Military order (religious society)

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Indications of presence of military orders associated with the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Holy Land during the Crusades (in German). Ritterorden-Outremer-bis-1291.png
Indications of presence of military orders associated with the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Holy Land during the Crusades (in German).
Reconquista of the main towns (per year) (in Spanish). Spain Reconquista cities.png
Reconquista of the main towns (per year) (in Spanish).
Extent of the Teutonic Order in 1410. Teutonic Order 1410.png
Extent of the Teutonic Order in 1410.

A military order (Latin : militaris ordo) is a Christian religious society of knights. The original military orders were the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller, the Order of Saint James, the Order of Calatrava, and the Teutonic Knights. They arose in the Middle Ages in association with the Crusades, both in the Holy Land, the Baltics, and the Iberian peninsula; their members being dedicated to the protection of pilgrims and the defence of the Crusader states. They are the predecessors of chivalric orders.


Most members of military orders were laymen who took religious vows, such as of poverty, chastity, and obedience, according to monastic ideals. The orders owned houses called commanderies all across Europe and had a hierarchical structure of leadership with the grand master at the top.

The Knights Templar, the largest and most influential of the military orders, was suppressed in the early fourteenth century; only a handful of orders were established and recognized afterwards. However, some persisted longer in their original functions, such as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Order of Saint John, the respective Catholic and Protestant successors of the Knights Hospitaller. [1] Those military orders that survive today have evolved into purely honorific or ceremonial orders or else into charitable foundations.


The Hospitallers in the 13th century Soultz Commanderie 07.JPG
The Hospitallers in the 13th century

In 1053, for the Battle of Civitate, the Knights of Saint Peter (Milites Sancti Petri) was founded as a militia by Pope Leo IX to counter the Normans. [2]

In response to the Islamic conquests of the former Byzantine Empire, numerous Catholic military orders were set up following the First Crusade. The founding of such orders suited the Catholic church's plan of channeling the devotion of the European nobility toward achieving the Church's temporal goals, and it also complemented the Peace and Truce of God. [3] The foundation of the Knights Templar in 1118 provided the first in a series of tightly organized military forces for the purpose of opposing Islamic conquests in the Holy Land and in the Iberian Peninsula — see the Reconquista — as well as Islamic invaders and pagan tribes in Eastern Europe which were perceived as threats to the Church's supremacy.

The first secularized military order was the Order of Saint George, founded in 1326 by King Charles I of Hungary, through which he made all the Hungarian nobility swear loyalty to him. Shortly thereafter, the Order of the "Knights of the Band" was founded in 1332 by King Alfonso XI of Castile. Both orders existed only for about a century. [4]


The original features of the military orders were the combination of religious and military ways of life. Some of them, like the Knights Hospitaller, the Knights of Saint Thomas, and the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus also had charitable purposes and cared for the sick and poor. However, they were not purely male institutions, as nuns could attach themselves as convents of the orders. One significant feature of the military orders was that clerical brothers could be subordinate to non-ordained brethren.

In 1818, orientalist Joseph von Hammer compared the Catholic military orders, in particular the Knights Templar, to certain Islamic models such as the Muslim sect of Assassins. In 1820, José Antonio Conde suggested they were modeled on the ribat, a fortified religious institution which brought together a religious or hospital way of life with fighting the enemies of Islam. However popular such views may have become, others have criticized this view, suggesting there were no such ribats around Outremer until after the military orders had been founded.

The role and function of the military orders extended beyond their military exploits in the Holy Land, Prussia, and the Baltics. In fact, they had extensive holdings and staff throughout Western Europe. The majority were laymen. They provided a conduit for cultural and technical innovation, such as the introduction of fulling into England by the Knights Hospitaller, and the banking facilities of the Knights Templar.

Northern crusades

Map of the branches of the Teutonic Order in Europe around 1300. Shaded area is sovereign territory, Grand Master HQ in Venice is highlighted) Deutscher Orden in Europa 1300.png
Map of the branches of the Teutonic Order in Europe around 1300. Shaded area is sovereign territory, Grand Master HQ in Venice is highlighted)

In 1147 Bernard of Clairvaux persuaded Pope Eugenius III that the Germans' and Danes' conflict with the pagan Wends was a holy war analogous to the Reconquista; he urged a crusade until all heathens were baptised or killed. The new crusaders' motivation was primarily economic: the acquisition of new arable lands and serfs; the control of Baltic trade routes; and the abolishment of the Novgorodian merchants' monopoly of the fur trade. [5] From the early 13th century the military orders provided garrisons in Old Livonia and defended the German commercial centre, Riga. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword and the Order of Dobrzyń were established by local bishops. The Sword Brothers were notorious for cruelty to "pagans" and converts alike. The Teutonic Knights were founded during the 1190s in Palestine, but their strong links to Germany diverted efforts from the Holy Land to the Baltic. Between 1229 and 1290, the Teutonic Knights absorbed both the Brothers of the Sword and the Order of Dobrzyń, subjugated most of the Baltic tribes and established a ruthless and exploitative monastic state. [6] [7] The Knights invited foreign nobility to join their regular Reisen, or raids, against the last unconquered Baltic people, the Lithuanians. These were fashionable events of chivalric entertainment among young aristocrats. Jogaila, Grand Duke of Lithuania, converted to Catholicism and married Queen Jadwiga of Poland resulting in a united Polish–Lithuanian army routing the Knights at Tannenberg in 1410. The Knights' state survived, from 1466 under Polish suzerainty. Prussia was transformed into a secular duchy in 1525, and Livonia in 1562. [8]

List of military orders

These are military orders listed chronologically according to their dates of foundation and extinction, sometimes approximate due to scarce sources, and/or repeated suppressions by Papal or royal authorities. Presently active institutions are listed in consideration with their legitimacy according to the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry.

They are divided into international and national according to their adherence, mission, and enrollment, disregarding the extent of eventual gradual geographical distribution outside of their region of concern.


Croix de l Ordre du Saint-Sepulcre.svg Order of the Holy Sepulchre
(Militi Sancti Sepulcri)
c.1099 – c.1103 Godfrey of Bouillon Jerusalem, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1103 by Baldwin I of Jerusalem
1113 by Pope Paschal II
Kingdom of Jerusalem to 1291,
Custos of the Holy Land: 1230–1489,
Pope: 1489-
Originally an "association" of knights who guarded the Church of the Holy Sepulchre under the jurisdiction of the kings of Jerusalem. In 1113, they became consubstantial with the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre after their recognition by Pope Paschal II, as a military branch, Militi Sancti Sepulcri; after 1291, the Knighthood was awarded to prominent pilgrims by the Custos of the Holy Land. [9] Reorganised as Sacred and Military Order of the Holy Sepulchre in 1496 by Pope Alexander VI. Reorganised by Pope Pius IX with the residential restoration of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1847. [10] Known as the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem since 1931.
Cross of the Knights Hospitaller.svg Knights Hospitaller
( Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Order of Saint John )
c.1099 – c.1113 Gerard Thom Jerusalem, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1113 by Pope Paschal II Grand Master (1113-),
Prince (1607-),
Cardinal (1630-)
Officially it still remains a Christian order, with a Catholic successor, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and a Protestant successor, the Order of Saint John, both of whom mutually recognise one another. [1]
Knights Templar Cross.svg Knights Templar
( Supreme Order of Christ )
( Order Of Christ )
c.1118 Bernard of Clairvaux,
Hugues de Payens
Jerusalem, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1129 by Pope Honorius II
until 1312 by Pope Clement V
Pope: 1129-13121312The Knights Templar order was reconstituted in Portugal after the Templars were abolished on 22 March 1312 by the papal bull, Vox in excelso , issued by Pope Clement V. [11] [12] King Dinis I of Portugal created the Order of Christ (Portugal) in 1317 for those knights who survived their trials throughout Europe and was officially founded in 1319, [13] [14] [15] The property of the Templars was transferred to the Knights Hospitaller except in the Kingdoms of Castile, Aragon, and Portugal. In effect, causing the dissolution of the Templars by the rival order. [16] [17]

Thus when being recognized, the Pope allowing only the "Order Of Christ" a Portuguese order and its Papal branch Supreme Order of Christ can claim to have any descent from the Templars, which is now used for Honorary State merits in Portugal and preserved as such. [16] [18] [19]

Lazarus cross.svg Order of Saint Lazarus
( Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus )
c.1118 Jerusalem, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1255 by Pope Alexander IV
until 1489 by Pope Innocent VIII
King Fulk of Jerusalem: 1142
Pope: circa 1255-1572
House of Savoy: 1572-
House of France: 1609–1830.
Italian branch merged 1572 with the Order of Saint Maurice to form the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus under the Royal House of Savoy, still extant.

In 1609, King Henry IV of France linked it in France administratively to the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to form the Royal Military and Hospitaller Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem united, which remained listed as of royal protection in the French Royal Almanac until 1830. [20]

Insignia Germany Order Teutonic.svg Teutonic Knights c.1192 Acre,
Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem
The main stem of the Teutonic Knights converted into a purely Catholic religious order in 1929.
The Bailiwick of Utrecht of the Teutonic Order separated from the Roman Catholic mainstem during the time of the Reformation and continues as a Protestant chivalric order. [21]


Sigillo Altopascio.gif Order of Saint James of Altopascio 1075
Matilda of Tuscany Altopascio, Tuscany, Holy Roman Empire 1239–1459,
but mentioned in a Papal bull 1198 of Pope Innocent III
Properties of the hospice of "Altopassus" in Italy confirmed in 1244 by Emperor Frederick II 1459,
Primarily provided safety and protection to Italian pilgrims to the Holy Land and Camino de Santiago. Merged with the Order of Saint Stephen in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V at request of Grand Duke of Tuscany. In France absorbed into the Order of Saint Lazarus in 1672.
Ordem Avis.svg Order of Aviz 1146
Avis, Portugal Received a grant in 1129 by Theresa, Countess of Portugal
House of Aviz: 1385-1580
1789Secularised 1789. Statutes revised repeatedly together with the other Portuguese orders of merit, during the First Republic (1910–1926), then in 1962, and again in 1986.
Cross wing saint michael.png Order of Saint Michael of the Wing 1147
King Afonso I of Portugal Santarém, Portugal First statutes approved in 1171 by Pope Alexander III House of Braganza: 2001-1732Abandoned by 1732, [22] restored [23] by King Miguel I in 1828 [24] during his brief rule before losing the Liberal Wars to his brother King Pedro IV, [25] revived 1848 [23] /1986 [26]
Cross Calatrava.svg Order of Calatrava 1158 Raymond of Fitero Calatrava la Vieja, Kingdom of Castile, Spain 1164 by Pope Alexander III House of Bourbon 1838 by secularisationKing Charles III of Spain requested old orders to contribute to his new order in his name (1775), which led to dissolution. Confiscated by King Joseph (1808), re-established by Ferdinand VII at the Restoration (1814). Secularised in 1838.
Croix de l'Ordre Hospitalier du Saint-Esprit.svg Order of the Holy Ghost 1161 Guy de Montpellier Provence, France ca. 1161–June 16, 1216 by Pope Innocent III in Santo Spirito in Sassia, Rome 1692/
20th century
Historically both religious and chivalric. In 1692 in France, King Louis XIV merged it with his own Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The remaining organisation was edicted in 1700 as purely religious order. [27] Offshoots of the order in France survived into the 20th century.
Aubrac sceau.jpg Order of Aubrac 1162 Aubrac, France 18th centuryDisappeared during the French Revolution in late in the 18th century.
Cross Santiago.svg Order of Santiago 1170 León or Uclés in Castile, Spain By Papal bull 5 July 1175 by Pope Alexander III House of Bourbon
Badge of the Order of Alcantara.svg Order of Alcántara 1177 Alcántara, Extremadura, Spain
Cross of order of mountjoy.svg Order of Mountjoy 1180 Holy Land 1221Merged into the Order of Calatrava.
Order of Truxillo before 1188 Trujillo, Cáceres 1195
Order of St Thomas of Acre cross.svg Hospitallers of Saint Thomas of Canterbury at Acre 1191 William, Chaplain to the Dean Acre, and


Cross of order of mountjoy.svg Order of Monfragüe 11961221Merged into the Order of Calatrava.
Croix Gueules.png Order of Sant Jordi d'Alfama 120115th centuryEarly 15th century, merged into the Order of Montesa.
SwordBrothers.svg Livonian Brothers of the Sword 12021236Merged into the Teutonic Order as the Order of Livonia, disbanded 1561.
Dobrzynski braty.svg Order of Dobrzyń 1216 Dobrzyń Land, Poland 1240Small number, maximum 35 knights. Battled by the Prussians, around 1235 most knights joined the Teutonic Order. In 1237 the rest of the brothers reinforced Drohiczyn by order of Konrad. Last mentioned when Drohiczyn was captured by Prince Daniel of Kiev in 1240.
Cross of MJC.svg Militia of the Faith of Jesus Christ 12211285Note: Symbol that of the Dominican Order. Merged into the Third Order of Saint Dominic.
Cross monreal.svg Military Order of Monreal 1231King Alfonso the Battler Monreal del Campo, Aragon 1143
Order of the Faith and Peace.jpg Order of the Faith and Peace 12311273
Cross with red star.svg Knights of the Cross with the Red Star 1233 Agnes of Bohemia Bohemia 1237 by Pope Gregory IX
Confirmed 1292 by ambassador of Pope Nicholas IV
Mainly hospitals, in Bohemia still existing.
Militia of Jesus Christ.jpg Militia of Jesus Christ 1233 Bartolomeo da Vicenza Parma 22 December 1234 by Pope Gregory IX.1250sDisappeared mid-13th century.
Cross frati gaudenti.png Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary 1261 Loderingo degli Andalò, Catalano dei Malavolti, Ugolino Lambertini Bologna 23 December 1261 by Pope Urban IV 1556
Emblema OrdendSantaMariadEspana.svg Order of Saint Mary of Spain 12701280Merged into the Order of Santiago.
Cross montessa.svg Order of Montesa 1317
OrderOfCristCross.svg Order of the Knights of Our Lord Jesus Christ
( Knights Templar )
Portugal 1789
Secularized 1789.
Insignia Hungary Order Ordo Draconum History.svg Order of the Dragon 1408 Sigismund of Luxemburg Hungary 1475sDisappeared late 15th century.
Cross of saint Maurice.svg Order of Saint Maurice 1434 Amedeo VIII of Savoy Château de Ripaille, Thonon-les-Bains, Savoy 1572Merged with the Order of Saint Lazarus in Italy in 1572 by Pope Gregory XIII into Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, considered the legitimate successor of both by the ICOC.
Ordem Militar da Torre e Espada.svg Order of the Tower and Sword 1459 King Afonso V of Portugal Portugal Revived 1808 by Prince Regent John, later John VI of Portugal. Since the end of the monarchy in 1910, all military orders abolished except the Order of the Tower and Sword, with President of Portugal ex officio its Grand Master.
Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem.jpg Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem 1459 Pope Pius II Lemnos, Byzantine Empire 18 January 1459 by Pope Pius II 1460Founded in 1453 by Pope Pius II after the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire, to defend the island of Lemnos, soon recaptured by the Turks, thus rendered useless and suppressed almost as soon as founded. [28] [29]
311St.Georgs Ritterorden Einsetzung durch Papst Paul II.jpg Order of Saint George of Carinthia 1469 Emperor Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor In 1469 by Pope Paul II Abolished 26 July 1598
Croix constantinien.svg Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George 1522-1545
Angeli Comneni familyAddressed in 1550 by Pope Julius III
Cardinal protector in 1910 by Pope Pius X
Decrees by King Philip III of Spain, Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor on 7 November 1630Appears to have been established between 1520 and 1545, with certain statutes dated 1522 by the Angeli Comneni family. Its Grand Master Andrea Angelo Flavio Comneno was addressed first in 1550 by Papal bull Quod Aliasla by Pope Julius III.
Cross of saint stephen.svg Order of Saint Stephen Pope and Martyr 15 March 1561 Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany Tuscany 1 October 1561 by Pope Pius IV Founded as Benedictine order by Cosimo I de' Medici,. [30] [31] dedicated to the martyred Pope Stephen I and the victories at the Battle of Montemurlo in 1537 and the Battle of Marciano (Scannagallo) in 1554. Fought the Ottoman Turks and pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. Abolished in 1859 by the annexation of Tuscany to the Kingdom of Sardinia. [32] Present, Catholic continuation claimed by Archduke Sigismund, Grand Duke of Tuscany. [33] [34]


Chivalric and/or military orders that could qualify depending on definition.

Modern development

A few of the institutions survived into honorific and/or charitable organizations, including the papal orders of knighthood.

While other contemporary Catholic societies may share some military organizational features and ideology, such as the Society of Jesus, [36] they differ from the medieval military orders in the absence of military purposes or potential.

Modern orders may still be founded explicitly as a military order; the Military Order of Loyalty (Spanish : Orden Militar de la Constancia) was founded in 1946 by the Spanish protectorate in Morocco. Awarded to both Spanish and Moroccan military officers and soldiers, the single-class order was abolished in 1956.

See also

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  19. Noonan, Jr., James-Charles (1996). The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church. Viking. p.  196. ISBN   0-670-86745-4.
  20. Moeller, Charles. "The Military Orders." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 22 Jun. 2015
  21. Riley-Smith, Jonathan Simon Christopher (1999). The Oxford History of the Crusades. Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780192853646. Teutonic knights are still to be found only in another interesting survival, Ridderlijke Duitse Orde Balije van Utrecht (The Bailiwick of Utrecht of the Teutonic Order). Like the Hospitaller Bailiwick of Brandenburg, this commandery turned itself into a noble Protestant confraternity at the time of the Reformation.
  22. Anderson, James (1732). Royal genealogies: or, The genealogical tables of emperors, kings and princes, from Adam to these times; in two parts. London: James Bettenham. pp. ix. Retrieved 9 December 2011. St Michael's Wing in Portugal founded by the said King Alphonse 1165 or 1171 after his obtaining a notable Victory over Moors and Alberto King of Seville in which Battle MICHAEL the Arch Angel is said to appear on the right Side of Alphonse and fight against them. This Order is now out of use. (1732)
  23. 1 2 Almeida, Gomes Abrunhosa Marques de and Manuel Ângelo (2007). Precedentes histórico-teóricos dos regionalismos dos Açores e da Galiza. Santiago de Compostela: Univ Santiago de Compostela. p. 187.
  24. Cheke, Marcus (1969). Carlota Joaquina, queen of Portugal (Reprinted. ed.). Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press. p. 195. ISBN   978-0-8369-5040-3.
  25. Jenks, George C (1911). Monarchs in Exile, The Bookman vol. 32. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co. p. 273.
  26. Sainty, Guy Stair (2006-11-22). "Royal Order of Saint Michael of the Wing". rec.heraldry. Retrieved 2011-01-21. While the Duke of Braganza is the unquestioned heir and successor of Dom Miguel, the institution of the Royal Brotherhood of St Michael of the Wing is better seen as a modern memorial revival of the original institution than any kind of continuation of the Miguelist award.
  27. Orders of the Holy Ghost - Catholic Encyclopedia article
  28. Besse, Jean. "Bethlehemites." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 23 Jun. 2015
  29. Trollope, Thomas Anthony. An encyclopædia ecclesiastica, 1834
  30. Villari, Pasquale (1911). "Medici"  . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 18 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 31–41.
  31. Woodhouse, Frederick Charles (1879). The military religious orders of the Middle Ages: the Hospitallers, the Templars, the Teutonic knights, and others. With an appendix of other orders of knighthood: legendary, honorary, and modern. New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. p.  338. The members followed the rule of St Benedict and the Popes granted them the same privileges as those enjoyed by the Knights Hospitallers
  32. Carmichael, Montgomery (1901). In Tuscany: Tuscan Towns, Tuscan Types and the Tuscan Tongue. New York: E P Dutton. p.  173. The Order was swept away by the French Revolution but was revived again in a modified form in 1817. The Italian Revolution once more swept it away beyond hope of revival on 16 November 1859 and its Church and property became the property of the State. Alas that modern Italy should not be a little more tender of the memories of her past glories.
  33. Bernardini, Rodolfo (1990). Il Sacro Militare Ordine di Santo Stefano Papa e Martire (in Italian). Pisa: Familiare della Casa Asburgo Lorena.
  34. Cardinale, Hyginus Eugene (1983). Orders of knighthood awards and the Holy See. Gerrards Cross: Van Duren. p. 157. ISBN   978-0-905715-13-1.
  35. Nicolás, Bruno Rigalt y (1858). Diccionario histórico de las Ordenes de Caballería religiosas,civiles y militares de todas las naciones del mundo,desde los primeros tiempos hasta nuestros dias. [...] (in Spanish). Narciso Ramirez. p. 55.
  36. Harro Höpfl (2004), Jesuit Political Thought: The Society of Jesus and the State, c. 1540–1630, Cambridge; p. 25