Historically, the marquis of Brittany Roland was a Frankish seneschal (or commander) in Charlemagne's service, who was killed in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass by the Basques on 15 August, AD 778. He was the nephew of Charlemagne, but was brought up by his mother (the Lady Bertha) as a beggar, living in a cave near Sutri, Italy. At the age of 12, he was told the truth and acknowledged by Charlemagne.
Legend has embroidered his tale into the epic tale of the noble Christian killed by Islamic forces, which forms part of the medieval Matter of France. Roland's tale is retold in the eleventh century poem The Song of Roland, where he is armed with a horn and a sword named Durandal.