The Paladins (or Twelve Peers) are twelve fictional knights of legend, the foremost members of Charlemagne's court in the 8th century. They first appear in the medieval (12th century) chanson de geste cycle of the Matter of France, where they play a similar role to the Knights of the Round Table in Arthurian romance. In these romantic portrayals, the chivalric paladins represent Christianity against a Saracen (Muslim) invasion of Europe. The names of the paladins vary between sources, but there are always twelve of them (a number with Christian associations) led by Roland (spelled Orlando in later Italian sources). The paladins' most influential appearance is in The Song of Roland, written between 1050 and 1115, which narrates the heroic death of Roland at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass.
The legend is based on the historical Umayyad invasion of Gaul and subsequent conflict in the Marca Hispanica between the Frankish Empire and the Emirate of Córdoba. The term paladin is from Old French, deriving from the Latin comes palatinus (count palatine), a title given to close retainers.
The paladins remained a popular subject throughout medieval French literature. Literature of the Italian Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries) introduced more fantasy elements into the legend, which later became a popular subject for operas in the Baroque music of the 16th and 17th centuries. During the 19th and early 20th centuries the term was reused outside fiction for small numbers of close military confidants serving national leaders. Modern depictions of paladins are often an individual knight-errant holy warrior or combat healer, influenced by the paladin character class that appeared in Dungeons & Dragons in 1975.

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