Song of Roland

What is The Song of Roland?

The Song of Roland is a long epic poem considered to be the oldest surviving epic in the French Literature. It is a war epic and revolves around the Battle of Roncevaux.

Song of Rowland Medieval Songs

The Song of Roland was written over a period of several decades during which additions were being made to it.

It follows the literary form called “chanson de geste” which flourished during the middle and high medieval times in Europe.

When was The Song of Roland Written?

The Song of Roland was written in the period between 1040 and 1115.

During this period, various additions were made to the epic. It was written in old French and various manuscripts of the epic are available today, the oldest of which is housed at Bodleian Library, Oxford.


The eight phases of The Song of Roland in one picture, illuminated by Simon Marmion

The Song of Roland commemorates the Battle of Roncevaux Pass which was fought between Roland and Basques. The Song of Roland went on to become one of the most famous epics of medieval times and also had an influence on the Crusades.

Battle of Hattin 1187 Knights Templar in the Crusades

Who Wrote The Song of Roland?

It is hard to pinpoint the writer of the Song of Roland because it was written over several decades and various additions were possibly made by different writers.

However, scholars estimate that the epic was possibly written by a poet named Turlod, with subsequent additions made by other writers.

The Song of Roland is written in Old French and with the passage of time it attained status of supreme importance in French literature.

Song of Roland Characters

Various important characters appear in the Song of Roland. The hero of the epic is Roland who was the nephew of Emperor Charlemagne.

He died during the battle, although the reason of his death is that he bursts his own temple by blowing the oilfant-horn.


Battle of Roncevaux Song of Roland

Baligant is another important character whose help is enlisted by Marsile against Charlemagne.

Other important characters in Song of Roland include King Marsile who is the Saracen king of Spain, Oliver who is Roland’s sincere friend, Aude who is Roland’s fiancee, and others.


Charlemagne King of the Franks

Song of Roland History

It is unanimously agreed by the scholars that the Song of Roland was written between 1040 and 1115.

The history depicted in Song of Roland, however, extends to the 8th century Battle of Roncevaux which was fought during the reign of Emperor Charlemagne.

The battle was fought between Roland, who was a prefect of Breton March, and the Basques, an indigenous ethnic group in the Basque County region.

It took place at Roncevaux Pass, which is a high mountain pass in the Pyrenees located between France and Spain.

Roland was killed during the battle after his temples bust open due to intense blowing into his oilifant-horn.

During later times, the battle was romanticised as a conflict between Christians and Muslims, although both sides in the battle were Christian.

Song of Roland Summary

The Song of Roland is one of the most popular medieval epics of French Literature. It was written to commemorate the Battle of Roncevaux Pass fought between Roland and Basques.

The epic itself went on to become widely popular and was later romanticised as a conflict between Christians and Muslims during the Crusades. Song of Roland is also considered the oldest epic in French Literature.