Statue of Roland in Riga (Latvia)
The statue of Roland in Riga was unveiled in 1897 to commemorate the city’s membership in the Hanseatic League, a powerful alliance of trading cities in northern Europe during the Middle Ages. The 6.3-meter-tall Statue was designed by the architect Wilhelm Neumann in the early Renaissance style. It is located in front of the Riga’s Town Hall.
Roland was a legendary figure in medieval Europe, known for his bravery and loyalty to the Emperor Charlemagne. He is known primarily from the epic poem “The Song of Roland”. The Song of Roland is an epic poem from medieval France, written in the late XIth century. It tells the story of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, a historical event that occurred in 778 AD during Charlemagne’s campaign to expand the Frankish empire into Spain. Roland was one of the main heroes of his battle.
According to the historical accounts, Charlemagne’s army was returning from a successful campaign in Spain when they were ambushed in the Pyrenees mountains near the Roncevaux Pass. The attackers were said to be a mix of Basque tribesmen and Muslim soldiers who were allied with the Basques. Roland and his troops were ambushed and defeated by Basque tribesmen in the Pyrenees mountains. it is now believed that the Muslim presence in the battle was likely minimal, and that the main force of the attackers were Basque tribesmen who resented the Frankish presence in the region and sought to assert their independence. The Basque motive for the attack was likely more political than religious, as the Basques were known to be fiercely independent and had long resisted attempts by outside powers to control their territory.
As the battle reached its climax, Roland’s sword broke, and he was mortally wounded by a poisoned spear. Despite his injuries, Roland continued to fight bravely, sounding his horn to alert Charlemagne’s army to the danger. As the other Frankish soldiers arrived, they found Roland dying on the battlefield, surrounded by the bodies of his loyal companions. According to the legend, Roland asked God for forgiveness and begged for his sword to be brought to him so he could break it, rather than allowing it to fall into the hands of the enemy. With his last breath, Roland proclaimed the name of Charlemagne and died
Still, in the centuries that followed, Roland became a symbol of Christian valor and martyrdom – as according to “The Song of Roland” Roland was ambushed and defeated by a coalition of Muslim warriors led by the emir of Cordoba. He was often depicted in art and literature as a courageous and honorable figure, who exemplified the virtues of chivalry and knighthood. He was seen as a symbol of justice and freedom, and his statue was often erected in town squares as a symbol of the town’s independence.
ABOUT HANZEATIC LEAGUE
The Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northern Europe. The league was formed in the late XIIth and early XIIIth centuries. Its member cities, known as Hanseatic cities were located along the coast of the Baltic Sea and North Sea (port cities) and also in the hinterland (merchant cities).
The Hanseatic League was established to protect the interests of its member cities and promote trade and commerce between them. The League’s center of power was the German city of Lübeck, which served as the Hansa headquarters and hosted the meetings of the Hanseatic Diet, the League’s central governing body.
Hanseatic league lost its significance as the nation-states began to emerge and expand their power and influence. European nations became more centralized and began to establish their own trade networks and overseas colonies. Additionally, the increasing competition and conflict between European nations often made it difficult for the league’s member cities to maintain the cooperative relationships that had been the foundation of their success. The league was also affected by internal divisions and conflicts among its member cities. As the league expanded and grew more complex, disagreements over trade policy and other issues sometimes led to rifts and tensions between different member cities, which made it more difficult for the league to function effectively. The formal dissolution of the Hanseatic League is generally considered to have taken place in the mid-XVIIth century, when the league’s last trading post in England was closed.
ROLAND’S STATUES IN HANZEATIC CITIES
Statues of Roland were popular in Hanseatic cities. Many of these cities, especially those in Germany and the Baltic region, had close ties to the legend of Roland and saw him as a symbol of the struggle for independence and freedom. As a result, statues of Roland were often erected in the town squares of Hanseatic cities, serving as symbols of civic pride and independence. These statues typically depicted Roland as a heroic warrior, often with a sword or horn in hand, and were often accompanied by inscriptions or other symbols of local history and culture.
The most famous of these Roland statues is located in the market square of Bremen, Germany, and dates back to the XVth century. The Roland statue at Bremen is the oldest surviving example. From Bremen the symbol spread to other cities.