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Rodulf and Ubba: In Search of a Frisian–Danish Viking
By Stephen Lewis
Saga Book: Viking Society for Northern Research, Vol.40 (2016)
Introduction: Rodolf was a prominent Frisian-based Danish Viking leader in the third quarter of the ninth century. When he was killed in 873 while trying to wrest lands for himself in northern Frisia it was reported by Archbishop Hincmar in the so-called Annals of St Bertin that he ‘had inflicted many evils on Charles’ realm’. The East Frankish Annals of Xanten reported that he had ‘wasted’ many regions over the sea (transmarinas regiones plurimas . vastavit), as well as everywhere in the kingdom of the Franks, in ‘Gaul’ and in Frisia. Rodulf was the epitome of a much-travelled Viking.
This article attempts to reconstruct some of Rodulf’s life and deeds. It will be suggested that his activities were not limited to Frisia and Francia but probably also encompassed Ireland, where a Scandinavian leader called Rodlaibh (Rodulf) was active in the early 860s, and possibly even earlier. More tentatively, it will be proposed that Rodulf could well be the same man as one of the early leaders of the Danish Great Army in England, called Ubba ‘dux of the Frisians’.
It could be objected that some of what follows is conjectural; it is, but it is reasoned conjecture based on much persuasive, though admittedly circumstantial, historical, geographical and linguistic evidence. To borrow J. R. Tolkien’s words in another Frisian context, this investigation starts ‘with the initial advantage that it is based on what is there, and on explaining it, not explaining it away, nor on dismissing words and names’. No use is made of later sagas. If Rodlaibh in Ireland in, at least, 860–62 was not the Frisian Dane Rodulf and if Ubba ‘dux of the Frisians’ in England was not the man who was called dux Rodulf in Frankish sources, then who were they?
See also Stephen Lewis’ website The Wild Peak