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The protagonist Roland, Charlemagne's nephew, nominates his stepfather Ganelon as messenger.
They have been there for seven years, and the last city standing is Saragossa, held by the Muslim King Marsile.
Threatened by the might of Charlemagne's army of Franks, Marsile seeks advice from his wise man, Blancandrin, who councils him to conciliate the Emperor, offering to surrender and giving hostages.
The occurrence of this term in the poem cannot be interpreted as showing influence from the Crusades in the poem; on the contrary, the way it is used in the poem, in which it is simply a Muslim land, indicates that the author of the poem was unacquainted with the Crusades, and that the term was in French before the Crusades began meaning the far side of the Mediterranean Sea.
The bulk of the poem is adjudged to date from before the Crusades (which started in 1098), but there are a few items where questions remain about these items being late additions shortly after the Crusades started.
By supplying it with an appropriate epic title, isolating it from its original codicological context, and providing a general history of minstrel performance in which its pure origin could be located, the early editors presented a 4,002 line poem as sung French epic".
Charlemagne's army is fighting the Muslims in Spain.Despite this, he blows his olifant to summon revenge, until his temples burst and he dies a martyr's death. When Charlemagne and his men reach the battlefield, they find the dead bodies of Roland's men, who have been utterly annihilated.They pursue the Muslims into the river Ebro, where the Muslims drown.As Ganelon predicted, Roland leads the rear guard, with the wise and moderate Oliver and the fierce Archbishop Turpin.The Muslims ambush them at Roncesvalles and the Christians are overwhelmed.While the council of barons assembled to decide the traitor's fate is initially swayed by this claim, partially out of fear of Ganelon's friend Pinabel who threatens to fight anyone who judges Ganelon guilty, one man, Thierry, argues that because Roland was serving Charlemagne when Ganelon delivered his revenge on him, Ganelon's action constitutes a betrayal. Thus, he is torn apart by having four galloping horses tied one to each arm and leg and thirty of his relatives are hanged.Bramimonde converts to Christianity, her name changing to Juliana.Oltre mer, modern French Outremer, literally "oversea, beyond sea, other side of the sea", is a native French term from the classical Latin roots ultra = "beyond" and mare = "sea".The name was commonly used by contemporary chroniclers to refer to the Latin Levant.However, Archbishop Turpin intervenes and tells them that the battle will be fatal for all of them and so instructs Roland to blow his horn oliphant (the word is an old alternative to "elephant", and was used to refer to a hunting horn made from an elephant tusk) to call for help from the Frankish army. Charlemagne and his noblemen gallop back even though Count Ganelon tries to trick them.The Franks fight well, but are outnumbered, until almost all Roland's men are dead and he knows that Charlemagne's army can no longer save them.