Roland Statue, Bremen, Germany

Bremen, Roland
Publisher: Zedler & Vogel

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La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland)

The Bremen Roland is a statue of Roland, erected in 1404. It stands in the market square (Rathausplatz) of Bremen, Germany, facing the cathedral, and shows Roland, paladin of the first Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and hero of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. Roland is shown as protector of the city: his legendary sword (known in chivalric legend as Durendal) is unsheathed, and his shield is emblazoned with the two-headed Imperial eagle. The standing figure is 5.47 m tall, and stands on a 60 cm rostrum. A supporting column, crowned by a baldachin, brings the combined height to 10.21 m. The statue was carved in limestone from the Elm, and was commissioned by the city fathers to replace a wooden one burnt in 1366 by Prince-Archbishop Albert II. It confronts the church as a representation of city rights opposed to the territorial claims of the prince-archbishop.

The inscription on the shield reads: “vryheit do ik ju openbar / d’ karl vnd mēnich vorst vorwar / desser stede ghegheuen hat / des danket god’ is mī radt”. This translates in English to: “Freedom I do manifest to you / which Karl and many noblemen indeed / have given to this place. / Thank God for this is my advice.”

Tucked against a front corner of the Quedlinburg Rathaus stands a statue of Roland. The figure is small compared to the massive Roland statue in Bremen. Our tour guide told us that Statues of Roland were the sign of a free market town and a symbol of strength. . . . I started to wonder. How many towns have Roland Statues? What do they stand for? And how did the nephew of Charlemagne, who was killed by the Basque in 778 AD, become such an important symbol in Germany? The answer is not so clear.
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The most common and accepted explanation is that Roland Statues were a sign of autonomy or market rights. The citizens of these Free Cities could hold Markets and uphold the laws without interference from above. They answered only to the Emperor… and not a local Prince, and not necessarily to the Church.
German Girl in America

A Roland statue is a statue of a knight with a drawn sword, signifying the town privileges of a medieval city. Such statues exist in a number of cities notably in northern and eastern Germany, where they are often placed on the market square or in front of the city hall. Examples are also known from Central Europe, Croatia and Latvia, and there are copies in Brazil and the United States. Statues of the mythological Roland, who enjoyed the status as a popular hero, were erected in cities during the Middle Ages as an emblem of the freedom and city rights of a town. In Germany, such a town is sometimes known as a Roland town. Philippe Dollinger notes that although there are several Roland statues in the Baltic Sea area, there is nothing specifically Hanseatic about them. Rather, Roland statues are known mainly from cities that used Saxon Law. The first Roland statues began to appear in the 12th century, placed outside churches. During the 14th and 15th centuries, Roland statues became more common. Especially during the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, such statues became more common, a fact that may be explained by the Emperor’s ambition to portray himself as the heir to Charlemagne’s reign. The earliest Roland statues were made of wood, while later examples were more often made of stone.

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