The Erfurt Latrine Disaster
“The Holy Roman Empire is neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire” – Voltaire. In the twelfth century, the Holy Roman Empire might not have been holy or Roman, but it was an empire… of sorts. It was a bewildering patchwork of territories ruled by often-competing nobles and clergy. Counts ruling one area had to watch their backs against neighboring archbishops, who in turn dreaded the machinations of nearby landgraves (the German equivalent of English dukes) with designs on the church’s lands. Unsurprisingly, that unholy jumble of territories and rulers bred conflict.
Holy Roman emperors could not keep feuds from flaring up, so they often settled for trying to at least keep the conflicts from getting out of control. In 1184, a feud between Archbishop Konrad I of Mainz and Landgrave Ludwig III of Thuringia threatened to destabilize the empire – beyond its usual level of instability. So King Heinrich VI called a meeting at the city of Erfurt to try and hash things out. The peace conference ended in disaster, when dozens of nobles and prominent clergymen were drowned to death liquid excrement.