The History of the Knights Templar

At the Council of Clermont, in 1095, Pope Urban II called for a military expedition to aid the Byzantine Empire, which had recently lost most of Anatolia (today’s central Turkey) to the Seljuq Turks. The resulting military expedition, known as The First Crusade (1095-1099), succeeded in re-capturing Anatolia and went on to take the city of Jerusalem and conquer the Levant, or Holy Land (which was under Islamic rule since the 7th century). The crusade resulted in military forces occupying the Levant, the creation the Kingdom of Jerusalem and ultimately the Crusader States (collectively known as the “Outremer”).[1]

With the Levant under Western control, many Christians made pilgrimages to various sacred sites in the Holy Land. While Jerusalem was relatively secure under Christian control, the rest of Outremer was not. Bandits and marauding highwaymen preyed upon these Christian pilgrims, who were routinely slaughtered, sometimes by the hundreds, as they attempted to make the journey from the coastline at Jaffa through to the interior of the Holy Land.[2]

Due to the lack of security, the French knight Hugues de Payens approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1119, and proposed creating a monastic order for the protection of these pilgrims. They agreed to the request, probably at the Council of Nablus in January 1120 and Templars were granted a headquarters in a wing of the royal palace on the Temple Mount (the captured Al-Aqsa Mosque).[3] The Temple Mount had a mystique because it was above what was believed to be the ruins of the Temple of Solomon.[4][5] The Crusaders therefore referred to the Al-Aqsa Mosque as Solomon’s Temple, and from this location the new order took the name of Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or “Templar” knights. The order, which began with about nine knights, had few financial resources and relied on donations to survive. Their emblem was of two knights riding on a single horse, emphasizing the order’s poverty.[6] The Templars were officially recognized in 1129, at the Council of Troyes, thanks to Bernard of Clairvaux who led a group of leading churchmen to officially approve and endorse the order on behalf of the church.[7]

The order, which became among the wealthiest and most powerful, was a favored charity throughout Christendom and grew rapidly in membership and power. Templar knights, in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross, were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades.[8] Non-combatant members of the order managed a large economic infrastructure throughout Christendom, developing innovative financial techniques that were an early form of banking,[9] and built fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land.[10] Although no precise numbers exist, it is estimated that at the order’s peak there were between 15,000 and 20,000 Templars, of whom about a tenth were actual knights.[11]

The Templars were formed as a monastic order, like the Cistercian Order, and was considered the first effective international organization in Europe.[12] The organizational structure had a strong chain of authority. Each country with a major Templar presence (France, Poitou, Anjou, Jerusalem, England, Aragon, Portugal, Italy, Tripoli, Antioch, Hungary, and Croatia) had a Master of the Order for the Templars in that region.[13]

All of them were subject to the Grand Master, appointed for life, who oversaw both the order’s military efforts in the East and their financial holdings in the West. The Grand Master exercised his authority via the visitors-general of the order, who were knights specially appointed by the Grand Master and convent of Jerusalem to visit the different provinces, correct malpractices, introduce new regulations, and resolve important disputes. The visitors-general had the power to remove knights from office and to suspend the Master of the province concerned.[14]

In combat, Templars often served as advance shock troops. As the heavily armored knights mounted on war horses, they would set out to charge at the enemy ahead of the army main body to break opposing lines. One of their most famous victories was in 1177 during the Battle of Montgisard, where some 500 Templar knights helped several thousand infantrymen defeat Saladin’s army of more than 26,000 soldiers.[15]

The Templars were closely tied to the Crusades; when the Holy Land was lost, support for the order faded.[16] Rumors about the Templars’ secret initiation ceremony created distrust, and King Philip IV of France – deeply in debt to the order – took advantage of the situation to gain control over them. In 1307, he had many of the order’s members in France arrested, tortured into giving false confessions and burned at the stake.[17] Pope Clement V disbanded the order in 1312 under pressure from King Philip.




  1. Richard Kerridge (29 October 2015). A/AS Level History for AQA The Age of the Crusades, c1071–1204 Student Book. Cambridge University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-107-58725-0.
  2. Burman, Edward (1990). The Templars: Knights of God. Rochester: Destiny Book, pp. 13, 19. ISBN 978-0-89281-221-9.
  3. Selwood, Dominic (20 April 2013). “Birth of the Order”. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  4. Barber, Malcolm (1994). The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-42041-9, p. 7.
  5. The History Channel, Decoding the Past: The Templar Code, 7 November 2005, video documentary written by Marcy Marzuni.
  6. Read, Piers (2001). The Templars. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-81071-8.
  7. Selwood, Dominic (1996). ‘Quidam autem dubitaverunt: the Saint, the Sinner and a Possible Chronology’, in Autour de la Première Croisade. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne. pp. 221–30. ISBN 978-2859443085.
  8. The History Channel, Decoding the Past: The Templar Code, 7 November 2005, video documentary written by Marcy Marzuni.
  9. Martin, Sean (2005). The Knights Templar: The History & Myths of the Legendary Military Order. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press. P. 47 ISBN 978-1-56025-645-8.
  10. Ralls, Karen (2007). Knights Templar Encyclopedia. Career Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-56414-926-8.
  11. Barber, Malcolm (1993). The Trial of the Templars (1 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-45727-9.
  12. Ralls, Karen (2007). Knights Templar Encyclopedia. Career Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-56414-926-8.
  13. Barber (1993), p.10.
  14. International, American. “The Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller”.
  15. The History Channel, Lost Worlds: Knights Templar, 10 July 2006, video documentary written and directed by Stuart Elliott.
  16. Miller, Duane (2017). ‘Knights Templar’ in War and Religion, Vol. 2. Santa Barbara, California: ABC–CLIO. pp. 462–64
  17. Barber, Malcolm (1993). The Trial of the Templars (1 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-45727-9.