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Hrolf the Ganger

Updated on September 14, 2014

The Viking who became a Norman

When Ragnar Lodbrok, hero of the Vikings, sacked Paris in 845, he inspired other men to take up a little piracy, pillage and plunder.

One of these men was Hrolf Ragnvaldsson.

Forty years after Ragnar, Hrolf attacked Paris and was bought off by King Charles the Fat. In 911, he attacked again and this time the new king, Charles the Simple, offered not silver, but the city of Rouen and surrounding lands.

The territory was renamed Terra Normanorum, Land of the Northmen, and Hrolf became Rollo, the feudal lord of the Duchy of Normandy.

The descendants of Hrolf the Ganger went on to dominate Europe and his distant relative still sits on the English throne

Icelandic Ponies
Icelandic Ponies | Source

Why the 'Ganger'?

Hrolf is known to history by the Latin version of his name, Rollo, and the wonderful description 'Ganger was lost.

It's a strong-sounding name to be remembered by, but Ganger merely means 'Someone who goes along' or 'The Walker'. We can see the Scottish variant in Robert Burns' poem "To a Mouse ".

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men, gang aft a-gley, (often go awry)

Rolf was a tall man. Coming from a nation of tall men he must have been remarkably so and, when riding the small Scandinavian horses, his legs were so long it looked as if he were walking along the ground. Or perhaps he was just too big for the horses and so had to walk everywhere.


From Hrolf to Rollo to Robert

Charles the Simple may have thought that granting land to a Viking band was a temporary measure but he had underestimated Hrolf.

The Norseman gained some of the finest farmland in Northern France and, in a few short years, had transformed a footloose band of pirates into successful landowners and knights.

Hrolf understood that to win the loyalty of his French subjects he had to abandon his feared Viking ways. He married a local girl, changed his name to the French Robert, then took the profound step of changing his religion.

How much Christianity he embraced is debatable. When he was baptised, Hrolf donated 100 pounds of gold to the Church and sacrificed 100 prisoners to Odin. Now there was a man who hedged his bets!


The legacy of Hrolf the Ganger

In the space of one generation, the Norsemen turned European history upside down.

The descendants of Hrolf and other energetic, adventurous and ruthlessly ambitious men carved out kingdoms from the North Sea to North Africa. They transformed Europe from a chaos of feuding states to a culturally united and politically robust region.

Now known as Normans, these former Vikings conquered Sicily in 1060 and England in 1066.

Norman Family Tree

Norman Family Tree
Norman Family Tree

Some Background on the Normans

The Normans in European History
The Normans in European History

Another book from my schooldays. This one has the fascinating story of Sicily under the Normans


It’s a big step from Viking Reivers to the dominant military force in Europe and we can credit this to one man, Hrolf the Ganger, a hard-boiled and clever Norwegian opportunist.

The Inspiration for other Vikings

The Tale of Ragnar Lodbrok

The great hero of the Vikings, Ragnar was an absolute nightmare for France and England. In the 9th century his raiders attacked France many times, using the rivers to make their bloody way inland, and sacked Paris in 845. He then turned his attention to En...

Have you ever heard of Hrolf before?

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All comments are appreciated. You don't have to be a Norman (or a Viking) to leave yours.

© 2014 Susanna Duffy

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    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 3 years ago

      Was not familiar with Hrolf the Ganger. Very interesting tale. I need more history lessons.