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Historia de Expeditione Frederici Imperatoris:
The Third Crusade: Death of Frederick Barbarossa, 1190


Trans in Dana C. Munro, "Letters of the Crusaders", Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, Vol 1:4, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1896), 20-22

With Jerusalem in his hands Saladin and his army retired from the field, leaving the remaining defenders of the Holy Land concentrated in Tyre, the only major Latin stronghold left in the East. The conqueror's army could not, in any case, have been kept together much longer and there must have seemed little likelihood that Tyre or its garrison could cause any great difficulty for the new master of the Holy Land. Saladin could afford to postpone an attack upon Tyre until some more convenient time .

News of the disaster in the Holy Land was carried quickly to the West. The collapse of Western Christendom's design to hold the shrines of the Holy Land was apparent and only heroic measures would suffice to retrieve the situation. On October 29, 1187, Pope Gregory VIII appealed for another Crusade, even before the news of Saladin's capture of Jerusalem had reached him . The Pope also ordained for all the faithful a general abstinence from meat on Fridays for a five-year period in atonement for the sins which had brought on the recent disasters in the East.

Even before the full measure of the disaster was known in the West, efforts were made to enlist the services of the three greatest European monarchs in a grand expedition to Palestine. Contact was made with the German Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, with the King of France, Philip Augustus, and with the King of England, Henry TI. The obstacles to a joint expedition by these monarchs were formidable. Barbarossa was elderly and bad spent the greater part of his career at odds with the Papacy. Philip Augustus was not enthusiastic for the venture and, furthermore, he had been almost constantly at war with Henry II of England. To expect either the French King or the English King to depart for the East and to leave his rival behind in Europe was simply unrealistic. Either both must go or neither would go, and cooperation between the two men would not be easy to arrange.

In January 1188 the French and English Kings met at Gisors to discuss the situation. After much talking an agreement was reached which obliged the monarchs with their respective armies to proceed to the Holy Land together. Peace between the kingdoms was not so quickly arranged, however. Before the year was out, war between them had begun again; then, in July 1189, while the war was still in progress, Henry II of England died. The accession of his son, Richard, greatly improved the prospects for the expedition. Another meeting between the English and French monarchs took place and new agreements about the Crusade were made.

Barbarossa, meanwhile, bad already set his part of the expedition in order and in May 1189 a German army departed on Crusade. Barbarossa's force was large, well-equipped, admirably controlled. The German army set out to follow the land route through the Balkans and Asia Minor to the Holy Land. Aside from some incidents near Constantinople, the German army passed through the Balkans with a minimum of difficulty. In Asia Minor the Germans were harried from time to time by Turkish soldiers, but only one pitched battle took place there, near Konya on May 17, 1190. Barbarossa's men were victorious and his army passed from Konya through the Taurus Mountains and on to the plains of Seleucea . Then cam a problem:-

One June 10 [1190] the advance unit of the army camped on the plains of Seleucea. Up to this point the whole army of the Holy Cross ­ the rich and the poor, the sick and those who seemed healthy ­ had journeyed through the glare of the sun and the burning beat of summer along a torturous road which led them across rocky cliffs accessible only to birds and mountain goats. The Emperor,311 who had shared in all the dangers, wished both to moderate the inordinate heat and to avoid climbing the mountain peak. Accordingly, he attempted to swim across the very swift Calycadmus River. As the wise man says, however, "Thou shalt not swim against the river's current ."[Eccles. 4:32] Wise though he was in other ways, the Emperor foolishly tried his strength against the current and power of the river. Although everyone tried to stop him, he entered the water and plunged into a whirlpool. He, who had often escaped great dangers, perished miserably. Let us comment the secret judgment of God, "to Whom no man dares say: Why have you acted thus," when he takes such or so many men in death. The Emperor was, indeed, a knight of Christ and a member of his army. He was taken up while on a laudable mission to recover the Lord's land and his cross and thus, even though he was taken unexpectedly, we may believe that, without doubt, be was saved. When, therefore, the other nobles around him hastened, although too late, to help him, they took him from the water and dragged him to the bank.

Everyone was afflicted with great sorrow over his death; so much so, indeed, that some, caught between hope and dread, would have ended their lives with him. Others, however, despaired and, as it seemed that God did not care for them, they renounced the Christian faith to become pagans among the heathen.

Mourning and unrestrained sorrow ­ not unmerited by the death of such a prince ­ occupied the hearts of all, so that they could rightly lament, saying with the prophet: "Alas, we are sinners, the wreath has faded from our brows; there are sad hearts everywhere. " [Lam 5:16-17] The Duke of Swabia, a most illustrious prince and his father's right noble heir, was duly chosen and acclaimed as leader of Christ's army. The Duke took up his father's body and bore it with him to the city of Tarsus in Cilicia, where his father's intestines were devotedly laid to rest.

The army divided there. Some made their way toward Tripoli, which was in Christian bands. The others, who followed the Duke of Swabia, marched toward Antioch. On June 17 they came to Port Saint Simeon and on June 19 they came to Antioch, where the messengers of the Lord Leo of the Mountain bad come to meet the lord Emperor. The messengers had as yet heard nothing ot the Emperor's death; learning of it there, they were affected more than the others. In Antioch the Emperor was given a royal burial, as was fitting. To the accompaniment of disconsolate mourning, they laid the remains of his body to rest in the cathedral church of Peter, Prince of the Apostles.


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book.

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