The Order of the Knights Templar was founded in 1118 by a French knight named Hugues de Payens. They were a military order of the medieval era whose primary mission was to protect European travelers visiting the Holy Land. For centuries, the collective imagination of the world has been captured by stories about the Templars, and they continue to be the subject of books, movies, television shows, and even video games. Below are 43 crusading facts about the heroic order.
1. Guardians of the Grail
Somewhere in the early 13th century, a German knight and poet named Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote an epic poem called Parzival, which connects the Arthurian knight with the Templars. In the poem, Parzival sets off on a quest to find the Holy Grail which he locates in a castle guarded by the Templars. Whether or not the source von Eschenbach claimed for his poem ever existed is anybody’s guess, but since then, the two stories have become irrevocably entwined.
2. What’s in a Name?
The true name of the Templars was Knights of Christ in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The name was taken from the stables granted to them by the King of Jerusalem, which were believed to have been the temple of King Solomon. The name was eventually shortened to the Knights Templar, which is definitely a lot more memorable and much easier to say.
3. Getting on Board
When the Templars were founded, some religious leaders weren’t immediately on board, but that changed in 1129 when the French Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux lent his support to the fledgling organization. He wrote a book supporting the Knights called In Praise of the New Knighthood which gave them a serious boost in popularity.
4. Favorite Sons
At the Council of Troyes in 1129, Clairvaux persuaded a group of leading churchmen to officially endorse the Templars on behalf of the church. As soon as they got that, they became favorites of Christian Europe who donated money, land, and even their knighted sons who were eager to help the cause.
5. Circle of Nine
The original members of the Knights Templar were a group of knights recruited by Hugh de Payens and Sir Godfrey de St. Adhemar who didn’t have two pennies to rub together between them. The men then took a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience in front of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, which probably wasn’t that much of a sacrifice considering they were starting out with nothing.
6. We’ll Write You a Check
Of course, paper checks weren’t invented yet in the days of the Templars, but they did basically invent banking. Traveling through Jerusalem and the surrounding area with your money and valuables wasn’t the safest thing to do, so the Templars came up with a system where Pilgrims and merchants and anyone else who was moving through the area could leave their stuff with the Templars who would give them a credit note.
All they had to do was show the note at any Templar office in the Holy Land, and they’d be given back the value of the items in gold, precious metal or stones.
7. The Assassins Guild
In the uber-popular video game series Assassin’s Creed, the modern-day Templars have evolved into a super corporation, which they use to try and create a perfect world by destroying all free will. Their sworn enemies are the Assassin Order, who fight for humanity and believe that man should always be allowed to choose.
According to historical records, there really was an Assassins guild in Masyaf, which was the location of the headquarters of the Ismaili da’i Rashid ad-Din Sinan, the leader of the Nizari sect of Muslims. The sect is often connected to Shia Islam, and they were a highly skilled unit of fighters who became known as the Hashashin or Assassins—the origin of the word assassinate.
8. Tell-Tale Tunic
The uniform of the Knights Templar was a white cloak adorned with a red cross, and they were only allowed to take it off when they were sleeping. They weren’t allowed to talk or eat without wearing the cloak, and when they rode into battle, they would put the cloak on over their chainmail, and dress the horses in protective white cloths decorated with the red cross. At least you could always pick them out in a crowd!
9. As Much as Needed
The original Templars may have been dirt poor, but the beauty of the poverty vow was that future members had to donate all of their worldly goods to the order, and not all of them were poor. The Templars were founded with the idea that the members would only have exactly what they needed, but as for the order itself, they got to do whatever they liked with the donated goods, and the organization grew incredibly powerful and wealthy.
10. Pope Maker
Bernard of Clairvaux had tremendous influence, not only in the Cistercian Order of which he was a member, but in the Roman Catholic church as well. He played a key role in the appointment of Pope Innocent II in 1130, convincing other influential people to support him over the objection of certain agencies. Getting this appointment through made Clairvaux the most powerful man in Christendom, wielding more influence than even the Pope.
11. Welcome to the Fold
In addition to getting the Templars formal approval from the church, Clairvaux also got them formal acceptance from another important and powerful figure—the Pope himself. In 1139 Pope Innocent II issued a papal bull which exempted them from paying taxes or tithes, allowed them to keep whatever booty they collected from Muslim conquests, and placed them above all law answering only to the Pope. Talk about a cushy deal!
12. Spanish Fiesta
Each May 2 in Caravaca de la Cruz, Spain, a small group of specially selected men participate in Los Caballos del Vino, or the Running of the Wine Horses. The tradition dates back to the 13th century and the days of the Knights Templar when they supposedly had to take refuge in the castle because they were surrounded by Muslims.
When the water became contaminated, they were forced to leave the castle to look for supplies. They struck out on finding fresh water, but instead, they found wine, which they loaded onto horses and raced back to the castle. When they arrived, that’s when a miracle happened. The wine was blessed in front of the Cross of Caravaca, and everyone who got sick from the bad water got better.
Then somebody got the idea to mix the wine with the water, and lo and behold, the water was suddenly safe to drink! Nobody knows for sure if the story is true, but it’s a great excuse for a party!
13. The Big Kahuna
The highest position you could achieve in the Templars was the Grand Master who, as his name suggests, was in charge of the entire kit and caboodle. Being Grand Master for life wasn’t a requirement of the job but was definitely an option that some chose to exercise. Of course, since many of the Grand Masters led their knights in battle, “for life” was sometimes pretty short.
On the plus side, if you were next in line for the top job, you might not have had to wait very long because your predecessor probably died or resigned.
14. Templar Knights
In the Templar hierarchy, there were three main ranks. There were the noble knights, the non-noble sergeants, and the chaplains. To become a noble knight, you already had to be from a noble family and have a father and grandfather who were knights. The knights were the face of the order, and they were the ones who got to wear the snazzy white tunics into battle. Knights were also required to keep their hair short, but were forbidden from shaving their beards, possibly adhering to the Muslim belief that facial hair was a sign of masculinity.
15. Two Men, One Horse
How poor were the original Templars? They supposedly had so little that they had to wear cast-off clothing donated to the order by devout Christians and had to share horses because there weren’t enough to go around. Their emblem, two knights on a single horse is a symbol of their poverty.
16. Some Girls Allowed
If a woman wanted to join the Templars they absolutely were allowed, but they couldn’t become knights. Most of the women who joined were nuns who assisted the priests with prayers, counseled the returning soldiers, and acted as nurses. If a woman felt like making a personal donation of funds, they could also become associate members of the order without having to take the oaths.
17. Testing Their Mettle
When Seljuk leader Zengi captured the County of Edessa in 1144, Pope Eugenius called for a new Crusade, giving the Templars a long-awaited chance to prove themselves in battle and be taken seriously as a military force. The Second Crusade was an overall disaster suffering from a lack of coordination and planning, but the one bright spot were the Templars.
They saved King Louis VII from a Turkish attack in the gorges of Pisidia, leading Louis to hand over his entire army to Everard des Barres, the future third Grand Master of the Order. Barres proved to be a much better military commander than King Louis was, and thanks to his strict leadership, the French army suffered minimal losses.
18. Can You Spare a Dime?
In the spring of 1148, Louis VII and his army turned up in Antioch completely broke. Louis promptly sent the Templars a request to borrow 2,000 German marks (which would have been a lot of money back then), which des Barres immediately collected. This was the first of many financial acts for the Templars who lent money to many future Kings and lords.
19. Not Their Biggest Fans
A few months after the success in Pisidia, the leaders of the Crusade decided to attack the Syrian city of Damascus. There were several reasons that the Crusade failed, but the Germans blamed the Templars. One German chronicler claimed that the Templars had accepted a bribe from the Muslims to secretly help the surrounded forces. Overall, the Templars never really won over the Germans who founded their own order Deutsche Ritter Orden (Teutonic Order) in 1192 for a similar purpose.
20. Proving Their Worth
Not everybody who wanted to join the Templars was accepted. First applicants had to prove to the Templar high command through their conduct. If they were deemed worthy, they’d be invited to join and would undergo a mysterious initiation ceremony. Nobody really knows exactly what the initiation ceremony for the Templars entailed, which made it all that much easier for rumors to spread about their behavior.
21. Holiest Relic
Of the numerous religious relics that were uncovered during the Crusades, none were more holy than the True Cross. The cross, which was supposedly discovered by Empress Helena in 329, was believed to be the one that Jesus was crucified on. After being captured by the Persians and recaptured by the Romans, the cross was allegedly hidden by the Christians in 1009 and remained that way until the first crusade.
22. Great Islamic Leader
In 1175, Saladin, a Muslim military leader became the sultan of Egypt and Syria, forming the Ayyubid dynasty. His personal mission was to destroy the crusaders and regain Muslim control in the Middle East. In 1187 at the Battle of Hattin, he made a good start towards achieving this goal. After defeating the Christian forces, he personally supervised the beheading of 200 or so Templar and Hospitaller captives, and recaptured Jerusalem, along with the True Cross.