In the Middle Ages, Friedrich I, also called “Barbarossa”, was regarded as a brilliant ruler who fought for the “honor of the empire.”
The fate of the Hohenstaufen dynasty mirrored the rise and fall of the medieval Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Frederick I reigned from 1152 until his death in 1190. “Barbarossa”, as he was called, was considered by his contemporaries to be a beacon of power and virtue. This documentary explores his reign. Frederick I’s absolute commitment to his role as a defender of western Christianity divided his attention between German and international interests. At the same time, he came into conflict with the Pope. The city states of northern Italy likewise challenged the sovereignty of the German ruler. As he struggled to impose his will on Italy, back in Germany regional leaders gained strength at his expense. Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, was Barbarossa’s cousin, loyal vassal – and sometimes his foe. Henry was known for ruthlessly expanding his territory. He conquered new territories to the east for the empire, and pursued a planned policy of settlement and Christianization. Like Barbarossa, “the Lion” also made a name for himself as a founder of cities. When the duke refused to swear allegiance to the emperor, he was banished. Barbarossa’s rule coincided with the crusades and the great age of chivalry. The cities became more independent. A new middle class emerged, as did craftsmen’s guilds and merchant networks. The modern German language evolved, together with chivalric prose and poetry. Local rulers continued to defend their independence. They elected the king, and effectively ruled under him. Things would stay that way until the end of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1806. And as for Barbarossa himself – the emperor drowned soon after departing on a crusade to Jerusalem.