The age-old question of “what if?” can be both fun and interesting when applied to any facet of the past, whether it be to sports, entertainment, or in this case, history. These so-called “hinge moments” are popular with alternative historians because they may have directly changed the course of nearly every aspect of the world that we live in. This is a look at some of the more unfortunate (or in some cases, fortunate) moments that happened in the lives of few to effect the world of many.
1190 – The Emperor’s Bad Moves
In the time of the Crusades, Friedrich I (b. 1122 and popularly known as Barbarossa) was named King of Germany and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, an area covering most of central Europe from the Mediterranean to the Baltic Sea. A fierce leader, Barbarossa spent much of his time as Emperor campaigning to conquer the lands of Italy from where he came. By the late 1180’s, there was a new pope in Rome who was willing to set aside the conflict with the aging German king in order to focus on a new goal: the liberation of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, which had recently been reconquered by the Muslims under Saladin.
Barbarossa set out in May 1189 with an estimated 80,000 soldiers and 20,000 knights in the Third Crusade for the Holy Land. After initial successes and great speed, his army became bogged down on the banks of the Selaph River in Turkey (known today as the Göksu). The king, frustrated with the speed at which his troops were crossing the river, decided to swim across with his horse. However, his horse was unable to keep its footing in the strong current: Barbarossa was thrown from his horse and drowned from the weight of his armor. Distraught, the majority of the army disbanded and returned to Germany.
The Selaph River Today
Although the Third Crusade would continue under the English king Richard the Lionheart, the Christians would be unable to accomplish their objective of retaking Jerusalem without Barbarossa’s massive army. Friedrich II would regain control of Jerusalem for European Christians during the Sixth Crusade, but he did so through marriage and diplomacy, and the city was lost again after less than twenty years. The Third Crusade was the last credible chance for lasting European control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land – and so, Barbarossa’s fatal step into the Selaph River that day paved the way for centuries of religious strife, and presumably, the current conflict between the Israelis and Muslims which pit the Middle East against the Christian West.
Are you convinced? Let me know.