A military order is a Christian order of knighthood that is founded for crusading, i.e. propagating and/or defending the faith (originally Catholic, or Orthodox, after the reformation sometimes Protestant), either in the Holy Land or against Islam (Reconquista) or pagans (mainly Baltic region) in Europe, but many become secularized later.
Catholic military orders appeared following the First Crusade. The foundation of the Templars in 1118 provided the first in a series of tightly organized military forces which protected the Christian colonies in the Outremer, as well as fighting non-Christians in the Iberian Peninsula and Eastern Europe.
The principal feature of the military order is the combination of military and religious ways of life. Some of them, like the Knights of St John and the Knights of St Thomas, also 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 is that clerical brothers could be, and indeed often were, subordinate to non-ordained brethren.
- Joseph von Hammer in 1818 compared the Catholic military orders, in particular the Templars, with certain Islamic models such as the Shiite sect of Assassins. In 1820 José Antonio Conde has suggested they were modelled on the ribat, a fortified religious institution which brought together a religious way of life with fighting the enemies of Islam. However popular such views may have become, others have criticised this view suggesting there were no such ribats around Palestine until after the military orders had been founded. Yet the innovation of fighting monks was something new to Catholicism.
- The role and function of the military orders has sometimes been obscured by the concentration on their military exploits in Syria, Palestine, Prussia, and Livonia. In fact they had extensive holdings and staff throughout Western Europe. The majority were laymen. They provided a conduit for cultural and technical innovation, for example the introduction of fulling into England by the Knights of St John, or the banking facilities of the Templars.
Because of the necessity to have a standing army, the military orders were created, being adopted as the fourth monastic vow.
List of military orders
- Military orders by time of foundation: all military orders are, by definition, founded during the Crusades.
- Military orders by religion:
- Catholic military orders: membership exclusively for members of the Roman Catholic church
- Protestant military orders: membership exclusively for members of Protestant churches
- Orthodox military orders: membership exclusively for members of Orthodox churches
- Chivalric orders by purpose: all military orders are, by definition, founded for the liberation and protection of the Holy Land and the pilgrimages towards it
- Pseudo-military orders: self proclaimed imitation-orders without statutes or restricted memberships
Orders listed in date of founding.
Crusade Orders formed in the Outremer
- Order of the Hospital of St. John or The Hospitallers - Founded c.1070. Papal Order 1113
- Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon or Knights Templar - Founded c.1119. Papal Order given in 1128 - the first purely military order.
- Knights of St Lazarus - Founded early 12th Century; militarized in the 13th Century; originally a hospitaller order but later became closely associated with the Templars.
- Order of Montjoie - Founded c.1180.
- Teutonic Knights of the Hospital of St Mary of Jerusalem or The Teutonic Knights - Founded 1190. Papal Order 1198.
- Hospitallers of St Thomas of Canterbury at Acre or Knights of St Thomas Acon - Founded 1191. Militarised c.1217.
Other Orders formed within Europe
- Order of Calatrava - Founded 1158.
- Order of Santiago - Founded 1170.
- Order of Aviz - Portuguese. Founded 1176.
- Order of Sant Jordi d'Alfama - Order of St. George of Alfama was amalgamated with the Aragonese Order of Montesa. Founded 1201.
- Livonian Brothers of the Sword - Founded in 1202. In 1237 it joined the Teutonic Order and thereafter became known as the Livonian Order
- Order of Dobrzyń - order absorbed by the Teutonic Order in 1228. Founded 1216.
- Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy. Founded 1261.
- Order of Santa Maria de España - a Spanish seafaring military order. Founded 1275.
It is possible for a non-crusading order to be founded explicitly as a military order. This is the case of the Orden Militar de la Constancia ('the Military Order of Loyalty'), founded by the authorities in the Spanish protectorate zone of Morocco on 18 August 1946. Awarded to military officers and men, Moroccan and Spanish, in a single class. Obsolete 1956. It was in the military orders, where the perfect fusion of the religious and the military spirit was realized, that chivalry reached its apogee. It was during this apogee when the secular brotherhood was created.
The Dutch Military Order of William and the Austrian Military Order of Maria-Theresia are not military orders although they use that name. They are orders of merit, not societies of knights or warrior-monks like the original military orders.
Notes and references
- "Military Orders" in Catholic Encyclopedia
- RoyalArk- here Morocco
- Forey, Alan John, The military orders: from the twelfth to the early fourteenth centuries, Basingstoke: Macmillan Education, 1992.
- Catholic Order