A History of the Knights Templar

From the Lecture Series: Secret Societies

By Richerd Spence Ph.D., University of Idaho

The Knights Templar was a military monastic group founded during the crusades. It is one of the most intriguing secret societies and there have been a lot of rumors circulating it since its inception. Their grandmaster was eventually treated and executed along with some of his associates as heretics. Read on to learn about the origins of the Knights Templar. 

Representation of a Knight Templar
The Knights Templars wore long robes with a red cross and full body armor. (Image: JoJan/CC BY-SA 3.0/Public domain)

How Did the History of the Templars Start?

The Templars were initially a group of nine knights who lived in Jerusalem after the First Crusade. Their main responsibility was to protect Christian pilgrims. They were led by Hugues de Payens, their first grandmaster. They first started to gain power when they resided in quarters on top of the Temple Mount by the permission of Baldwin II, the Crusader King of Jerusalem.

With quite unknown motives, they started to do extensive digs around the mountain and continued to do so in the years to come. In the history of the Knights Templar, one of the mysteries surrounding this group (and there are many of them) is that nobody knows why the digs were done. Were they in search of the long-sought Holy Grail or just digging the ground to make an underground storage space? Whatever the reason, they accumulated a large amount of wealth naturally followed by influence and patronage.

Learn more about The Medieval Cathars.

The Expansion of the Nights Templar

The first headquarters of the Knights Templar, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The Templars established their first headquarters in Jerusalem. (Image: אסף.צ/CC BY-SA/Public domain)

In 1225, the group, who started as a small sect in Jerusalem, had become wealthy enough to expand to Europe. That didn’t stop there though. After they were granted official recognition by the church, their fame and success skyrocketed. They were supported by powerful members of the Catholic Church such as Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote the Templar’s initial rules.

The power and influence of the Templar were growing at a fast pace and in an unstoppable way. Another factor that further added to their influence was the Omne Datum Optimum decree issued by Pope Innocent II. According to this decree, the knights were accountable to the Pope alone.

This led to an unprecedented expansion of the Templar, increasing the number of the knights from the original 9 to 300. This number continued to rise until the number of knights reached 15000-20000. However, not all knights held the same status and ranking as each other.

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The Hierarchy of Systems During the History of Knights Templar

During the history of the Knights Templar, there was a kind of internal hierarchy that placed the ‘brothers’ in different classes mostly based on their family backgrounds and social status.

At the center of the hierarchy were the original nine knights known as the Knight Brothers. These nights, who were mostly noblemen, held a special status among the rest of brothers. In the following rank, there were Seargent brothers. Unlike the Knight Brothers, who were ordained before taking holy vows, they didn’t take full vows. They belonged to the class of common people and were in charge of doing business. Fighters, estate managers, notaries, and bureaucrats belonged to this group of brothers.

The next level of the hierarchy consisted of volunteer fighters, who were mainly noble laymen. Squires also acted as servants to the knights and sometimes fought for the Templar. The rest was a small group of craftsmen, servants, dependents, and masons. These masons, who were in charge of constructing the buildings are claimed to have been the founders of Freemasons.

The Convent of Christ, the former castle of Templar Knights in Tomar, Portugal
A Castle of Knights Templars in Portugal. (Image: TIvanova/Shutterstock)

Learn more about the Freemasons.

Where did the Power of the Knights Templar Come from?

Although they were the most powerful part of the Crusader army as the shock troops, this was not their only source of power. Their power stemmed from their business activities, which generated enough wealth for them to purchase 9000 preceptories that covered a vast area from England to Syria and from Portugal to Poland.

One of the business activities that the Templars engaged in was the establishment of the first international banks. This system of banking, which was pretty much the same as the modern ones, was yet another factor that helped the accumulation of wealth by the Knights. These banks had different branches in various locations. People could deposit their money in one branch and withdraw it in another. They also loaned money to people. These services which were performed in exchange for some fees were the sources of income for the Templar and made them even richer.

Was the Knights Templar a Secret Society?

The Templar was not a secret society since they were known to the public. However, the secret part was their activities, business, and otherwise. There was a cloud of secrecy surrounding most of their activities, from banking to initiation rituals and even to their secret conversion to Islam.

While they were meant to be enemies of Muslims, they seemed to have ample knowledge of their rituals. This familiarity was the result of the Templars living near Muslims in the east. There are different theories about the relations between the Templar and those Muslim sects known as Assassins and Druze. They paid tribute to the Templar to keep peace with them. Others, like Idries Shah, a scholar of Islamic mysticism, has argued that it was a subsidy paid by Assassins to the Templars, who had turned into a Christianized version of the Assassins. Whatever the nature of the relation, the Templar received a lot of help from Assassins to fight their enemies.

Learn more about the Islamic Assassins.

Common Questions about the History of the Knights Templar

Q: Who started the Knights Templar?

In the history of Knights Templar, it is stated that Hugues de Payens started the Knights Templar. He was the grandmaster of the Templar and led the nine original knights in protecting Christian pilgrims.

Q: How long did the Templar last?

According to the history of Knights Templar, the Templar lasted for two centuries. It was founded in the 12th century and disbanded in the 14th century by the execution of their last grandmaster.

Q: What religion are the Templars?

The Templars were catholic. In the history of Knights Templar, it is clear that they were supported by the Catholic Church. It was the Catholic Church and the pope that gave them extreme power and influence.

Q: How did Templars become rich?

During the history of knight Templars, they had various sources of wealth. They engaged in different business activities including banking. They acquired properties in Jerusalem and Europe amounting to 9000 preceptories.

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