Roland

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Roland (Frankish: Hruodland) (died 15 August 778) was a Frankish military leader under Charlemagne who became one of the principal figures in the literary cycle known as the Matter of France. Historically, Roland was military governor of the Breton March, with responsibility for defending the frontier of Francia against the Bretons. His only historical attestation is in Einhard's Vita Karoli Magni, which describes him as Hruodlandus Brittannici limitis praefectus ("Roland, prefect of the limits of Brittany") when narrating his death at the Battle of Roncesvalles, when the rearguard, under his command, and the baggage train of a Frankish army was beset by rebellious Basques.[1]

Roland's death during retreat from a campaign in Spain was transmogrified in later medieval and Renaissance literature. He became the chief paladin of the emperor Charlemagne and a central figure in the legendary material surrounding Charlemagne, collectively known as the Matter of France. The first and most famous of these epic treatments was the Old French Chanson de Roland of the eleventh century. Two masterpieces of Italian Renaissance poetry, the Orlando innamorato and Orlando furioso, are even further detached from history than the earlier Chansons. Roland is poetically associated with his sword Durendal, his horse Veillantif, and his horn Oliphaunt.

Contents

History

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. The passage appears in Chapter 9:

Roland was evidently the first official appointed to direct Frankish policy in Breton affairs, as local Franks under the Merovingian dynasty had not previously pursued any specific relationship with the Bretons. Their frontier castle districts such as Vitré, Ille-et-Vilaine) south of Mont Saint-Michel are now divided between Normandy and Brittany. The distinctive culture of this region preserves the present-day Gallo language and legends of local heroes 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 Empire.

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