Andrew Andersen



(Maps: Putzgers, F.W., Historischer Schul-Atlas, Bielefeld, 1929)



(Click on the map to see the full-screen image and details)



The end of the Salian rule that followed the death of King Henry V (1106-1025) was marked by the beginning of the long strife between the Guelphs (Welfs) of Saxony and the Hohenstaufens of Swabia both of which claimed the right to the throne.

One of the most prominent Hohenstaufens was Frederick I “Barbarossa” (1152-1190). Before being crowned Emperor (1152) he took part in the 2nd Crusade as the Duke of Swabia (1147). Upon returning to Europe, Frederick tried to unite Germany and diminish the power of the dukes. In 1154, his army marched into Italy that was also involved in German feud with the Pope supporting the Guelphs and the cities of Lombardy (the Lombard league) sympathizing with the Hohenstaufens.

Long wars for the domination over the Empire resulted in the peace of Venice (1177) confirming the diarchy in the Empire as well as the Pope’s right to establish an ecclesiastical state, and the Peace of Konstanz (1183) confirming the rights of free-elected governments of North Italian cities. In 1181 Frederick also defeated Henry the Lion of Saxony (his last Guelph opponent). However, his goal of building up a centralized German state seemed unlikely to be achieved. Long absence of the Emperor from Germany proper reduced the Royal power in the country and increased the power of the dukes.


In 1189, Frederick Barbarossa took part on the 3d Crusade as one of his major organizers (together with Philip Augustus of France and Richard Lionheart of England). The grand German-French-English army led by the three Kings, marched through Hungary and Bulgaria to Constantinople and from there invaded the Middle East. After winning a series of battles in Anatolia and Armenia, Frederic died while crossing the river of Saleph in Cilicia.



Frederick I Barbarossa


Among the results of the rule of Frederick I was economic growth accompanied by the increasing of the amount and importance of the cities and towns, development of arts and culture and further expansion of German-speaking population eastwards into Pomerania, Silesia, Bohemia and Moravia.



After his death in Asia Minor, Frederick was succeeded by his son Henry VI (1190-1197) and his grandson Frederick II (1197-1250). Because Fredrick II was elected Emperor while being a three-years-old infant, the civil war between the followers of the Hohenstaufens and Guelphs started again and lasted until 1212. By the Imperial Statute of 1232, Frederick II gave more rights to the Dukes and Princes of Germany turning them into the rulers of semi-independent countries of various size.


The death of Frederick’s son Konrad (1254) was the end of Hohenstaufen rule and the beginning of the Great Interregnum (1256-1273) that pushed Germany into anarchy and political chaos surprisingly accompanied by further growth of both the population and the economy. It was the Interregnum Period when the Magdeburger Recht became the most popular form of the civic law of Central Europe turning the cities of Germany and some other countries into the enclaves of freedom, democracy and relatively equal rights of the citizens of various social backgrounds.


During that period of time, German colonization of Eastern Europe stretched into the Baltics where the Knights of the Teutonic Order established a big German-speaking state including Eastern Prussia and the territories of modern Estonia, Latvia and partially Lithuania.




(Maps: Putzgers, F.W., Historischer Schul-Atlas, Bielefeld, 1929)



In 1273 Rudolf of Habsburg was elected as a King of Germany and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire thus ending the Great Interregnum. From that year and until 1438, the Imperial throne was occupied either by the Habsburgs of Austria, or by the representatives of one of the two other Royal Houses of Germany: the Luxemburgs of Bohemia and the Wittelsbachs of Bavaria. In 1435 Albert II of the Habsburgs was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, and since then the Habsburgs were keeping the Imperial throne until the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 by Napoleon.


In 1356 Emperor Charles IV (1355-1378) issued the Golden Bull establishing the rules of Imperial Elections and attempting to create a big federal state by regulating and formalizing the rights of Dukes, Princes and other noble rulers of Germany. According to the Golden Bull, the Emperor was to be elected by seven electors: the rules of Bohemia, Brandenburg, Palatinate and Saxony and the Archbishops of Cologne, Trier and Mainz. That turned a Holy Roman Emperor as a nominal and rather symbolic figure delegating real power to the local rulers. Significant concessions were made to the Church including the right to create ecclesiastical states.




(Click on the maps to see the full-screen image)


In addition to its evident drawbacks, German fragmentation had certain advantages: it created political diversity in one country and kept tyrannical tendencies under natural control (i.e. if one of the smaller German states started sliding down into the tyranny, its subjects could migrate en masse into the neighbor-states). In contrast to many states with strong central power, fragmented Germany also encouraged the creation of a large number of political, economic, cultural and later educational centers. The development of Germany in the 14th and 15th centuries was marked by further economic, intellectual and demographic growth (the latter one partially undermined by the Black Death), further growth of free cities (see Hanseatic League) and the foundation of the universities.  It was Germany where the first printing technology was invented in the 1450-s by Johannes Gutenberg, the invention that led to the rapid spread of knowledge and free thought. (Click on the below map for bigger image)