The Teutonic Knights

Desmond Seward describes an outstanding colonial achievement of the Middle Ages.

Hermann von Salza
Hermann von Salza

Few medieval phenomena are less understood than the military religious orders of the Crusades. Though historians generally state that they combined chivalry with monasticism, the latter’s role is seldom appreciated. Yet the fact that the order’s members were as much monks as knights, celibate brethren whose lives were spent in barracks which were also monasteries, makes it easier to appreciate why such men rode out to battle to fight with a fanaticism unparalleled in European history.

Seeking armies for its holy wars and anxious to contain the bloodthirsty instincts of a warrior nobility, Catholicism had evolved a formula, by adapting the monastic structure, that produced the first properly staffed and officered troops since the Roman Legions, and at the same time Christianized the old Northern ideal of death in battle. No-one responded to this new spiritual calling with more enthusiasm than the Germans.

Although the Templars had emerged as early as 1118, the ‘Knighthood of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Germans’ was not instituted until 1198. Its headquarters were at Acre, the new capital of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The rule was based on those of the Templars and Hospitallers. Knight-brethren, chaplain-brethren and serving-brethren all took the normal monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and wore a hooded white habit with a black cross on the shoulder over a black tunic.

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