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The Knights Templar: History & Symbols

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the history, legends, and symbols of the elite warriors from the Crusades called the Knights Templar and test your understanding about medieval Europe, the Crusades, and European folklore.

Where is That Templar Treasure?

The Knights Templar were an elite group of warriors during Europe's holy wars against Islamic armies in the Holy Land, the area around Jerusalem where it was believed that Christ lived and died. These wars were called the Crusades and occurred during the Middle Ages, roughly 1000-1500. The Templars became extraordinarily wealthy and powerful from the Crusades, leading to rumors that they had discovered a massive treasure in Jerusalem that included the holiest of items, the Holy Grail. The sudden disappearance of the Knights Templar and their association with other secret societies has prompted treasure hunters across centuries to embark on quests to uncover the lost Templar Treasure.

Knight Templar
Templar

History

After the first Crusade of 1099 captured Jerusalem from Islamic control, it became common for European Christians to take lengthy pilgrimages to the Holy Land. These could be very dangerous, and so in 1120 the French knight Hugues de Payens came up with a plan to form a group of knights to protect pilgrims on the roads from bandits and mercenaries. The king of Jerusalem gave the knights their headquarters on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which was believed to be built on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon, the palace of a very rich and powerful ancient Jewish King. The knights took the name Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, or the Knights Templar, meaning knights of the temple. They were officially recognized as a holy order by the Pope in 1129 and quickly became one of the most respected and skilled fighting units of the crusades.

Church built by the Templars
Templar Church

Although they started as poor knights, the Templars quickly rose in fame and wealth. As they established forts along the major roads between the Holy Land and Europe to support pilgrims and fight Islamic armies, the Knights Templar developed an early system of banking. Pilgrims deposited valuables at one Templar fort, received a letter of credit stating the value of the items or money, and exchanged it another Templar location for cash. Templar banking was so successful that they became extremely wealthy. They bought vineyards and farms, built churches and castles, became involved in manufacturing and shipping, and even owned the island of Cyprus.

In 1187, Jerusalem was recaptured by newly united Islamic forces. The Templar headquarters was pushed further back towards Europe as the Islamic armies advanced. As they lost banking areas in the Holy Land, their wealth and power dwindled. In 1307, the King of France Philip IV, who was deeply in debt to the Templars, used a series of rumors that had recently surfaced about the Templars being involved in heresy to arrest the knights. On Friday 13th of October 1307, all members of the Knights Templar were arrested for heresy. Many were coerced under torture to confess that their initiation ceremonies involved spitting on the cross or financial corruption. Philip IV had many Templars burned at the stake, and in 1310, the Pope dissolved the order and handed over their assets to another group, the Knights Hospitallers.

1384 illustration of Templars being burnt at the stake
Templars

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