both believed to have lived in the 9th century, they didn’t live at the same time.

3. Where was Rollo from?

We know that Rollo was from Scandinavia, but there is some debate about where he was born. Some records claim that he was born to a Danish aristocratic family, but others believe he was born in Norway.

4. How big was Rollo?

It is believed that Rollo was truly a giant among men. Rollo was nicknamed 'The Walker' because he was said to be too big to ride on a horse. Rumours put Rollo at around 140kg and 2 metres tall. However, these tales could have been started by Rollo himself to strike fear into anyone that might want to cross him.

5. How did Rollo become the first ruler of Normandy?

A scene from the Bayeux tapestry
The Norman dynasty was descended from Rollo and his fellow Norse men | Image: A scene from the Norman Bayeux tapesty

Rollo was a particularly fierce Viking. Although he started out serving under the Norwegian king Harald Finehair, once he started to raid France, he gained more independence from Norway.

The first raid in France was unsuccessful as the invading Vikings didn’t know what they would find when they sailed up the Seine. The Vikings returned later and managed a far more fortuitous assault where they sacked Rouen. This and other successful raids by the Vikings, including the siege of Paris, led France’s King, Charles the Simple, to accept that there was no sense in fighting the Vikings.

Instead of trying to find a way to see off the invaders, Charles offered Rollo an area of land that was otherwise desolate but held great potential. The stretch of land that was eventually agreed upon would go on to make up Normandy, making Rollo the first Duke of Normandy. Once the agreement was settled, there were no more recorded Viking raids on French land.

6. What kind of ruler was Rollo?

Rollo was a very successful leader. Despite being offered land that seemed to be uninhabitable, marshy, and generally undesirable, he managed to quickly establish strong laws and systems that allowed the region of Normandy to grow and thrive.

It wasn’t just legal institutions that Rollo introduced. He started a great reformation of the temples and towns previously destroyed by Viking incursions and sackings. He fortified village defences and built walls to defend his people from future attacks.

7. Was Rollo a Christian?

One of the conditions of Rollo settling in Normandy was that he would have to be baptised as a Christian. Once baptised, Rollo married Charles’ daughter, Gisla, to secure the alliance.

8. What was Rollo’s legacy?

When Rollo died in the early 10th century, he had already built a dynasty in Normandy. His descendants continued to rule over the region, turning it into one of France's most prosperous and resilient provinces.

9. How is Rollo related to the British Monarchy?

While most Capetian royalty could trace their bloodline back to Rollo, his royal descendants weren’t limited to the confines of the French borders. His great-great-great-grandson, William, followed in his footsteps and forged fearsome reputation when he beat Harald Hadrada at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

10. Where is Rollo buried?

The tomb of Rollo in Rouen Cathedral
Rollo's grave in the Cathedral of Rouen (CC BY-SA 4.0)

While there is no record of his death, Rollo was believed to have died around 930. It is presumed that he died of old age, and his tomb is still on display in Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen.

11. Are there still descendants from Rollo alive today?

While it is likely that there are descendants of Rollo still alive today, we can’t possibly know. An excavation of what was believed to be the graves of his sons was set to answer the question ‘was Rollo Dane or Norse?’ once and for all.

Rather than answering this, however, archaeologists were left with more questions than answers. It was discovered that the remains pre-dated Rollo and his sons by more than 200 years.