Post-classical history

Kreuzfahrt des Landgrafen Ludwigs des Frommen von Thüringen

A Middle High German poem, completed in 1301, dealing with the deeds of Landgrave Ludwig III of Thuringia (d. 1190) during the Third Crusade (1189-1192).

The poem survives in a single manuscript (MS Wien, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, 2737) dating from the early fourteenth century. It was written by an anonymous poet at the court of Bolko I, duke of Schweidnitz-Jauer in Silesia, who is said to have given the order to record the deeds of Ludwig.

The text consists of 8,178 lines in rhyming couplets and draws on Latin sources as well as oral tradition. The language shows a few traces of eastern central German influence. After an introduction describing the history of the Holy Land from the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 by the First Crusade up to its reconquest by Saladin and the pope’s appeal for a new crusade (1187-1188), the narrative proper commences with the arrival of Landgrave Ludwig in Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon) and his support of the siege of Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) in 1189-1190.

The author focuses his depiction on Ludwig’s heroic deeds: the landgrave proves to be the most valiant knight, he is elected commander-in-chief by the crusaders’ army, and several times he is seen to be protected by a miraculous group of invincible fighters led by a white knight, whose banner Ludwig gathers from the battlefield after having been victorious against Saladin. An emperor, named as Frederick (probably a reminiscence of Frederick Barbarossa), wants Ludwig’s deeds to be commemorated in stone, and Saladin is impressed by his military virtues. After being wounded the landgrave is forced to leave the battlefield; although Saladin offers the help of his physicians, Ludwig dies in the presence of his Thuringian fellow combatants, who bring his body home.

In its vocabulary and imagery, which show strong influences of the epic authors Wolfram von Eschenbach and Ulrich von Etzenbach as well as of the anonymous Herzog Ernst D, the narrative cannot be considered as an original contribution to Middle High German poetry. Neither is its account of the events historically correct, because the author obviously confuses characters and events of the Third Crusade with those of the Crusade of Emperor Frederick II (1227-1229). Yet the Kreuzfahrt reveals the impact of oral tradition, which the author claims to have learned about from noble families of Thuringian and Saxon origin in Silesia and the Troppauer Land (the region between Upper Silesia, Moravia, and Bohemia). The Kreuzfahrt shows that this oral tradition, which had been kept alive over four generations from the late twelfth to the early fourteenth century, was an element of community and identity in these noble families originating from Thuringia and eastern Saxony that provided numerous participants in both of these crusades.

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