Bar­barossa meets a wa­tery end

One of me­dieval Europe’s most pow­er­ful cru­saders drowns, leav­ing his army in dis­ar­ray

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

Ithe early months of 1190, ter­ri­ble news swept Asia Mi­nor. Three n years af­ter Sal­adin had re­cap­tured Jerusalem, the cru­saders were re­turn­ing. This time their ex­pe­di­tion would be led by one of the most pow­er­ful men in Chris­ten­dom: the Holy Ro­man Em­peror him­self, the colos­sally ex­pe­ri­enced and ac­com­plished Ger­man king Fred­er­ick Bar­barossa. On 18 May, Fred­er­ick smashed the Seljuk Turks at the bat­tle of Ico­nium. Jerusalem was in his sights. A ti­tanic show­down with Sal­adin seemed only a mat­ter of time.

But then fate made an ex­tra­or­di­nary in­ter­ven­tion. On 10 June, Fred­er­ick’s army was just out­side Sil­ifke, in south­ern Turkey, and at­tempt­ing to cross the river Saleph, when some­thing went ter­ri­bly wrong. Me­dieval chron­i­clers told dif­fer­ent sto­ries: some said the em­peror had de­cided to go for a dip to cool off on a swel­ter­ing day, but oth­ers said that he had been lead­ing his troops across the ford when his horse slipped and threw him into the cold wa­ter. Some claimed that Fred­er­ick drowned, oth­ers that he died from a heart at­tack brought on by the shock.

In the days fol­low­ing his death, every­thing went wrong for the late em­peror’s army. His son, Fred­er­ick of Swabia, led them south, but they were rav­aged by de­ser­tions and dis­ease. In An­ti­och, Bar­barossa’s body was boiled and fil­leted to re­move his bones. His flesh was buried in the cathe­dral church of St Peter. The army hung on to his bones, hop­ing to bury them in Jerusalem. But they never made it to the city, and the bones found their rest­ing place in Tyre in­stead.

A man­u­script de­picts the death of Bar­barossa in the choppy waters of the river Saleph. Without his ex­pe­ri­enced lead­er­ship, the em­peror’s army soon came un­stuck

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.