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Historically, Roland was a Frankish seneschal (or commander) in Charlemagne's service, who was killed in the battle of Roncevaux by the Basques August 15, AD 778.

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. See Orlando for his later history in Italian verse, leading to the epic Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto.

Roland is also a place in the State of Iowa in the United States of America: see Roland, Iowa.