AskDefine | Define Roland

User Contributed Dictionary



Germanic hrōd "fame" + land "land, territory".

Proper noun

  1. A paladin of Charlemagne in medieval French romance.
  2. A given name


Proper noun

  1. A given name, cognate to Roland.


Proper noun

  1. Roland ( the paladin).
  2. A given name.

Related terms


Proper noun

  1. Roland ( the paladin).
  2. A given name used in Germany since the Middle Ages.


Proper noun

  1. Roland ( the paladin)
  2. A given name that first became popular in the twentieth century.

Extensive Definition

Roland (Italian: Orlando or Rolando, Frankish: Hruodland, Dutch: Roeland, Spanish: Roldán or Rolando, Basque: Errolan, Portuguese: Roldão or Rolando, Catalan: Rotllan or Rotllà) is a character in medieval and Renaissance literature, the chief paladin of Charlemagne and a central figure in the Matter of France. It is thought that the title character of the 12th century Song of Roland, which recounts his final stand against the Vascones during the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, is based on a real person who died in that battle, but the authors of most later chansons de geste and the Renaissance epics Orlando innamorato and Orlando furioso made little attempt to establish historical accuracy.


There exists only one historical mention of a French Roland, found in the section of Vita Karoli Magni on Roncevaux Pass, written by Charlemagne's courtier and biographer Einhard. Here is the relevant passage, in the 9th of 33 chapters (plus a lengthy postscript): While he was vigorously pursuing the Saxon war">Saxon WarsSaxon war, almost without a break, and after he had placed garrisons at selected points along the border, [Charles] marched into Spain [in 778] with as large a force as he could mount. His army passed through the Pyrenees and [Charles] received the surrender of all the towns and fortified places he encountered. He was returning [to Francia] with his army safe and intact, but high in the Pyrenees on that return trip he briefly experienced the Basques. That place is so thoroughly covered with thick forest that it is the perfect spot for an ambush. [Charles's] army was forced by the narrow terrain to proceed in a long line and [it was at that spot], high on the mountain, that the Basques set their ambush. [...] The Basques had the advantage in this skirmish because of the lightness of their weapons and the nature of the terrain, whereas the Franks were disadvantaged by the heaviness of their arms and the unevenness of the land. Eggihard, the overseer of the king's table, Anselm, the count of the palace, and Roland, the lord of the Breton March, along with many others died in that skirmish. But this deed could not be avenged at that time, because the enemy had so dispersed after the attack that there was no indication as to where they could be found.
Dutton, Paul Edward, ed. and trans. Charlemagne's Courtier: The Complete Einhard, pp. 21-22. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press, 1998.)
The original Latin text refers to "Hruodlandus Brittannici limitis praefectus". The battle took place on 15 August, AD 778.
Roland was the first official appointed to direct Frankish policy in Breton affairs, as local Franks under the Merovingian dynasty did not pursue any specific relationship beforehand, more passive-aggressive than anything. What is now divided between Normandy and Brittany, their frontier castle districts (e.g. Vitré, Ille-et-Vilaine) south of Mont Saint-Michel, was the source of present-day Gallo language and culture that emerged in the likeness of those such as Roland. Roland's successor in Brittania Nova was Guy of the Breton March, who like Roland, was unable to exert French expansion over Brittany and merely sustained a Breton presence in the Carolingian-era Holy Roman Empire.


Roland was a popular legendary figure in medieval Europe. Over the next several centuries, Roland became a "pop icon" in medieval minstrel culture. According to many legends, he was a nephew of Charlemagne (whether or not this was true we do not know), turned his life into an epic tale of the noble Christian killed by Islamic forces, which forms part of the medieval Matter of France. Roland's tale is retold in the eleventh century poem The Song of Roland, where he is equipped with the Olifant (a signalling horn) and an unbreakable sword, enchanted by various Christian relics, named Durendal. The first story written about him was Orlando Innamorato by Matteo Maria Boiardo. After his death, the epic was continued as Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto (See below for his later history in Italian verse). In the Divine Comedy Dante sees Roland's spirit in the Heaven of Mars together with others who fought for the faith.
In Germany, Roland gradually became a symbol of the independence of the growing cities from the local nobility. In the late Middle Ages many cities sported the display of a defiant Roland statue on their marketplace. The Roland in Wedel was erected in 1450 as symbol of market justice, and the Roland statue in front of the town hall of Bremen (1404) is listed together with the town hall on the List of World Heritage Site from the UNESCO since 2004.
In Catalonia Roland (or Rotllà, as it is rendered in Catalan) became a legendary giant. Numerous places in Catalonia (both North and South) have a name related to Rotllà. In step with the trace left by the character in the whole Pyrenean area, Basque Errolan turns up in numerous legends and place-names associated with a mighty giant, usually a heathen, capable of launching huge stones. Interestingly, Basque word erraldoi ('giant') stems from Errolan.
More recently Roland's tale has been exploited by historians exploring the development of the early-modern Christian understanding of Islamic culture. In 1972 P. M. Holt used Roland's words to begins an essay about Henry Stubbe: Paien ont tort e crestiien ont dreit - 'Pagans are wrong and Christians are right.'


Orlando is the Italian equivalent of the French Roland (but also the variation Rolando does exist). The name Orlando/Roland goes back to a Germanic origin, and is said to mean "One who is famous throughout the land". It is also said to be derived from hroth, meaning glory and nantha, meaning audacity.

Italian Renaissance romances

He appeared as a central character in a sequence of verse romances from the fifteenth century onwards, including Morgante by Luigi Pulci, Orlando Innamorato by Matteo Maria Boiardo, and Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto. The Orlandino of Pietro Aretino then waxed satirical about the 'cult of personality' of Orlando the hero.
The Orlando narrative inspired several composers, amongst whom were Claudio Monteverdi, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Antonio Vivaldi and George Frideric Handel, who composed an Italian opera with Orlando in the title role, see: Orlando.

Later works

Orlando: A Biography was written in 1928 by Virginia Woolf, and could at first sight be seen as adding yet some more episodes to the adventures of the (by now imaginary) Orlando character, but Woolf's story takes a completely different turn, and is set in a time different from that of the Renaissance Orlandos.
In the Michael Moorcock work, Roland is one of the incarnations of the Eternal Champion and meets Elric of Melniboné in the novel Stormbringer.
In the 2008 film 'Jumper', the main character (who has the ability to teleport instantly to any location on Earth) is pursued by hunters known as Paladins, who are lead by the headhunter Roland, played by Samuel L. Jackson,
Roland in Catalan: Rotllà
Roland in Danish: Grev Roland
Roland in German: Hruotland
Roland in Spanish: Roldán
Roland in Basque: Errolan
Roland in French: Roland
Roland in Italian: Orlando (paladino)
Roland in Dutch: Roland (ridder)
Roland in Polish: Hrabia Roland
Roland in Portuguese: Rolando
Roland in Russian: Роланд
Roland in Finnish: Roland (kuvitteellinen hahmo)
Roland in Slovak: Rytier Roland
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1