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Frederick Barbarossa And Milan
by [?]

A proud old city was Milan, heavy with its weight of years, rich and powerful, arrogant and independent, the capital of Lombardy and the lord of many of the Lombard cities. For some twenty centuries it had existed, and now had so grown in population, wealth, and importance, that it could almost lay claim to be the Rome of northern Italy. But its day of pride preceded not long that of its downfall, for a new emperor had come to the German throne, Frederick the Red-bearded, one of the ablest, noblest, and greatest of all that have filled the imperial chair.

Not long had he been on the throne before, in the long-established fashion of German emperors, he began to interfere with affairs in Italy, and demanded from the Lombard cities recognition of his supremacy as Emperor of the West. He found some of them submissive, others not so. Milan received his commands with contempt, and its proud magistrates went so far as to tear the seal from the imperial edict and trample it underfoot.

In 1154 Frederick crossed the Alps and encamped on the Lombardian plain. Soon deputations from some of the cities came to him with complaints about the oppression of Milan, which had taken Lodi, Como, and other towns, and lorded it over them exasperatingly. Frederick bade the proud Milanese to answer these complaints, but in their arrogance they refused even to meet his envoys, and he resolved to punish them severely for their insolence.

But the time was not yet. He had other matters to attend to. Four years passed before he was able to devote some of his leisure to the Milanese. They had in the meantime managed to offend him still more seriously, having taken the town of Lodi and burnt it to the ground, for no other crime than that it had yielded him allegiance. After him marched a powerful army, nearly one hundred and twenty thousand strong, at the very sight of whose myriad of banners most of the Lombard cities submitted without a blow. Milan was besieged. Its resistance was by no means obstinate. The emperor’s principal wish was to win it over to his side, and probably the authorities of the city were aware of his lenient disposition, for they held out no long time before his besieging multitude.

All that the conqueror now demanded was that the proud municipality should humble itself before him, swear allegiance, and promise not to interfere with the freedom of the smaller cities. On the 6th of September a procession of nobles and churchmen defiled before him, barefooted and clad in tattered garments, the consuls and patricians with swords hanging from their necks, the others with ropes round their throats, and thus, with evidence of the deepest humility, they bore to the emperor the keys of the proud city.

“You must now acknowledge that it is easier to conquer by obedience than with arms,” he said. Then, exacting their oaths of allegiance, placing the imperial eagle upon the spire of the cathedral, and taking with him three hundred hostages, he marched away, with the confident belief that the defiant resistance of Milan was at length overcome.

He did not know the Milanese. When, in the following year, he attempted to lay a tax upon them, they rose in insurrection and attacked his representatives with such fury that they could scarcely save their lives. On an explanation being demanded, they refused to give any, and were so arrogantly defiant that the emperor pronounced their city outlawed, and wrathfully vowed that he would never place the crown upon his head again until he had utterly destroyed this arrant nest of rebels.

It was not to prove so easy a task. Frederick began by besieging Cremona, which was in alliance with Milan, and which resisted him so obstinately that it took him seven months to reduce it to submission. In his anger he razed the city to the ground and scattered its inhabitants far and wide.