The Influences on 13th Century Renaissance Man, Frederick II

Frederick II’s Intellectual Roots

Similar to his grandfather, King Roger II of Sicily, Frederick was interested in intellectual pursuits and legislative matters.  Roger consulted travelers and commissioned them to help him create a better world map, only recording what was agreed upon.  His pursuits resulted in a great silver map in the year 1154. The emperors following Roger, William I and William II, didn’t share Roger’s vigor for scientific pursuits, but like Frederick, did study and have Greek texts translated.

Frederick II Looks Back to Greek and Egyptian Thinkers

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a ...

Bust of Aristotle by Lysippos from 330 BC

Frederick made a conscientious effort to surround himself with the best and brightest minds of his time, reaching out to anyone who could answer his questions: Moslems, Jews, and Christians alike.  One such man, referred to as Michael Scot, born in Scotland (hence the surname) but educated in Spain, composed works on astrology, meteorology, astronomy, and pysiognomy and dedicated them to Frederick.   These works illustrate Scot’s familiarity with the works of Ptolemy.

Frederick himself was a known admirer of Aristotle.  Though Frederick didn’t always agree with Aristotle, he certainly shared his interests and methods.  Like Aristotle, Frederick studied physics, poetry, logic, linguistics, government, biology, and zoology. Also like Aristotle, Frederick often studied the scientific world through detailed observation, especially in the areas of zoology and biology. He collected animals from across the known world, including panthers, a giraffe, elephants, camels, and a menagerie of birds.  In his studies, Frederick went beyond Aristotle’s scientific method, conducting experiments, though not like what we know today as the scientific method.  Frederick certainly made hypotheses and predictions.  He also tried to set up controls.  However, many of his experiments couldn’t be replicated because they were highly unethical and often resulted in the death of the subject matter.

Frederick II Looks East to Moslem Leaders

Al-Kamil (right) and Frederick II signed a tre...

Al-Kamil (right) and Frederick II signing a treaty restoring Jerusalem to the Crusaders for ten years.

As said earlier, Frederick reached out across the known world for answers to his many questions.  In scientific matters, he often reached out toward Arab leaders. It was rumored that Frederick preferred the company of Moslems, especially when it came to learning.  While this cannot be confirmed, we do know that Frederick often looked eastward when trying to quench his thirst for knowledge.

Frederick was well-known for his acceptance of other beliefs and cultures.  So it’s of no surprise that he  was reluctant to go on crusade against the Islamic east, but after much pressure Frederick did go.  He brought a Sicilian Moslem to tutor him in logic while on crusade. Unlike most crusades, Frederick’s led to a positive relationship with Moslem leaders both commercially and politically. By 1236, the sultan of Egypt sent the emperor a scholar named Theodore, who was, for his time, an expert in math, astrology, and medicine. This however, did not quench Frederick’s thirst for knowledge.  Much like his grandfather Roger, Frederick wasn’t satisfied with a theory unless it was widely agreed upon.  Frederick composed questionnaires, in which he puzzled through scientific, mathematical, and theological mysteries.   Frederick sent his questionnaires to Moslem leaders in the hopes that they could tap their intellectual resources and find answers.

While on another trip to the east, Frederick asked if he could interview an expert on astronomy.  Rather than allow the interview, the sultan Malik al-Kamil sent Frederick an astronomer/mathematician by the name of al-Hanafi.  The sultan of Damascus, al-Ashraf, who was also aware of Frederick’s interest in astronomy, sent him a planetarium with figures of the sun and moon which marked the hours as they made their rounds, a gift valued at 20,000 marks.

Related Articles:


“Frederick II (Holy Roman Emperor and German King).” N.p., 2013. Web.

Haskins, Charles H. “Science at the Court of the Emperor Frederick II.” The American Historical Review 27.4 (1922): 669. Print.

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2 thoughts on “The Influences on 13th Century Renaissance Man, Frederick II

  1. Pingback: Emperor Frederick II and His Scientific Pursuits | Andrea Cefalo | Author of the Fairytale Keeper Series | Young Adult Historical Fiction

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