Who were the Knight Templars?
When we look at the seal of the Knight Templars we see two knight on one horse.
Would that mean they couldn’t afford their own horse?
Let’s go back in time to around 1095 AD in Jerusalem the Holy Land.
Mount Zion, Jerusalem
At that time the city was at the hands of the Seljuk Empire (a Turko-Persian people, variant of the Islamic culture*). Pope Urban II called the First Crusade (a crusade was a religious war undertaken by the Latin Church*) to capture the Holy Lands which ultimately succeeded in 1099.
Godfrey of Bouillon, a French knight, leader of the First Crusade and founder of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Duel between a Crusader and a Seljuk
Following the capture of the city many pilgrims travelled to the newly conquered Holy Places but the roads were not safe and the pilgrims were routinely slaughtered on their way to the Holy Land.
The Knights Templar escort Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem in an illustration from around 1800.
Twenty years later, around 1119AD, two veterans of the First Crusade decided to create a monastic order (a society of knights bound by a common rule of life and having a combined military and monastic character) to protect these pilgrims.
The Queen of Sheba before the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, by Salomon de Bray (1597-1664)
King Baldwin II, then Kind of Jerusalem, agreed to their request and gave them a space for their headquarters above the believed Temple of Salomon and so took the name of “Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon”, or "Templar" knights. The Order, with about nine knights, had few financial resources and relied on donations to survive.
Their emblem was of two knights riding on a single horse, emphasizing the Order's poverty. But that didn’t last long!
Although the primary mission of the Order was military, relatively few members were combatants. The others acted in support positions to assist the knights and to manage the financial infrastructure.
Castle of the Knights Templar - Camino de Santiago de Compostela (The Way of St. James)
The Templar Order, though its members were sworn to individual poverty, was given control of wealth beyond direct donations. A nobleman who was interested in participating in the Crusades might place all his assets under Templar management while he was away.
Accumulating wealth in this manner the Order in 1150 began generating letters of credit for pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land: pilgrims deposited their valuables with a local Templar preceptor before embarking, received a document indicating the value of their deposit, then used that document upon arrival in the Holy Land to retrieve their funds.
This innovative arrangement was an early form of banking, and may have been the first formal system to support the use of cheques; it improved the safety of pilgrims by making them less attractive targets for thieves, and also contributed to the Templar coffers.
Based on this mix of donations and business dealing, the Templars established financial networks across the whole of the Christian world. They acquired large tracts of land, both in Europe and the Middle East; they bought and managed farms and vineyards; they built churches and castles; they were involved in manufacturing, import and export; they had their own fleet of ships; and at one point they even owned the entire island of Cyprus. The Order of the Knights Templar arguably qualifies as the world's first multinational corporation.
A mounted Templar charging into battle, detail of a fresco in the Templar chapel at Cressac, France.