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Military History: The Knights Templar Part 1

Updated on August 31, 2014

The Knights Templar were medieval warrior monks, regarded as legends of the Middle Ages, holy men, but devellish fighters, sworn to poverty, but richer than kings. They were believed to have guarded the most holy of relics in all of Cristendom, the Holy Grail. It was a treasure so priceless, it was thought to give them unrivalled strength, but at their pinnacle of power, the Knights Templar are slaughtered and their fortune disappears. Were they completely destroyed or did the secretive sect survive?

The Legend

On March 18th, 1314AD, Jacques de Molay, one of Europe's most powerful men, is about to be executed. The charges against him are of devil worship, sodomy and finacial blackmail.

He was one of 69 men who were burnt alive on the orders of King Philip IV of France and these men are among probably the most secretive brotherhoods in history...The Knights Templar.

During the Middle Ages, these warriors were feared, wealthy and all powerful, but in 1307 that reign came to an abrupt end when they were accused of heresy.

Under severe torture they were eventually forced to yield and confess, almost overnight 200 years of wealth and power went up in smoke.

The Knights Templar vanished from history, it was said the source of their vast wealth was buried beneath the ruins of the old Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

It was thought to be an old ancient relic and it's whereabouts remains a mystery to this day.

The Crusade to Jerusalem 1096-1099AD
The Crusade to Jerusalem 1096-1099AD
Hugh de Payens
Hugh de Payens

The Crusades

To discover the truth about the Templar's secret, one has to retrace their steps, back to their beginning around the clash of civilisations known as The Crusades.

In 1096AD, an army of European knights marched thousands of miles to the region known then as the Holy Land. Muslim states dominated the Middle East from Persia to Spain. Pope Urban II called for a holy war to liberate Christianity's most sacred city, Jerusalem.

It took the crusaders around 3 years to reach the holy city, as along the way battle, disease and starvation took their toll. A total of 4,000 knights had initially set out for Jerusalem, but a little over 1,000 actually made it all the way to the city.

In July 1099, the crusaders attacked the city and after a 5 week long seige, they succeeded in taking Jerusalem. It had been a bloodbath of enormous proportions, the crusaders slaughtered everyone from Muslim to Jew and Christian alike.

A French eyewitness named Raymond of Aguilers, chronicled what he saw:

"Piles of severed heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. In the temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reigns.Indeed it was a just and splendid judgement of God, that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers, since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies".

To reign over the new realm of Jerusalem, the crusaders chose from within their own rank, as crusader kings fought many battles to hold this sacred ground.

In 1118, they chose their third leader, King Baldwin II. he was offered help from a crusader knight, the French nobleman Hugh de Payens.

King Baldwin II
King Baldwin II

Birth of the Templars

It was he who proposed a division of fighting warrior monks should guard the Holy Land and safeguard the passage of pilgrims on their way from Europe to Jerusalem, which they would passionately defend.

King Baldwin liked the idea and the Templar Knights were born, initially from a band of just 9 knights, the Templar army swelled to thousands.

They officially called themselves the Order Of The Poor Knights Of The Temple Of Solomon, but over time they would simply be known as, The Knights Templar.

These knights were not only warriors, but also monks who took vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience.

Europe had never before seen such a force, their existence was unique and revolutionary in the church.

They regarded their very being as a holy calling and they prayed over their weapons to their God.

They were considered an extremely efficient, highly disciplined and well-equipped fighting force.

They crushed the Muslims at the seige of Askaron in 1153, the Battle of Montgisard in 1177 and again at the Battle of Arsuf in 1191, the Templars now seemed invincible.

They fought by the strictest of rules, never retreating unless they were ordered to do so, and only when outnumbered by more than 3-1.

The red cross of the Templars was a sign of martyrdom, death in battle was seen as all glorious and their many victories in battle had earned them a sense of aura and mystique.

The Ancient Jewish Temple of Jerusalem
The Ancient Jewish Temple of Jerusalem
The Muslim Mosque at the site today.
The Muslim Mosque at the site today.

The Ancient Temple

This mystique grew in part from their headquarters, the Ancient Jewish Temple, given to them by King Baldwin II.

Jesus himself once preached there, but it was what the Templars uncovered there that may well have shaped their destiny.

Beneath the ancient temple, legend has it that the knights made one of the most remarkable discoveries in history.

The temple, built by King Solomon in the 10th century BC, was destroyed 400 years later by the Babylonians and then the Jews rebuilt it.

It was once believed to house the sacred Ark of the Covenant or Lost Ark as it is sometimes referred to today. In 70AD, the temple was once again destroyed by war when a Roman Army crushed a Jewish rebellion. The Romans burnt down the city and tore down the temple.

By the time of the first crusades, the Muslims built a mosque on the site of the Jewish temple ruins, which still stands today.

Some historians and scholars dispute that the Knights Templar's original mission was to safeguard pilgrims to the holy Land, raising the question, what else where they doing there?

The knights spent the following 9 years tunneling through solid rock under the temple, and what they allegedly discovered has been a matter of intense speculation ever since.

Fragment of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Fragment of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls

According to one theory, The Knights Templar discovered a treasure map detailing the exact location of the treasures of the Jewish Temple.

Back in 70AD when the Roman Army conquered Jerusalem, jewish rebels hid the treasures of the temple in various locations throughout the Holy Land. In order to recover them they had made this map, etched in copper, to last forever.

The scrolls' existence was unknown for centuries, until in 1947, a Bedouin shephard lokking for a stray sheep, discovered the nearly 2,000 year old maps, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest Jewish texts ever found.

One of these was known as the Copper Scroll and it listed a series of sites throughout the Holy Land where the temple treasures were said to have been buried.

In the 1950s a British archaeologist followed the clues etched on the Copper Scroll. He didn't find any Jewish treasure, but learnt that a previous expedition discovered something just as fascinating.

He had uncovered clues that suggested someone might well have beaten him to it, fragments of swords, medieval spurs and a red Templar cross were all discovered.

Depiction of the cup of Christ from the Last Supper
Depiction of the cup of Christ from the Last Supper

Royal Blood

Legends state that in the very ruins of the temple, the Copper Scroll led the Templars to one of Christendom's most sought after treasures...The Holy Grail.

The Grail is the subject of countless quests throughout the Middle Ages and in most legends it is either a cup or plate used by Christ at the Last Supper.

But with very little clues, it's actual matter could be anything.

Other legends state it was a stone that fell from Heaven and another connects the Grail to the very death of Jesus, the actual Roman spear that pierced Christ's side.

The most controversial theory however, is that the treasure the Templars found may have been knowledge, knowledge suggesting towards the existence of the descendants of Christ.

In this theory, the Latin words for Holy Grail - SAN GREAL - is a mispronunciation of the two words SANG REAL meaning Royal Blood.

According to this theory, Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children, these offspring are said to be the secret of the Grail. This theory of a "Royal Bloodline" may seem more plausible than a relic being the source of Templar power.

If this theory was true, it would shake the very foundations of Christianity and threaten the entire power structure of medieval Europe.

What's more, the Church would surely pay any price to keep this information undiscovered.

Pope Honorious II
Pope Honorious II
Pope Innocent
Pope Innocent

The Templar Rise To Power

Nobody knows what the Templars may have found, but there is little argument over what happened next.

Hugh de Payens, the head of the Knights Templar, left the Holy Land to attend the council of Troyes in France.

Although it isn't stated what was debated at the meeting,  the outcome is clear. Pope Honorious II gave the Templars a blessing and his successor Pope Innocent gave them unparalleled power.

The Knights Templar now posess immunity from laws, taxes and regulations of every nation and they subsequently become a force unto themselves.

Their mysterious new found power, gave rise to many conspiracy theories. Modern day books like The Da Vinci Code believe that the Templars blackmailed the Vatican, demanding special priviledges for surpressing the information concerning Christ's bloodline.

However, most scholars and historians suggest that the templar's power was merely down to them having "good connections". Evidence of their financial power still stands today.

Most of the 12th and 13th century Gothic cathedrals still standing today, are believed to have been financed and constructed by the Templars.

One of the finest examples of thse is the London Temple in Britain's capital. It openly displays the Templar Seal, a statue of two men riding on a single horse.

Unlike most medieval churches, this one is round and was designed to recreate the sanctity of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the destination of every pilgrim and the most sacred place on earth.

The London Temple
The London Temple

The First Credit System

The London Temple wasn't just a church, it was a treasury. One king of England in 1307, went there and took £50,000 sterling. It was like walking into Fort Knox and walking off with the gold. Huge resources were being managed and administered, apparently hounestly and effectively by the Templars.

The cash-rich knights began to lend money to cash-strapped nobles, they had an edge over other lenders as they could charge interest. Very few people in Europe in the Middle Ages were allowed to transact with money as this was seen as a sin.

Simony and usury or gaining money with interest was severely frowned upon. The Templars may have even invented the cheque and credit systems. Pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land or elsewhere would deposit money into a local Templar treasury, in return they would be given a receipt for the amount of money that had been deposited.

Once the pilgrim had reached his destination, he would then go to the local treasury and cash in what was effectively a medieval traveller's cheque or an early letter of credit. This system was convenient, but expensive, as the Templars charged up to 10% for this service. They had originally vowed themselves to a life of poverty, but that didn't seem to effect their "bottom line".

Although the knights upheld their vow of poverty individually, so they themselves did not own property, the order as a whole were allowed to store their vast wealth, in order to conduct their own businesses.

By the late 12 hundreds, the Knights Templar had become the richest and most powerful organisation in Europe. However, envy and anger followed them and a ruthless plot was set in motion.

The Fall of Acre in 1291
The Fall of Acre in 1291

The Templar's Downfall

The crusades had made the Knights Templar their reputation and the crusades are also about to destroy them, as Muslim armies converge on the Holy Land.

After 200 years of warfare, Muslims are united under the Egyptian Sultans and support for the crusades is dwindling in Europe.

Over time the crusades had come to be seen as too high an expense on both lives and resources. Muslims crushed the crusaders at the battles of Jaffa, El Mansoura and the seige of Safied.

By 1290, the Templars only hold one castle in the Holy Land, at the siege of Acre in 1291 they lose that one too and the Holy Land is once again occupied by Muslims.

The Templars retreated to Cyprus and after the fall of Acre, there was an overall sense of disillusionment with the idea of the crusades, due to it's consumption of overstretched resources being wasted on what was increasingly being seen as futile wars.

The role of the Templars themselves is now far less tenable.

What do you think the Holy Grail is?

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    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      7 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Hi FCEtier, sounds like we are on the same wavelength here, I am fascinated by the Templars, DaVinci Code and all the secret society conspiracies too.

      Hi ruffridyer, I think your right, but the legends and myths surrounding them continue to this day.

    • profile image


      7 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      A vow of poverty, yet they became extremly wealthy. Maybe breaking their vow set them on the road to ruin.

    • FCEtier profile image


      8 years ago from Cold Mountain

      Reading "The DaVinci Code" got me interested in these guys. Great history! I read "Holy Blood Holy Grail", too.

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      8 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Thankyou Christy, glad you enjoyed it!

      Hi scarytaff, i've always been mad on The Knights Templar, Holy Grail and stuff, thanks for your comments!

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 

      8 years ago from South Wales

      An excellent hub, and a true record of the Templar knights. Michael Jecks has written many novels of this period and I thoroughly recommend them. His book, 'The Last Templar' tells the story of the assassination of the Grand Master in his prologue. Well done, Dave.

    • profile image

      Christy Zutautas 

      8 years ago

      I love history hubs, and you did an excellent job on this one!


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