A golden bust of Emperor Frederick I, dated to circa 1157 and 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". It accords with a written description of him.
Although there are some points one might well query in what is admittedly a concise life, its basic narrative is good and sets out the problems and possibilities that he faced in his lengthy reign from 1155 to 1190.
His achievements were considerable, if transitory, but he seems often out faced by the combination of opponents and circumstances, not to mention geography. In that he is like, for example, his grandson the Emperor Frederick II, whose reign reprised so many themes of Barbarossa’s rule. It is also reminiscent of the reign of the Emperor Charles V in the sixteenth century. This has been a problem facing many rulers - the governance of the later Habsburg Empire is an example, but it is not unique.
At its heart is the problem of Empire - the fragmented political nature of the German lands, the multiple problems in Italy, and both in the dynamic expansion of what some term “the Feudal Revolution”, the expanding economy and society of the twelfth century. Alongside that there was the intellectual expansion we have become used to call, thanks to C.H.Haskins, the Twelfth century Renaissance. Then there was the continuing implicit, and often explicit, conflict between Empire and Papacy, and the fundamental question as to what was the Emperor - he possessed a great inheritance and great claims, but making them real was the difficulty. How was he to relate to the Pope and the Church, to other Kings, to the people and claims of Rome itself, to the Byzantine Emperor? In one sense Frederick was no more successful than his predecessors or successors in resolving these intractable matters, but for thirty five years he endeavoured mightily so to do.
Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, middle, flanked by two of his children, King Henry VI (left) and Duke Frederick VI (right).
From the Historia Welforum. Image: Wikipedia
A variant has it that the Emperor is dozing rather than sleeping and periodically sends a boy out to check on whether the ravens still fly round the Kyffhäuser. When there are no ravens it will be the time for him to rise with his knights from their slumber.