eutonic Knights

             by Eric Opsahl



     Black,J., Atlas of World History, 2000



The Teutonic Order (usually, Hospitale Sanctae Marie Theutonicorum Jerosolimitanum - the Hospital of St. Mary of the Germans of Jerusalem or der Orden des Doetschen Huses - the order of the German houses, in the sources) was one of the three major knightly or military orders that originated and evolved during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Templars and Hospitallers are the other major orders.

The military orders were "true orders" of the Roman church governed by regulations similar to those governing monks, generally variants of the Benedictine or Augustinian Rules. For most purposes, they were technically answerable only to the pope. They did have some feudal responsibilities to lay and other clerical entities as dictated by circumstances of place and time. Large numbers of knights became monks but often were found in military fortifications rather than monasteries. The members of most orders took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.


Origins of the Teutonic Order

According to tradition, early in the twelfth century a wealthy German couple built a hospital in Jerusalem at their own expense to care for poor and sick pilgrims who spoke German. The hospital and an accompanying chapel were dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This story is similar to the traditions of the origin of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem founded by Amalfitans. The German hospital apparently was affiliated with the Hospital of St. John, at least, in the observance of the rule of St. Augustine. After Saladin's conquest of Jerusalem in 1187, there are no more records of the German hospital there. There was no indication that the German hospital ever had a military mission.

During the siege of Acre during the Third Crusade (probably 1190), Germans from Luebeck and Bremen established a field hospital for German soldiers reportedly using ships' sails as cover from the elements. Duke Frederick of Swabia placed his chaplain Conrad in charge of the hospital and soon transformed the organization into a religious order responsible to the local Latin bishop. Although some scholars question its authenticity, Pope Clement III (1187- -1191) apparently approved the Order on February 6, 1191. The Order was taken under Pope Celestine III's (1191--1198) protection on December 21, 1196, with the name of the "Hospital of St. Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem." The name is possibly the only connection with the earlier German hospital although some argue a more direct relationship with the earlier hospital.

A ceremony purportedly held on March 5, 1198, altered the Order's raison d'etre. The patriarch of Jerusalem, the king of Jerusalem, the head of the crusading army, and the masters of the Templars and the Hospital of St. John attended the celebration establishing the Teutonic Knights as a military order. A bull by Pope Innocent III (1198--1216) dated February 19, 1199, confirmed the event and specified the Order would care for the sick according to the rule of the Hospitallers. It would conduct its other business by following the Templar rule and would wear the Temple's distinctive white cloak. Its black cross would differentiate the Teutonic Order from the Temple.


Internal Structure

During the first twenty years of its existence, the institutional structure of the Order developed and stabilized. The Teutonic Order followed the lead of the Templars and Hospitallers by creating a system of provinces. Unlike monastic orders composed of independent abbeys, the Teutonic Knights had a hierarchical chain of command with commanderies (house, Kommende) at the lowest level. Provinces or bailiwicks (Ballei, Komturei) were parts of "countries" that composed the Order as a whole. Its first independent rule was adopted in 1264.



The officials governing the Teutonic Order at the various levels were Commander (Komtur, preceptor) at the local level, province commander (Landkomtur), National Commander (Landmeister), and Grand Master (Hochmeister, magister). The highest leadership positions (including Grand Master, Grand Commander [Grosskomtur], Marshal [Ordensmarschall], Draper or Quartermaster [Trapier], Hospitaller [Spittler], and Treasurer [Tressler]) were elected by the general chapter.

Membership of this mostly German-speaking order was composed of various, distinct classes: knights, priests, and other brothers (lay brothers, sisters, and "familiars"). There was a large number of people who supported the professed members of the Order, ranging from auxiliary knights to slaves. The highest ranking were secular knights, serving for free. Turcopoles (Greek for "son of Turk") were originally probably lightly-armed, half-breed cavalry whose name applied to Turkish mercenaries employed in the Byzantine army, later the term was adopted by the military orders. There were attendants called squires (knechte), and sergeants-at-arms. Footsoldiers were usually coerced from the local peasantry. Sister-aids (halpswesteren) were employed as domestics as were halpbrьderen; they took religious vows. Married and single lay domestics also were employed by the Order. Artisans and laborers (e.g., gardeners, carpenters, masons) worked for charity or wages. Many serfs and slaves were owned by the Order.


Rapid Expansion

From the outset, the possessions and wealth of the Teutonic Order grew astoundingly fast and its numbers skyrocketed, especially under Grand Master Hermann von Salza (c. 1210--1239). Von Salza was successful in gaining many favors for the Order because he was a confidante to both the German emperor Frederick II (1211--1250) and the popes. His immediate successors also did well. Between 1215 and 1300, one or more commanderies were founded each year, usually through gifts.

The Teutonic Order was invited into Greece (1209), Hungary (1211), and Prussia (1226) by secular rulers to perform military duties on their behalf. In the Peloponnesus the Frankish Prince of Achaia provided fiefs near Kalamata for the Teutonic Knights in return for military service; there are traces of the Order's continuous service there until 1500. The Hungarian King Andrew II (1205--1235) expelled the Order in 1225 when it became strong and may have threatened his rule. The conquest of Prussia began in 1230 (after the Order's Grand Master was named prince of the Holy Roman Empire) and lasted until 1283.



In addition to the Holy Land and these other "theaters of war," the order's members could be found elsewhere in the Mediterranean and western Europe: Armenia, Cyprus, Sicily, Apulia, Lombardy, Spain, France, Alsace, Austria, Bohemia, the Lowlands, Germany, and Livonia. Only in the frontier areas (the Holy Land, Armenia, Greece, Hungary, Prussia, Spain, and Livonia) was military service required of members.

By 1221 the German Order was given the same privileges as the Templars and Hospitallers by Pope Honorius III (1216--1227). Both senior orders fought the autonomy of the Teutonic Order until about 1240. The German Order may not have quite equaled in wealth and possessions the other two military orders which were more than 80 years older, but it became the only other order to rival them in international influence and activity.


       The Baltics

After the crusaders were defeated at Acre in 1291, the Teutonic Order moved its headquarters to Venice, a long-time ally. In 1309, the Order moved again, this time to Marienburg in Prussia. Here the Order had subdued the pagan inhabitants and established a theocratic form of government.

The position of the knights in the Baltic region had been strengthened in 1237 when a knightly order in Livonia, the Brothers of the Sword (Schwertbr(der), joined the Teutonic Order. The history of the German knights in Prussia and Livonia is one of almost perpetual revolts, uprisings, raids, conquests, victories, and defeats. Many secular knights from Western Europe (e.g., Chaucer's knight in the Canterbury Tales) would go to the Baltic to help the Order in "crusading activities" for a season or more. The Grand Master's prizes and feasting for especially heroic knights became legendary and reminds one of various aspects of King Arthur's knights of the Round Table.




During the fourteenth century, dozens of towns and about 2000 villages were created in Prussia by the Order. The Order was successful in trade. For example, as a Hanseatic League participant, it provided western Europe with some of its cheapest grain.

The nations of Poland and Lithuania, perennial enemies of the Order, became stronger and stronger in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. In 1410 at Tannenberg, the Order was crushed in a battle against a coalition led by these powers. The result was a bankrupting of the Order and significant reduction in its military and political capabilities. In 1467, the whole of western Prussia was ceded to Poland and the eastern part acknowledged the suzerainty of the king of Poland.



1525 to 1797

Martin Luther's (1483-1546) Reformation affected the Teutonic Order significantly. In 1525, Grand Master Albrecht von Brandenburg converted to the Lutheran faith. He then was enfoeffed by the Polish king as Duke of Prussia. As a medieval, crusading entity, the German Order essentially ended at this time.

In 1526, the Teutonic Order master of the German lands became the "Administrator of the Grandmastery in Prussia and Master in German and Romance Countries." Mergentheim became the main seat of the Order.

There was a great deal of confusion in Germany in the aftermath of the Reformation, its resulting wars, and the political changes. The bailiwicks of Saxony, Messe, and Th(ringia became Protestant until Napoleonic times. The office of Landkomtur alternated among Lutheran, Reformed, and Catholic leaders in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The bailiwick of Utrecht was Calvinist until modern times. A new rule was adopted in 1606 in an attempt to accommodate the changes in the Order.

In European affairs, from time to time, the Order still participated militarily. Some 1000 troops were raised to help the Austrians against the Turks. After 1696, there was a regiment of the "Grand and German Master." But the numbers and wealth of the Order dwindled. Little other military activity is recorded.

The French Revolution and After

As the anticlerical French government expanded its political control in the 1790's, the Order lost its commanderies in Belgium and those west of the Rhine (1797). Many east of the Rhine were lost in 1805. In 1809, Napoleon dissolved the Order in all countries under his dominion, leaving only the properties in the Austrian Empire.

Even in Austria, the Order had to exist secretly for a number of years until 1839 when Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I reconstituted the Order as the Order of the Teutonic Knights (Deutscher Ritterorden). The mission fulfilled by the Order was mainly the caring for wounded soldiers.

In 1866, the "Honorable Knights of the Teutonic Order" was founded. Knights were required to provide annual contributions for hospitals. The Marianer des Deutschen Ordens, for women, was created in 1871.

In 1914, some 1,500 sponsors from the Austrian nobility supported the caregiving efforts of the Order. During World War I, the Order took care of about 3,000 wounded soldiers in their facilities.

In 1923, masters of the Order were allowed to come from among the clerics rather than the "knighthood" for the first time. Under National Socialist rule, the Order was dissolved in Austria in 1938 and Czechoslovakia in 1939. The leaders of the Third Reich abused the history of the Teutonic Order. After World War II, the Order began anew in Germany. Its possessions in Austria were returned. In Italy, the Order had changed little. A great deal of support for the caretaking and missionary Order has been found in Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium, and even in North and Central America. The Order's headquarters, treasury, and archives are now located in Vienna, Austria.


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