15 August

The Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778 saw a large force of Basques ambush a part of Charlemagne’s army in Roncevaux Pass, a high mountain pass in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain, after his invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.

The Basque attack was a retaliation for Charlemagne’s destruction of the city walls of their capital, Pamplona. As the Franks retreated across the Pyrenees back to France, the rearguard of Frankish lords was cut off, stood its ground, and was wiped out. Roncevaux was Charlemagne’s only military defeat.

The battle was romanticised by oral tradition into a major conflict between Christians and Muslims even though it is unlikely that religion was a factor or that significant numbers of Basques had converted to Christianity at the time of the battle. The battle elevated the relatively obscure Roland and the paladins into legend, becoming the quintessential role model for knights and also greatly influencing the code of chivalry in the Middle Ages. There are numerous written works about the battle, some of which change and exaggerate events.