Erfurt Latrine Disaster, 1184

Oddball tales: A catastrophic disaster to befall the Holy Roman Empire barely heard of; when dozens of the Empire’s noblemen drowned… in a latrine.

A complex, multi-ethnic patchwork of kingdoms made up the Holy Roman Empire that was the most powerful Christian kingdom to arise from the ashes of the Dark Ages.

Politically it was a kaleidoscope of shifting alliances and rivalries as its greatest nobles incessantly manoeuvred for power.

In the year 1184 AD a feud between two of the empire’s most powerful leaders of the land was now reaching boiling point. On one side was Louis the Pious, Landgrave of Thuringia. On the other side was the Archbishop Conrad of Mainz.

This political schism was in danger of wrenching apart the mighty empire from within and could be ignored no longer.

On the way towards Poland on a military campaign King Heinrich VI of Germany halted in the Thuringian capital of Erfurt to call a meeting of nobles and end the dispute before it spiralled out of control.

So it was that a hundred or so of the empire’s most important Counts, Dukes and clergymen congregated in the meeting hall of the Church of St Peter in the summer of 1184.

St Peter’s Basilica in Erfurt (aworkstation.com)

Yet there was a hidden danger unbeknown to all and it would shortly spell the doom of many present.

The noblemen took their seats whilst the King sat apart from the highborn rabble in an alcove. The floor was wooden and creaked loudly as men moved over it. They took their seats and some looked down nervously, feeling how under-strain it was.

That floor was all that separated these dozens of men from a cellar below. The cellar however was a massive latrine filled with tonnes and tonnes of liquid smelly brown stuff, and must have been metres deep.

Indeed, one would imagine the stench was overwhelming the moment they entered the room; it is anyone’s guess why they chose to meet there in the first place.

An ear-splitting crack sounded out a split second warning before they plunged into the dark pit below.

Alarmed calls and shrieks thundered off the stone walls as men struggled and foundered in the thick liquid, fighting a losing battle to keep their heads above the surface.

The survivors could only stare down breathlessly as they watched roughly 60 of their kin perish in the most humiliating manner a lord could possibly die.

The Erfurt Latrine Disaster sent a shock-wave through the empire as the staggering death toll included the Counts of Abinberc, Thuringia, Hesse, Kirchberg and Wartburg.

King Heinrich was said to have survived only because his alcove had a stone floor.

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