The Military Orders, 1119-1798 | The Late Middle Ages in Eastern Europe

Early in their occupation of the eastern Mediterranean, the Westerners founded the military orders of knighthood. The first of these were the Templars, started about 1119 by a Burgundian knight who sympathized with the hardships of the Christian pilgrims. These knights took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and were given headquarters near the ruins of the Temple of Solomon—hence the name Templars. St. Bernard himself inspired their rule, based on the rules for his own Cistercians.

A second order was attached to the ancient Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, and was therefore called the Hospitalers. Made up of knights, chaplains, and serving brothers under the command of a grand master, the two orders were the most effective fighting forces in the Holy Land. Each had a special uniform; the Templars wore red crosses on white, the Hospitalers white crosses on black. Later a third, purely German group became the order of the Teutonic Knights with headquarters at Acre; they wore black crosses on white.

The orders had fortresses and churches of their own in the Holy Land and villages from which they obtained produce. Moreover, Western monarchs endowed them richly with lands in Europe. They often allied themselves with Muslims and so completely forgot their original vows of poverty that they engaged in banking and large-scale financial operations.

In the early fourteenth century the Templars were destroyed by Philip IV of France for political reasons. The Teutonic Knights transmitted some of their lands and much of their outlook to the modern state of Prussia. The Hospitalers moved first to Cyprus and then to Rhodes in the early fourteenth century; they were driven to Malta by the Turks in 1522 and continued there until Napoleon’s seizure of the island in 1798.

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