Frederick II of Swabia

The emperor who favored the meeting of Greek, Latin and Arab civilizations.

Descendant of Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick II of Swabia was considered by some people a “wonder of the world”; others, however, considered him the Antichrist, while for others he was the Messiah who came to restore the divine order on Earth. During the first half of the thirteenth century, the Swabian emperor acted with boldness and creativity in an intricate political scenario, exerting a strong impact and assuming the main role for fifty years. The focus of his political strategy was the Kingdom of Sicily, and his court in Palermo was the meeting point of Christian, Arab, Jewish and Greek cultures.

Frederick II of Swabia

Frederick II of Swabia was born on 26 December 1194 in the province of Ancona in the Marche, to Henry VI of Swabia, the emperor, and Constance of Altavilla. From the beginning, around the young heir, who lost his father when he was only three years old and his mother when he was just four, treacherous maneuvers developed: who could control Frederick II of Swabia had power over the Kingdom of Sicily.
In view of this eventuality, his mother Constance, before dying, had entrusted the regency of the kingdom and the guardianship of her son to Pope Innocent III. Despite this, it was the German knights sent by Frederick’s uncle, Philip, who at the time ruled Germany, who took control of the situation in the southern kingdom and took care of the young man.
Only a few years later, Pope Innocent III returned to directly influence the life of Frederick II of Swabia: in 1208 he declared him of age and in 1209 he arranged his marriage to Constance of Aragon. While Frederick II of Swabia sought to establish his authority over the kingdom, facing rebellions in Sicily and Calabria, new developments in imperial politics opened much wider perspectives for him.

Emperor Otto IV, in fact, made demands on the Kingdom of Sicily and came to Italy, sparking a reaction from those who opposed a union between the Empire and the Italian kingdom, including the Pope, the King of France and many German princes. In this context, Frederick became an instrument in their hands and in 1211, when it appeared that Otto had control of southern Italy, an assembly of German princes deposed Otto and invited Frederick II of Swabia to Germany to be crowned king of the Romans, thus placing him on the path of imperial succession. Frederick undertook the journey north, forcing Otto to stop his military campaign and do the same. At this point, Germany was divided into two factions: the southern one that followed Frederick and the northern one loyal to Otto. However, in 1214, Otto suffered a devastating defeat at the Battle of Bouvines. While remaining on the throne until his death in 1218, Otto was greatly weakened as after Bouvines it became apparent that Frederick had triumphed in this contention.


On 25 July 1215, Frederick II of Swabia was crowned King of the Romans in Aachen. On the same occasion, he pledged to promote a crusade. However, for many years nothing happened, and in the meantime, he was also crowned emperor in Rome in November 1220. In 1227, a new pope, Gregory IX, struck him with excommunication because of this delay in fulfilling the promise of the crusade.

Frederick was then forced to leave for the Holy Land, but his undertaking was a peculiar action: instead of engaging in war clashes, he undertook long negotiations with his enemy, the Sultan of Egypt. During these negotiations, he managed to obtain the restitution of places such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, as well as guarantees of safety for pilgrims. During these talks, he also engaged in philosophical and scientific discussions with Muslim scholars, which earned him criticism and accusations of impiety from some.


After leaving Germany, to which he turned his back, Frederick II settled in the Kingdom of Sicily, devoting himself with great commitment to its transformation. He carried out reforms in the courts and administration of the kingdom, reorganizing the existing structures and introducing new figures of officials. He issued a series of laws of enormous importance, including the Constitutions of Melfi in 1231, with which he proposed to create an organized and coherent state, in which not only subjects had duties towards the government, but also the state had responsibilities towards the subjects. This innovation was radically new and many considered him the first ruler with modern features. In addition, Frederick promoted the development of the economy of the kingdom, intervening on the productive structure and trying to revive the cities, some of which (such as Augusta and Altamura) he founded personally. In 1224, in Naples, he established the first state university.

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Last updated on: 17/08/2023 09:08:20
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