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Rollo the Viking

Died 931 A.D.

For more than two hundred years during the Middle Ages the Christian

countries of Europe were attacked on the southwest by the Saracens

of Spain, and on the northwest by the Norsemen, or Northmen. The

Northmen were so called because they came into Middle Europe from

the north. Sometimes they were called Vikings (Vi'-kings), or

pirates, because they were adventurous sea-robbers who plundere

all countries which they could reach by sea.

Their ships were long and swift. In the center was placed a single

mast, which carried one large sail. For the most part, however,

the Norsemen depended on rowing, not on the wind, and sometimes

there were twenty rowers in one vessel.

The Vikings were a terror to all their neighbors; but the two

regions that suffered most from their attacks were the Island of

Britain and that part of Charlemagne's empire in which the Franks

were settled.

Nearly fifty times in two hundred years the lands of the Franks

were invaded. The Vikings sailed up the large rivers into the heart

of the region which we now call France and captured and pillaged

cities and towns. Some years after Charlemagne's death they went

as far as his capital, Aix (aks), took the place, and stabled their

horses in the cathedral which the great emperor had built.

In the year 860 they discovered Iceland and made a settlement upon

its shores. A few years later they sailed as far as Greenland,

and there established settlements which existed for about a century.

These Vikings were the first discoverers of the continent on which

we live. Ancient books found in Iceland tell the story of the

discovery. It is related that a Viking ship was driven during a

storm to a strange coast, which is thought to have been that part

of America now known as Labrador.

When the captain of the ship returned home he told what he had

seen. His tale so excited the curiosity of a young Viking prince,

called Leif the Lucky, that he sailed to the newly discovered coast.

Going ashore, he found that the country abounded in wild grapes;

and so he called it Vinland, or the land of Vines. Vinland is

thought to have been a part of what is now the Rhode Island coast.

The Vikings were not aware that they had found a great unknown

continent. No one in the more civilized parts of Europe knew anything

about their discovery; and after a while the story of the Vinland

voyages seems to have been forgotten, even among the Vikings


So it is not to them that we owe the discovery of America, but to

Columbus; because his discovery, though nearly five hundred years

later than that of the Norsemen, actually made known to all Europe,

for all time, the existence of the New World.

The Vikings had many able chieftains. One of the most famous was

Rollo the Walker, so called because he was such a giant that no

horse strong enough to carry him could be found, and therefore he

always had to walk. However, he did on foot what few could do on


In 885 seven hundred ships, commanded by Rollo and other Viking

chiefs, left the harbors of Norway, sailed to the mouth of the

Seine (San), and started up the river to capture the city of Paris.

Rollo and his men stopped on the way at Rouen (rö-on'), which also

was on the Seine, but nearer its mouth. The citizens had heard of

the giant, and when they saw the river covered by his fleet they

were dismayed. However, the bishop of Rouen told them that Rollo

could be as noble and generous as he was fierce; and he advised

them to open their gates and trust to the mercy of the Viking chief.

This was done, and Rollo marched into Rouen and took possession of

it. The bishop had given good advice, for Rollo treated the people

very kindly.

Soon after capturing Rouen he left the place, sailed up the river

to Paris, and joined the other Viking chiefs. And now for six long

miles the beautiful Seine was covered with Viking vessels, which

carried an army of thirty thousand men.

A noted warrior named Eudes (Ude) was Count of Paris, and he had

advised the Parisians to fortify the city. So not long before the

arrival of Rollo and his companions, two walls with strong gates

had been built round Paris.

It was no easy task for even Vikings to capture a strongly walled

city. We are told that Rollo and his men built a high tower and

rolled it on wheels up to the walls. At its top was a floor well

manned with soldiers. But the people within the city shot hundreds

of arrows at the besiegers, and threw down rocks, or poured boiling

oil and pitch upon them.

The Vikings thought to starve the Parisians, and for thirteen months

they encamped round the city. At length food became very scarce,

and Count Eudes determined to go for help. He went out through one

of the gates on a dark, stormy night, and rode post-haste to the

king. He told him that something must be done to save the people

of Paris.

So the king gathered an army and marched to the city. No battle

was fought--the Vikings seemed to have been afraid to risk one.

They gave up the siege, and Paris was relieved.

Rollo and his men went to the Duchy of Burgundy, where, as now,

the finest crops were raised and the best of wines were made.

Perhaps after a time Rollo and his Vikings went home; but we do not

know what he did for about twenty-five years. We do know that he

abandoned his old home in Norway in 911. Then he and his people

sailed from the icy shore of Norway and again went up the Seine in

hundreds of Viking vessels.

Of course, on arriving in the land of the Franks, Rollo at once

began to plunder towns and farms.

Charles, then king of the Franks, although his people called him

the Simple, or Senseless, had sense enough to see that this must

be stopped.

So he sent a message to Rollo and proposed that they should have

a talk about peace. Rollo agreed and accordingly they met. The

king and his troops stood on one side of a little river, and Rollo

with his Vikings stood on the other. Messages passed between them.

The king asked Rollo what he wanted.

"Let me and my people live in the land of the Franks; let us make

ourselves home here, and I and my Vikings will become your vassals,"

answered Rollo. He asked for Rouen and the neighboring land. So

the king gave him that part of Francia; and ever since it has been

called Normandy, the land of the Northmen.

When it was decided that the Vikings should settle in Francia and

be subjects of the Frankish king, Rollo was told that he must kiss

the foot of Charles in token that he would be the king's vassal.

The haughty Viking refused. "Never," said he, "will I bend my

knee before any man, and no man's foot will I kiss." After some

persuasion, however, he ordered one of his men to perform the act

of homage for him. The king was on horseback and the Norseman,

standing by the side of the horse, suddenly seized the king's foot

and drew it up to his lips. This almost made the king fall from

his horse, to the great amusement of the Norsemen.

Becoming a vassal to the king meant that if the king went to war

Rollo would be obliged to join his army and bring a certain number

of armed men--one thousand or more.

Rollo now granted parts of Normandy to his leading men on condition

that they would bring soldiers to his army and fight under him.

They became his vassals, as he was the king's vassal.

The lands granted to vassals in this way were called feuds, and

this plan of holding lands was called the Feudal System.

It was established in every country of Europe during the Middle


The poorest people were called serfs. They were almost slaves and

were never permitted to leave the estate to which they belonged.

They did all the work. They worked chiefly for the landlords, but

partly for themselves.

Having been a robber himself, Rollo knew what a shocking thing it

was to ravage and plunder, and he determined to change his people's

habits. He made strict laws and hanged robbers. His duchy thus

became one of the safest parts of Europe.

The Northmen learned the language of the Franks and adopted their


The story of Rollo is especially interesting to us, because Rollo

was the forefather of that famous Duke of Normandy who, less than a

hundred and fifty years later, conquered England and brought into

that country the Norman nobles with their French language and