During the Middle Ages, there was a flourishing of the heroic feeling of life, and the feeling of individual achievement occupies a preferential place. Christians began to feel that heroism was not worth so much for its own sake as for the goals in whose defense it was displayed. Those objectives were, precisely, the triumph of faith, what was born was the “spirit of the crusades”, which was forged at the end of the 11th century, but became a directing element of behavior during the 12th and 13th centuries.
The first crusade began the complex historical phenomenon of military campaigns, armed pilgrimages, and the settlement of Christian kingdoms that sought to recover the lands lost centuries ago to the Muslim advance.
The knight’s goal should not be the feat itself, but something more transcendent, the conquest of the Holy Sepulcher, the defense of the faith, the destruction of the infidels.
In the elaboration of the epic legend, the poet, often a clergyman inspired by the spirit of the monastery, introduced modifications in the story aimed at presenting an ideology that is intended to be exemplary, the Christian, and in this way, the hero subordinates his heroism to faith. Thus grew, among others, the figures of Charlemagne and Roland.
The Song of Roland is an epic song composed in the 12th century that recounts Charlemagne’s military expedition through Spain, in which his nephew Roland, a heroic knight, will die at the hands of the Saracens. The Song of Roland, whose oldest manuscript belongs to the 12th century, recounts historically distant events since Charlemagne and his nephew Roland lived in the 1st century.
Thus, for example, we see Charlemagne surrounded by his twelve peers, his best knights, who make one think of the twelve apostles, among whom is Ganelon, the traitor.
The Song represents a feudal society, in which a lord, Charlemagne, decides what to do, and his vassals, showing the virtue of fidelity. They obey and blindly serve not only the cause of their lord but the cause of the Lord in the so-called “Holy Wars”. The traitor Judas / Ganelon informs King Marcella that Roland and Charlemagne’s best men were in the rear, saying “Whoever can get Roland to die there / without his right hand would leave King Carlos”
Charlemagne’s kingdom comprised almost all of present-day France, the Netherlands, and the western part of Germany. Charlemagne had to fight sometimes to widen the borders of his dominions, others to preserve the conquered territories against invaders of Germans and Moors from Spain. His main military campaigns were directed against the Lombards, the Muslims and the Saxons.
It was in a war against the Muslims, between 778 and 892 when Charlemagne began a series of expeditions not very successful to drive the Arabs away from the south of France. In one of these campaigns, Charlemagne managed to seize Pamplona, but when he retreated across the Pyrenees, his rear was surprised and defeated by the Arabs. In the episode, a nephew of Charlemagne, named Roland, met his death.
On the other hand, Vassal is the one who, in ancient times, was obliged to pay fiefdom. It was the subject of a sovereign or any other type of supreme government, and it was linked to a lord (noble) through a bond of vassalage. This society was based on the cultivation of the land by the serfs or vassals, who had to deliver part of their production to the lord (who, in turn, was loyal to a king).
The vassal was the man who requested protection from a nobleman of superior rank (from the point of view of the social hierarchy) and to whom he swore allegiance in his favor. Both established a vassalage contract that implied mutual obligations.
The relation between the Song of Roland resonates with the feudal values that characterized Europe at the times of its composition. Roland the great warrior, is a perfect example of a great vassal to his lord, the emperor Charlemagne, the head of the Holy Roman Empire, responsible of defending and expanding Christianity at that time. When Ganelon is chosen to an emissary to King Marisilion, which he will take this opportunity to betray the Franks forces and his stepsons, he drops the glove to Charlemagne’s hands him as an investment of his authority. Roland, however, upon his appointment as a rearguard, unwittingly stepping into the trap that Ganelon has treacherously placed before him, makes a show of not dropping the lance handed to him by Charlemagne. This proves their positions when it comes to the lord. Roland would do anything for Charlemagne. He refuses to call for help until its too late because he wishes to defend the king. Even when he senses his death, he attempts to break his sword so that the pagans will never take over Christians. In contrast, Ganelon fueled by personal hatred of Roland proves treacherous to his lord in return for the lord’s favor. Ganelon betrays Charlemagne, yet until his end, Roland maintained his absolute devotion.
In conclusion, the crusades, the relationship lord-vassal, and the old french poem are a representation of how important and deep the relationship with religion was a really important factor during this period of time. And how significant religion was, even violence was involved in it. The great religiosity of the time is reflected in all the characters in the work and especially in the figure of Charlemagne. as defending religion played a major role too the differences between the two religions frighten in that era, would lead to armed clashes throughout the Middle Ages, to see which religion and culture were imposed on the other, being evident that at this time war and religion very often went hand in hand.