Supremacy: A Struggle Between Religions



Monday 10:30‑11:20


History 105



The Song of Roland is not only an epic tale of heroism, it also symbolizes the eternal struggle that existed between Christianity and the Pagans. The strength of the warrior’s faith comes under great scrutiny in this novel. We see the Christians fight in the name of God, and the Pagans refute their beliefs at the first sign of failure. We also bear witness to the Christians, even when injured or tired continue to fight, whereas the Pagans, at the first sign of fatigue, they retreat. This may be due to the author’s bias, as we are unaware of the author, or it may be typical behaviour of the Pagans at this time. The battle, while being seemingly about land, also contains many elements of a religious strife.


The Song of Roland takes the side of Christianity. It promotes the belief, and does not recognize any negative qualities the religion may possess. In this light, Christianity is viewed as the supreme religion. Charlemagne, Roland, and all of their comrades are under the impression that they are doing God’ s work by capturing Spain back from the Pagans. They also believe that they are killing for God. This is evident on page 39, "In Jesus’ name, and mine." Thus they are not breaking the commandment of "Thou shalt not kill." The common standpoint of Christians was that everyone who was of another religion should be converted to Christianity, or should be persecuted. It was this belief that led Charlemagne into battle against the Pagans. He felt that if the war could be won, than the opposing armies would see the strength of Christianity, and would willingly convert. Also, King Charlemagne says that he will bribe or try to will people into converting to Christianity. This was not always the case. Furthermore, within the novel the Franks stuck to their faith with their entire beings. When then Franks are about to face death, on page 62, it is said, "Frankish Lords, May God grant you strength;" This faith is also evident in the midst of battle, on page 77, Roland exclaims, " In God’s name I beg you not to flee.....Holy Paradise is open to you; you will take your seat amongst the innocents." In his dying breaths Roland praises God, (Page 104‑105) when forging on in battle asks God for help, and praises him as well. The Christian faith holds true even when all of the men in Roland’s brigade have been killed. This becomes a sore point for the Pagans.


The Pagans, are not actually Pagans. They are Muslims, or at least this is how they are referred to. However, a pagan is defined as someone who is not Christian, Muslim, or Jewish, especially a worshipper of a polytheistic religion. According to the text, the ‘pagans’ believe in more than one god, but they are also referred to as Muslims whose belief consists of one God. This attribute makes the existence of the ‘pagans’ confusing. The reader is unsure of whether the people the Christians are fighting or actual Pagans, or Muslims, or a completely different religion altogether. For the sake of argument, they will continue to be referred to as Pagans. As stated, in this novel the Pagans believe in more than one God. This angers the Christians immensely. Also, in times of trial the Pagans are willing to throw their beliefs away. This is first exhibited on page 35, in reference to King Marsiles, of the Pagans, "..He will receive our most Holy faith. He will become a Christian."The warriors in the battle, however, never say they will accept Christianity, just that they do not feel that their Gods are protecting them during the battle. It is unclear whether or not Pagans willingly gave up on their religion like that, or whether the author included this information in order to make the Christians appear superior. None the less, within the novel, the Pagans abandon their faith. This act increases the Christians’ morale, it shows them that the Pagans are weak, and will be easily defeated. At the end of the battle with Roland, however, it is the Pagans who are successful. Mind you, they did extremely outnumber the Christians, and that was a