“Death of Frederick of Germany” by Gustav Dore
Frederick I Barbarossa was a German Holy Roman Emperor.
Frederick embarked on the Third Crusade (1189), a massive expedition in conjunction with the French, led by king Philip Augustus, and the English, under Richard the Lionheart. He organized a grand army of 100,000 men (including 20,000 knights) and set out on the overland route to the Holy Land. However, some historians believe that this is an exaggeration and that the true figure might be closer to 15,000 men, including 3,000 knights.
The Crusaders passed through Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria and then entered Byzantine territory, arriving at Constantinople in the autumn of 1189. Matters were complicated by a secret alliance between the Emperor of Constantinople and Saladin, warning of which was supplied by a note from Sibylla, ex-Queen of Jerusalem. When they were in Hungary, Barbarossa personally asked the Hungarian Prince Géza, brother of the king, Béla III of Hungary, to join the Crusade. The king agreed, and a Hungarian army of 2,000 men led by Géza escorted the German emperor’s forces. The armies coming from western Europe pushed on through Anatolia (where they were victorious in taking Aksehir and defeating the Turks in the Battle of Iconium), and entered Cilician Armenia. The approach of the immense German army greatly concerned Saladin and the other Muslim leaders, who began to rally troops of their own to confront Barbarossa’s forces.
However, on 10 June 1190, Emperor Frederick drowned in the Saleph river. Being impatient, he had decided to walk his horse through the river instead of crossing the bridge that had been too crowded with troops. The current was too strong for the horse to handle, and his suit armor was too heavy for him to swim in: both were swept away and drowned. Some of Frederick’s men put him in a barrel of vinegar to preserve his body.
Frederick’s death plunged his army into chaos. Leaderless, panicking, and attacked on all sides by Turks, many Germans deserted, were killed, or even committed suicide. Only 5,000 soldiers, a small fraction of the original force, arrived in Acre. Barbarossa’s son, Frederick VI of Swabia, carried on with the remnants of the German army, along with the Hungarian army under the command of Prince Géza, with the aim of burying the emperor in Jerusalem, but efforts to conserve his body in vinegar failed. Hence, his flesh was interred in the Church of St Peter in Antioch, his bones in the cathedral of Tyre, and his heart and inner organs in Tarsus.