Landgrave of Thuringia (1172-1190) and count of Hesse (1180-1190), who died while taking part in the Third Crusade (1189-1192).
Born around 1152, Ludwig III was the eldest son of Ludwig II, landgrave of Thuringia (d. 1172), and Jutta, daughter of Frederick II, duke of Swabia. He was thus a nephew of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. When at the imperial diet of Gelnhausen (1180), Henry the Lion, the powerful duke of Saxony and Bavaria, was judged guilty of contumacy and sentenced to surrender his imperial fiefs; the emperor transferred them to loyal princes, and thus the landgrave of Thuringia was enfeoffed with the county palatinate of Saxony. In the following year this fief was handed over to Ludwig’s brother Hermann, and Ludwig inherited the county of Hesse from his brother Henry Raspe III (d. 1180). From then on, Ludwig was one of the most powerful princes in Germany, his sphere of influence reaching from the Rhine in the west to the river Saale in the east of the empire.
In accordance with Pope Gregory VIII’s appeal for a new crusade after the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187, Ludwig took the cross and set off for Palestine in June 1189. He did not join the army led by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who followed a route from Germany overland through Hungary, Bulgaria, and Anatolia. Instead the landgrave and his entourage embarked at Brindisi in Apulia and arrived in Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon) in September 1189. There the Thuringians took part in the siege of Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel), where, in view of Ludwig’s rank as a prince of the Holy Roman Empire, he was elected as one of the commanders of the crusade army. In summer 1190 he sponsored the construction of one of three wooden towers that were built to break the walls of Acre, but the attack failed. Ludwig did not witness the surrender of Acre in July 1191; sick and presumably seriously wounded, he embarked for home in the autumn of 1190, but died on board ship shortly thereafter on 16 October. His body was buried in Cyprus.
Ludwig’s bones were brought home by his entourage and buried in the monastery of Reinhardsbrunn near Gotha, the resting place of of his parents and ancestors. The Chronicle of Reinhardsbrunn, whose account of Ludwig’s deeds was completed in the late twelfth century, relates that the landgrave was protected by St. George, who supposedly appeared during the battle of Acre on 4 October 1189. Ludwig is said to have been victorious against Saladin after receiving St. George’s banner. This was remembered not only in numerous Thuringian chronicles throughout the Middles Ages but also in oral tradition until the early fourteenth century.