Rorik of Dorestad

A Dane in Frisia in the ninth century.

Biography

Rorik, also known as Roric(us), Hrøríkr (Hroekr) or Rurik, lives from c. 810 until c. 880. This Danish Viking rules parts of Frisia and the trading town of Dorestad.[1]

Life & Viking Times

The Main Sources on Rorik’s Life

Most of Rorik’s life is known from medieval Frankish chronicles. Several originate from the three kingdoms and relate to his dealings with the Frankish overlords:[2]

  • West Francia (between 830–900): the Annals of Saint Bertin (AB), the Annals of St Vaast (AV),
  • Middle Francia (between 832–874): the Annals of Xanten (AX), the Annals of Egmond (AE),
  • East Francia (between 838–901): the Annals of Fulda (AF).

The chronicles start mentioning Rorik by the year 850, except for AV. Only the AB states he is a ‘nephew of Harald’, supposedly referring to Harald ‘Klak’ and that he travels with Godfrid, Harald’s son to Denmark in 855. The AXAF and AE state he is the brother of Harald ‘younger’. All texts except for AE mention the death of Rorik’s nephew Rudolf Haraldsson in 873. After this, Rorik does not appear in the Annals anymore. By 882, the AV states that Rorik’s lands go to Godfrid ‘the Sea-King’.

Rorik or Rurik?

Rorik of Dorestad (Source: Wikipedia)
Rurik of Kiev (Source: Wikipedia)

As a name, Rorik appears often in medieval texts. That makes it worthwhile to set Rorik apart from another famous contemporary, Rurik of Kiev (830–879). While Rorik rules domains in the western part of Europe, Rurik settles in the east in 855 in Staraya Ladoga and by 862 in Novgorod. Scholars have long thought they might have been the same person as the gaps in Rorik’s life could have given him time and opportunity to travel to Russia. In the current discourse, however, scholars no longer believe this is true and consider Rurik a Rus’ or Varangian and not a Dane.[3]

Frisia, Franks and Danes

Before Rorik’s Arrival

Toward the late eighth century Frisia seems to have been a playing field for the local élite and Danish royals. Until Charlemagne conquers Frisia. The Danish then mind their own royal business and petty kings fight among each other in their home country. By 827 Horik I deposes the king of Jutland, Harald ‘Klak’. The latter goes to Frisia and makes himself agreeable to Louis ‘the Pious’, Charlemagne’s son and Frankish emperor. He allows Harald to rule parts of Frisia, much to the chagrin of Horik. Instead of picking a fight with Louis, Horik begins an intensive dialogue to gain influence in Frisia and to weaken Harald and his claims to Horik’s throne.[4]

At the same time, the Frisian trading town Dorestad is flourishing. But its wealth and importance will be profoundly disturbed by the ensuing Frankish power play. It starts with Emperor Louis complicating his succession by demoting his eldest son and joint emperor Lothair in favour of his younger half-brother Charles ‘the Bald’. As a result, Lothair rebels against his father, and allows the Danish Vikings Harald and Rorik to extensively raid Frisia and Dorestad.[5] After Louis dies in 840, Lothair continues the fight, now against his two brothers. He loses, and the empire becomes three separate kingdoms. Lothair remains emperor, but in name only.[6]

After Rorik’s Arrival

The Frankish kingdoms in the ninth century (Source: Wikipedia)

After the royal brothers make peace with the Treaty of Verdun (843), Lothair accuses Harald and Rorik of treason and imprisons them. Harald dies, but Rorik escapes. He embarks on a clever if opportunistic life in service of the Frankish kings. First, he visits Louis ‘the German’, king of East Francia. Louis allows him to raid his brother’s domains in Frisia. Rorik attacks Dorestad in 850, the town he has ruled before. Lothair tries to get Rorik to swear fealty to him once more. But Rorik does not stay for long. For one, because Dorestad ‘s riches have been in decline for a while and because he sees opportunities for wealth and power in Denmark. In 855 he and Godfrid, son of Harald ‘Klak’, leave for Denmark. In their absence, other Danish Vikings raid and destroy Dorestad for good.[7]

According to the texts, Rorik converts to Christianity and after a local rebellion he leaves Denmark in 861 and returns to Frisia to swear fealty to Lothair II, Lothair’s son. But the younger Lothair dies shortly afterwards and Rorik travels to Charles ‘the Bald’ in 870. Charles is king of West Francia but these negotiations do not work out. Rorik enters the service of Louis ‘the German’ once more in 872. After this year, the chronicles stay silent about Rorik. The time of his death remains unknown, probably after 873 and before 882. For in 882, Godfrid ‘the Sea-King’ is given the Frisian lands that used to be Rorik’s.[8]

Rorik’s Presence in Frisia

The chronicles state that Rorik is a Danish leader in Frisia in the ninth century. They also show that he most likely roamed and not settled down in the region. An obvious clue to this is the contractual demand of the Franks to Godfrid ‘the Sea-King’. In 882, they demand that he settles down in Frisia.[9] This suggests that Rorik’s frequent absences must have annoyed the Frankish kings. Other clues that Vikings travelled and lived in Frisia are also mostly from medieval texts. A second clue is the Icelandic Egils Saga. Though a literary work, it elaborately describes the Frisian countryside during a Scandinavian raid in the ninth century. Does this mean the literary scene holds some truth to it?[10] The third clue is the close trading networks between the Frisians and Scandinavians.[11] Scandinavian objects are part of the many hoards found across the northern Netherlands. These date back to the Viking Age, but unfortunately the hoards can’t directly be linked to a Scandinavian owner.[12]

In the 1980s a Dutch historian makes the bold statement that the Vikings did not stay in Frisia. He argues that the Frisian marshlands are uninhabitable at the time. And he gives a different etymology for the names of Frisian places. Along with these and other reasons, he concludes that the Frisians and Vikings live in Belgium and northern France, rather than up north.[13]

The discovery of two hoards in the 1990s in the Netherlands refutes this theory, however. The treasures are found on the former island of Wieringen in Kennemerland, West Frisia. Its location indicates it would have been an ideal campsite during the Viking Age. And it would probably be quite similar to the base camps on Sheppey (U.K.), Île de Noirmourtier (France) and Walcheren (Netherlands).[14] The Westerklief hoards date back to resp. 850 and 875. The owner of the hoards must have been Scandinavian, considering their contents. Therefore, Scandinavians did seem to roam Frisia during Rorik’s lifetime.[15]

Rorik’s ‘hill’ and Rorik’s ‘well’

Online, one will also find information about Rorik’s hill or Rorik’s well. Both toponyms originate from the province of Noord-Holland and seem to remind of Rorik’s presence in the area. There is a small village called Roriksberg (Rorik’s hill). And nearby in Egmond, is the Roriksput (Rorik’s well). Egmond is a village on the western coast with a long history going back to Saint Adalbert, one of the first Anglo-Saxon missionaries from the eighth century.[16] This still does not prove anything about Rorik, though. The lack of sources leaves any potential connections hidden in myths and legends. The leading database on Dutch folklore also denies any links of either object to the Viking leader Rorik.[17]

References


  1. Simon Coupland, Carolingian Coinage and the Vikings: Studies on Power and Trade in the 9th Century (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 95.  ↩
  2. Anonymous, The Annals of St-Bertin. Translated and annotated by Janet L. Nelson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), pp. 69.
    Luit van der Tuuk, ‘Annales Vedastini.’ Gjallar. Last Accessed 03 March 2018. http://www.gjallar.nl/bronnen_AV.html.
    Luit van der Tuuk, ‘Annales Xantenses.’ Gjallar. Last Accessed 03 March 2018. http://www.gjallar.nl/bronnen_AX.html.
    Anonymous, Annalen van Egmond: de Annales Egmundenses tezamen met de Annales Xantenses en het Egmondse leven van Thomas Becket. Edited and translated by Marijke Gumbert-Hepp (ed.) , J.P. Gumbert (Hilversum: Verloren, 2007), pp. 57.
    Anonymous, The Annals of Fulda: Ninth-Century Histories, Volume 2. Edited and translated by Timothy Reuter (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), pp. 30.  ↩
  3. Wladyslaw Duczko, Viking Rus: Studies on the Presence of Scandinavians in Eastern Europe (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2004), pp. 37, 80, 81.
    The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, ‘Rurik| Norse Leader,’ Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Last Accessed 04 March 2018. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Rurik ↩
  4. Niels Lund, ‘Horik den Førstes udenrigspolitik.’ In: * Historisk Tidsskrift.* Volume 102.1 (Copenhagen: Danish Historical Society, 2002), English abstract, pp. 22 [pp. 1–22.]  ↩
  5. Luit van der Tuuk, ‘The trading center of Dorestad: a historical outline | Viking Raids.’ Dorestad Onthuld. Last Accessed 22 April 2018. http://www.dorestadonthuld.nl/A5.html ↩
  6. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, ‘Lothar I | Holy Roman emperor,’ Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Last Accessed 25 February 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lothar-I ↩
  7. Jan Besteman, with contributions by Gert Rispling and Simon Coupland, ‘A second Viking silver hoard from Wieringen: Westerklief II.’ In: Jaarboek voor Munt- en Penningkunde, Volume 93–94 (2006–7) (Amsterdam: Koninklijk Genootschap voor Munt en Penningkunde, ), pp. 5.  ↩
  8. Luit van der Tuuk, ‘Hroerekr (Rorik).’ Gjallar. Last Accessed 18 March 2018. http://gjallar.nl/warlords_hroerekr.html ↩
  9. Simon Coupland, Carolingian Coinage and the Vikings: Studies on Power and Trade in the 9th Century (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 112.  ↩
  10. Anonymous, Egils Saga. Translated by W.C. Green (London: E. Stock, 1893), Chapter 72 – Of Arinbjorn’s harrying. http://sagadb.org/ ↩
  11. Dirk Jan Henstra, The Evolution of the Money Standard in Medieval Frisia. (Groningen: University of Groningen, 1999 ), pp. 59.  ↩
  12. Simon Coupland, Carolingian Coinage and the Vikings: Studies on Power and Trade in the 9th Century (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 96–97.  ↩
  13. Wikipedia, ‘Albert Delahaye.’ Last Accessed 19 March 2018. https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Delahaye ↩
  14. Jan Besteman, Gert Rispling and Simon Coupland, ‘Westerklief II, a second Viking silver hoard from the former island of Wieringen.’ In: Jaarboek voor Munt- en Penningkunde 93–4 (2006–7). (Amsterdam: Koninklijk Nederlands Genootschap voor Munt- en Penningkunde, 2009), pp. [pp. 5–80].  ↩
  15. Simon Coupland, ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.’ In: Coinage And History in the North Sea World, C. AD 500–1250: Essays in Honour of Marion Archibald. Edited by Barrie J. Cook and Gareth Williams (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2006), pp. 262, 264–266 [pp. 241–266].  ↩
  16. Luit van der Tuuk, ‘Noormannen in de Lage Landen – markante plaatsen: Egmond.’ Gjallar. Last Accessed 25 February 2018. http://gjallar.nl/plaatsen_Egmond.html ↩
  17. Peter Jan Margry, ‘Heiloo, O.L. Vrouw ter Nood.’ Meertens Instituut | Databank bedevaart en bedevaartplaatsen in Nederland. Last Accessed 25 February 2018. http://www.meertens.knaw.nl/bedevaart/bol/plaats/308 ↩

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