Frederick I, also known as Frederick Barbarossa, was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1155 until his death. He was elected King of Germany at Frankfurt on 4 March 1152 and 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 first appeared in a document in connection with his Empire and he was later formally crowned King of Burgundy, at Arles on 30 June 1178. He was named Barbarossa by the northern Italian cities which he attempted to rule, Barbarossa means red beard in Italian, in German, he was known as Kaiser Rotbart, before his imperial election, Frederick was by inheritance Duke of Swabia. He was the son of Duke Frederick II of the Hohenstaufen dynasty and Judith, daughter of Henry IX, Duke of Bavaria, Frederick therefore descended from the two leading families in Germany, making him an acceptable choice for the Empires prince-electors. Historians consider him among the Holy Roman Empires greatest medieval emperors, in 1147 he became Duke of the southern German region of Swabia, and shortly afterwards made his first trip to the East, accompanied by his uncle, the German king Conrad III, on the Second Crusade. The expedition proved to be a disaster, but Frederick distinguished himself, when Conrad died in February 1152, only Frederick and the prince-bishop of Bamberg were at his deathbed. Frederick energetically pursued the crown and at Frankfurt on 4 March 1152 the kingdoms princely electors designated him as the next German king and he was crowned King of the Romans at Aachen several days later, on 9 March 1152. Fredericks father was from the Hohenstaufen family, and his mother was from the Welf family, the Hohenstaufens were often called Ghibellines, which derives from the Italianized name for Waiblingen castle, the family seat in Swabia, the Welfs, in a similar Italianization, were called Guelfs. The reigns of Henry IV and Henry V left the status of the German empire in disarray, for a quarter of a century following the death of Henry V in 1125, the German monarchy was largely a nominal title with no real power. The king was chosen by the princes, was given no resources outside those of his own duchy, the royal title was furthermore passed from one family to another to preclude the development of any dynastic interest in the German crown. When Frederick I of Hohenstaufen was chosen as king in 1152, royal power had been in abeyance for over twenty-five years. The only real claim to lay in the rich cities of northern Italy. The Salian line had died out with the death of Henry V in 1125, one of the Hohenstaufens gained the throne as Conrad III of Germany. When Frederick Barbarossa succeeded his uncle in 1152, there seemed to be excellent prospects for ending the feud, the Welf duke of Saxony, Henry the Lion, would not be appeased, however, remaining an implacable enemy of the Hohenstaufen monarchy. Barbarossa had the duchies of Swabia and Franconia, the force of his own personality, the Germany that Frederick tried to unite was a patchwork of more than 1600 individual states, each with its own prince. A few of these, such as Bavaria and Saxony, were large, many were too small to pinpoint on a map. The titles afforded to the German king were Caesar, Augustus, by the time Frederick would assume these, they were little more than propaganda slogans with little other meaning
A golden bust of Frederick I, given to his godfather Count Otto of Cappenberg in 1171. It was used as a reliquary in Cappenberg Abbey and is said in the deed of the gift to have been made "in the likeness of the emperor".
Penny or denier with Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, struck in Nijmegen.
Frederick Barbarossa as a crusader, miniature from a copy of the Historia Hierosolymitana, 1188.
Frederick Barbarossa, middle, flanked by two of his children, King Henry VI (left) and Duke Frederick VI (right). From the Historia Welforum.