Beyond the Templars:
The “Other” Medieval Military Orders
Above: The Knights Hospitaller on the walls at the Siege of Acre (1291)
The Knights Templar
are a familiar topic to conspiracy theorists and secret-society observers,
and have even gained a certain amount of pop culture recognition in recent years. Less well known, however, are the numerous other militarized orders
that developed in the course of Western Christian history. This thread will focus on four other major orders that, like the Templars, played a role in
the crusades and were active in the Middle East at around the same time (the 11th and 12th centuries). This is not an exhaustive list of Christian
militarized orders, which include numerous smaller groups created at different times and places. It is, however, a good place to start.
What Is a “Military (or Militarized) Order?”
Starting in the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church began to create a series of societies of knights who were tasked with the spreading or defense of the
faith, mostly (but not exclusively) in the Holy Land, at least at first. This phenomenon arose first in connection with the increased flow of
Christians into the Holy Land, either as simple pilgrims on devotional journeys or as crusaders battling Islamic forces. Secretive, elite,
ritualistic, and marked by intense discipline and rigor, they fused warfare with religious mission. Members of these orders can perhaps be thought of
as somewhere between monks and warriors.
Later “mission creep” and the general flow of history took these societies in different directions — The Templars, the most well-known of these
groups, became fantastically wealthy through their money-lending activities and special tax-exempt status, for example, and the subject of much
controversy. Other militarized orders were formed later in Europe, and most became “secularized” after the end of the crusading era. The four we
will look at here, plus the Templars, constitute the oldest and largest of the Western Christian military orders.
(Also known as the Hospitallers, the Order of Hospitallers, the Knights of St John, and the Order of St John)
Before being officially recognized as an order, the Hospitallers were associated with an Amalfitan hospital in Jerusalem dedicated to caring for
pilgrims to the Holy Land. The Hospitallers became a militarized religious order after the First Crusade. Following the Islamic conquest of the Holy
Land, they moved first to Rhodes and later to Malta. Today they live on as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (Knights of Malta), headquartered in
Rome, although they are not the only contemporary order to claim descent from the Hospitallers. Under direct control of the pope, today’s Knights of
Malta enjoy observer status at the United Nations.
Knights of St Lazarus
Full Name: The Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem (Latin: Ordo Militaris et Hospitalis Sancti Lazari
Originating in a hospital founded by the Hospitallers to treat those with leprosy, this order took on Knights Templars and others who had developed
the dreaded disease. In addition to taking on knights with leprosy and training them as fighters, it provided medical care to those with the disease,
founded “Lazar houses” in Europe for lepers, and became a powerful military force in general for the defense of the Christian faith. The order was
de-militarized in 1291 but it still exists today (although without an exlusive focus on leprosy).
Knights of the Holy Sepulchre
Full Name: Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (OESSH) (Latin: Ordo Equestris Sancti Sepulcri Hierosolymitani
This group was and remains under the direct control of the Pope. It is said to have been founded by Duke Godfrey of Bouillon, one of the leaders of
the First Crusade, and tasked with protecting the Holy Sepulcher, where Christ’s body is said to have lain. For a time they had their headquarters
on top of Mount Sion in Jerusalem. The order was suppressed in 1489 by Pope Innocent VIII but revived again only a few years later.
Knights of the Hospital of St Mary of Jerusalem (AKA the Teutonic Knights)
Full Name: The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem (Latin:Ordo domus Sanctæ Mariæ Theutonicorum
; German: Orden der Brüder vom Deutschen Haus St. Mariens in Jerusalem
The Teutonic Knights were originally a small force, formed with German members in particular to protect pilgrims and establish hospitals. As time went
on they augmented their forces with volunteers and mercenaries. Seperate Protestant and a Catholic branches came into being after the reformation. The
Teutonic Knights moved to Transylvania in 1211 and later launched the so-called Prussian Crusade in northeastern Europe. They became very powerful,
even establishing their own independent nation, the Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights. Their secular power was smashed in 1410 by
edit on 8/7/2012 by silent thunder because: (no reason given)