4 March

Frederick I (1122 – 10 June 1190), also known as Frederick Barbarossa, was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1155 until his death. He was elected King of Germany at Frankfurt on this day in 1152 and crowned in Aachen on 9 March 1152. He became King of Italy in 1155 and was crowned Roman Emperor by Pope Adrian IV on 18 June 1155. Two years later, the term sacrum (“holy”) first appeared in a document in connection with his Empire. He was later formally crowned King of Burgundy, at Arles on 30 June 1178. He got the name Barbarossa from the northern Italian cities he attempted to rule: Barbarossa means “red beard” in Italian; in German, he was known as Kaiser Rotbart, which has the same meaning.

Before his imperial election, Frederick was by inheritance Duke of Swabia (1147–1152, as Frederick III). He was the son of Duke Frederick II of the Hohenstaufen dynasty and Judith, daughter of Henry IX, Duke of Bavaria, from the rival House of Welf. Frederick therefore descended from the two leading families in Germany, making him an acceptable choice for the Empire’s prince-electors.

Historians consider him among the Holy Roman Empire’s greatest medieval emperors. He combined qualities that made him appear almost superhuman to his contemporaries: his longevity, his ambition, his extraordinary skills at organization, his battlefield acumen and his political perspicuity. Among his contributions to Central European society and culture include the re-establishment of the Corpus Juris Civilis, or the Roman rule of law, which counterbalanced the papal power that dominated the German states since the conclusion of the investiture crisis.