As a student of Peter Classen studied Johannes Fried 1964-1970 history, German literature and political science at the University of Heidelberg. In 1970, he was there with the work The emergence of the legal profession in the 12th century. PhD on the social and political significance of learned jurists in Bologna and Modena. The habilitation was in 1977, also in Heidelberg, with the work of the papal protection for lay princes. The political history of the papal privilege protection for lay (11th - 13th centuries).
From 1980 to 1982, Fried professor at the University of Cologne from 1983 to 2009, he taught medieval history at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. Fried rejected calls to the University of Konstanz, the University of Heidelberg and the position of the Director of the German Historical Institute in Rome. He was 1996-2000 President of the Association of Historians of Germany. In addition, Fried member of the Central Directorate of Monumenta Germaniae Historica, the Constance Working Group for medieval history, the Frankfurt Historical Commission of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, the Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz, the Historical Commission at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, the Scientific Advisory Board of the Historical magazine and an honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest. From 2001 to 2013 he was chairman of the German Commission for the processing of Regesta Imperii of the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz; from 1998 to 2005 also Chairman of the association of the German Study Center in Venice. Fried is co-editor of the historical journal. He was for many years with Rudolf Schieffer until publication of the magazine 68/2 (2012 ) Editor of the German archive for research of the Middle Ages. In early 2009 an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Arts at the Rheinisch -Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (RWTH) was awarded to him.
Fried has in his more recent work on the interpretation of historical sources results in psychology, neurobiology and anthropology processed ("historical Memorik "). This research laid Fried, 2004 in his work " The veil of memory" before. In 1995 he was awarded the prize of the Historical College in Munich, 2006, he was awarded the Sigmund Freud Prize for scientific prose. His presentation " The way the story" in the first volume of the " Propylaea history of Germany" (1994 ) sparked a controversy with Gerd Althoff beyond the imagination of the historian and of the character of sources. This Althoff doubted the scientific character of the book. At Fried's book is by other historians, however, hardly criticism to be heard. Peter Moraw, Franz -Reiner Erkens and Arnold Esch praised Fried's presentation. Hanna Vollrath praised the book as " history in the best sense ." Michael Fried's book Borgolte called a "work of modern and postmodern historiography at the same time " and judged it as "the most representative work of the medieval history of our time". 2008 Fried sparked a controversy surrounding his new interpretations of the gangbangers to Canossa. Fried has then in 2012 set out its arguments in its full form again. In 2013 he presented a comprehensive biography of Charlemagne.
- The emergence of the legal profession in the 12th century. On the social and political significance of learned jurists in Bologna and Modena ( = research on the recent history of private law. Vol. 21). Böhlau, Cologne, inter alia, 1974, ISBN 3-412-85373-9 (Dissertation, University of Heidelberg, 1970).
- The papal protection for lay princes. The political history of the papal privilege protection for lay (11th - 13th century ) (= Proceedings of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences. Philosophical- Historical class, born in 1980, Abh 1). Winter, Heidelberg 1980 ( Habilitation thesis, University of Heidelberg, 1977).
- Otto III. and Boleslaw. The dedication of the image Aachen Gospels, the "act of Gniezno " and the early Polish and Hungarian monarchy. Image analysis and their historical consequences ( = Frankfurt Historical treatises. Vol. 30). Steiner, Stuttgart, 1989; 2nd revised and expanded edition. Stuttgart 2001.
- The formation of Europe 840-1046 ( = Oldenbourg floor plan of history. Vol. 6). Oldenbourg, München 1991, ISBN 3-486-49703-0; 3rd, revised edition. Munich 2008.
- The way into history. The origins of Germany until 1024 ( Propylaea history of Germany. Vol. 1). Propylaea, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-549-05811- X.
- Emperor Frederick II as a hunter or a second book Falk Emperor Frederick II? ( = News of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen. Philology and History class, born in 1996, No. 4). Cambridge University Press, Göttingen 1996.
- Rise from ruin. Apocalyptic thought and the emergence of modern science in the Middle Ages. Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-406-48209-0.
- The timeliness of the Middle Ages. Against the arrogance of our knowledge society. Thorbecke, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-799-58301-7.
- History and brain. Irritation of the science of history through memory criticism ( = Proceedings of the Humanities and Social Sciences class, Academy of Sciences and Literature. B. 2003, No. 7). Steiner, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-515-08434-7.
- The veil of memory. Outlines of a historic Memorik. Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-52211-4.
- A visit to the Middle Ages. Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-56215-0.
- The Middle Ages. History and culture. Beck, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-57829-8.
- Canossa: unmasking of a legend. A polemic. Academy, Munich 2012, ISBN 3-050-05683-5.
- Charlemagne. Violence and faith. A Biography. Beck, Munich, 2013, ISBN 978-3-406-65289-9; 3rd edition. Munich 2014.
- With Johannes Süßmann: revolutions of knowledge. From the Stone Age to modern times. Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-406-47576-0.
- Olaf B. Rader: The world of the Middle Ages. Memory locations of a millennium. Beck, Munich 2011, ISBN 3-406-62214-3.