In an effort to thwart the ambitions of his political rivals, the Hohenstaufen ruler Frederick Barbarossa invaded Italy in 1167 with the goal of driving all the way to Sicily. Following successful sieges in northern Italy, he took his army to Rome: he captured the city on July 24 and then stirred its citizens into revolt against Pope Alexander III, who was forced to flee to Benevento. Six days later, Barbarossa installed an antipope (Paschal III) on St. Peter’s throne, and Paschal, in return, crowned him Holy Roman Emperor. Matters abruptly changed thereafter. A destructive storm and widespread plague ultimately drove the emperor out of Rome and back north, into the waiting arms of the Lombard League, a coalition of sixteen Italian cities that had formed an alliance against him. What followed was a series of military defeats and humiliating near-captures as Barbarossa frantically tried to escape to Saxony. It was the beginning of the end of imperial control over northern Italy: in 1176, the Lombard League decisively defeated Barbarossa at the Battle of Legnano, and in 1183 he granted its members the right to self-governance. In the following century, the Italian Renaissance was born in these independent states.
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John D. Hosler is an Associate Professor of Military History at the Command and General Staff College. An expert in medieval warfare, he is the author of The Siege of Acre, 1189-1191: Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, and the Battle that Decided the Third Crusade, which was named a Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year.
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