Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.
Powered by Campus Explorer
All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
26 June, 2013
Famous Men of The Middle Ages|
by Haaren, John H. (LL.D.) and Poland, A. B. (Ph.D.)
|Emperor from 1152-1190
Frederick I was one of the most famous of German emperors. He was
a tall, stalwart man of majestic appearance. He had a long red
beard and so the people called him Barbarossa, or Red-Beard. He
came to the throne in 1152.
At that time the province of Lombardy in northern Italy was a part
of the German empire.
In 1158 Milan (mÔ-lan'), the chief city of Lombardy, revolted. Then
over the Alps came an army of a hundred thousand German soldiers,
with Frederick at their head. After a long siege the city surrendered.
But soon it revolted again. The emperor besieged it once more and
once more it surrendered. Its fortifications were destroyed and
many of its buildings ruined.
But even then the spirit of the Lombards was not broken. Milan
and the other cities of Lombardy united in a league and defied
the emperor. He called upon the German dukes to bring their men
to his aid. All responded except Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony,
Frederick's cousin, whom he had made duke of Bavaria also. Frederick
is said to have knelt and implored Henry to do his duty, but in
In his campaign against the Lombards Frederick was unsuccessful. His
army was completely defeated and he was compelled to grant freedom
to the cities of Lombardy. Everybody blamed Henry the Lion. The
other dukes charged him with treason and he was summoned to appear
before a meeting of the nobles. He failed to come and the nobles
thereupon declared him guilty and took from him everything that he
had, except the lands he had inherited from his father.
Frederick now devoted himself to making Germany a united nation.
Two of his nobles had been quarreling for a long time and as a
punishment for their conduct each was condemned, with ten of his
counts and barons, to carry dogs on his shoulders from one country
Frederick finally succeeded in keeping the nobles in the different
provinces of Germany at peace with one another, and persuaded them
to work together for the good of the whole empire. He had no more
trouble with them and for many years his reign was peaceful and
After the Christians had held Jerusalem for eighty-eight years, it
was recaptured by the Moslems under the lead of the famous Saladin
(Sal'-a-din), in the year 1187. There was much excitement in
Christendom, and the Pope proclaimed another Crusade.
Frederick immediately raised an army of Crusaders in the German
Empire and with one hundred and fifty thousand men started for
He marched into Asia Minor, attacked the Moslem forces, and defeated
them in two great battles.
But before the brave old warrior reached the Holy Land his career
was suddenly brought to an end. One day his army was crossing
a small bridge over a river in Asia Minor. At a moment when the
bridge was crowded with troops Frederick rode up rapidly.
He was impatient to join his son, who was leading the advance
guard; and when he found that he could not cross immediately by the
bridge, he plunged into the river to swim his horse across. Both
horse and rider were swept away by the current. Barbarossa's heavy
armor made him helpless and he was drowned. His body was recovered
and buried at Antioch.
Barbarossa was so much loved by his people that it was said, "Germany
and Frederick Barbarossa are one in the hearts of the Germans." His
death caused the greatest grief among the German Crusaders. They
had now little heart to fight the infidels and most of them at once
returned to Germany.
In the Empire the dead hero was long mourned and for many years
the peasants believed that Frederick was not really dead, but was
asleep in a cave in the mountains of Germany, with his gallant
knights around him. He was supposed to be sitting in his chair
of state, with the crown upon his head, his eyes half-closed in
slumber, his beard as white as snow and so long that it reached
"When the ravens cease to fly round the mountain," said the legend,
"Barbarossa shall awake and restore Germany to its ancient greatness."