The Wealth of the Templars

The increasingly sophisticated management structure and practices prompted the Templars to make many economic La Rochelle in France, the base for the Templars' Atlantic fleetinnovations, for example in animal husbandry and land management. It was they, for example, who came up with the idea of growing crops purely for sale - until then, farming had solely supported the immediate community.

The Templars became moneylenders to Kings and even the Pope (when the Order was suppressed, Pope Clement V excluded the Templars Some of the seals used by the Templarswho made up his financial staff from the action) as well as providing services as security guards. In 1204 the English Crown Jewels were deposited in the London Temple for safekeeping.

The revenue from the manors and estates allowed the Templars to develop in other ways. Because of the constant traffic with Outremer, they built up a large fleet - one of the largest in existence at the time - which in turn allowed them to expand their trading enterprises.


The Order also had to develop a sophisticated financial and banking operation. Money raised by its estates had to be transmitted to the 'sharp end' - the Holy Land. As the Templars developed a reputation for the secure transfer of funds, the demand grew for them to do the same on behalf of pilgrims and other travellers. From this developed a system of credit, so that a pilgrim could deposit funds at a Templar preceptory in his home country, and then draw goods and services from other Templar houses along his route. And so, in effect, the Templars invented the principles of the modern chequebook and credit card.

They charged a fee for this service, and it was also part of the contract that they would keep the money of any traveller who died on his journey (which many did). This further increased their wealth.

The other consequence of the banking operations came from a demand for secure communications. As can be seen from today's credit card crimes, a move away from hard cash is open to fraud and forgery - how, for example, could one Templar house be sure that a document presented to them really did come from another Templar house on the other side of Europe? The knights therefore developed a system of codes, both for identification and for the safe passing of information.

John J. RobinsonThis was easy enough for them: being a military organisation, the Templars were automatically in the intelligence business, as John J. Robinson sums up:

The Templars were known to maintain intelligence agents in the principal cities of the Middle East and the Mediterranean coast, and they would necessarily have employed covert means of communication. International financial dealings required total secrecy, naval operations required it to hide shipping information from Moslem or pirate forces, and military administration over two continents would certainly require it. As a matter of record, the Templars gained a reputation, and not a good one, for their dedication to secrecy, even in the meetings and councils of the order.


The Templars' mission was to protect and defend Christians and Christian interests in the Holy Land. This did not necessarily mean solely by military means. Indeed, it soon became apparent that the best way of preserving the security of Outremer was by preventing it from coming under attack in the first place - neutralising the threat before it became a reality. In other words, by diplomacy.

As already noted, many of the Templar men-at-arms were of Arab or mixed race - soldiers who understood the Arab The arms of Guillaume de Beaujeu, Templar Grand Mastermethods of warfare (a lack of understanding of which had led to the Templars' early defeats). This required the use of Arab interpreters and an understanding of their way of life. The Templars also recognised that they needed to understand Moslem customs, beliefs and thinking as part of their diplomatic efforts.

The knights were - perhaps surprisingly - tolerant and respectful of Moslem ways, as this story recounted by Edward Burman shows:

An example of this may be seen in the account by the Muslim chronicler Usama ibn Munqidh (1095-1188), who was the emir of Shaizar, of a visit to his 'friends the Templars' at their headquarters in what had previously been the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The emir began his prayers facing Mecca, which is approximately south-south-east of Jerusalem. While he was doing so, someone rushed at him and forced him to turn towards the East, shouting at him: 'That's how you pray!' Some of his Templar friends took the intruder away, and Usama was able to continue with his An Arab depiction of the Crusadesprayers. But as soon as the Templars had turned away, the man persisted. He grabbed Usama, and again forced him to face the East. Once more the Templars came to his aid, and removed the nuisance. The comment they then made to the Muslim is a fascinating example of the tolerance of the Templars, and of their understanding that provision had to be made for differences in a multi-cultural society. 'He's a newcomer,' they explained in apology, 'arrived only a few days ago from the land of the Franks. He's never seen anybody pray other than with their face to the East.'

Diplomacy could aid the Templars in two ways. First, by fostering good relations with potential enemies. For example, the Grand Master at the time of the Fall of Acre in 1291 (who died defending the city), Guillaume de Beaujeu, had for many years kept the Muslim forces at bay by working for a good relationship with Sultan al-Ashraf.

Secondly - and more subtly - diplomacy could be used to play upon and exploit the rifts and rivalries in the Moslem world, the playing of one faction against another to prevent them uniting against the Christians - a policy of 'divide and conquer'. There were many such rifts between Moslem sultans and princes, but the most fundamental one was between the Sunni and Shiite Moslems.

It was this schism in the Islamic faith that led to the Templars fostering a relationship with the Assassins - their counterpart in the Moslem world. The Assassins were Shiite Moslems, whereas the majority of those posing a threat to Christian interests in the Holy Land - for example Saladin - were Sunni Moslems.

The relationship between the Templars and Assassins was complex, based on many factors - including mutual respect. The leader of the Assassins stated that the only force that his people feared were the Templars, on the grounds that they were immune to the standard Assassin strategy of singling out leaders to dispatch (characteristically, by stealth). If a king or the head of any army was killed it would cause fear and disarray, whereas if the Templar Grand Master was killed the Templars would simply choose another and go on as before.

From the 1150s until a breakdown in their relations in 1172, the Assassins paid an annual tribute of 2,000 gold bezants to the Templars. This was a result of the Assassins' first murder of a Christian leader, Raymond II, Count of Tripoli, in 1152. In retaliation, the Templars waged a campaign against the Assassins that was eventually settled by an agreement to pay the tribute.

However, in their usual way, the Templars pursued their own policies and diplomatic strategies without consulting the other Christian leaders, which became another source of friction and led to more charges of arrogance.

For example, in 1172 King Amalric I of Jerusalem, who was fighting Saladin, wanted to enter into his own negotiations with the Assassins, who sent an ambassador to Jerusalem to negotiate with him. This posed a threat to the Templars' own dealings with the Assassins, especially as part of the deal - in fact, the only condition laid down by the Assassins for the alliance - was the ending of their tribute to the Order. As a result the Templars waylaid and killed the envoy on his return journey. This ended the chances of an alliance of Christians and Assassins against Saladin, much to Amalric's anger.

It is unlikely that the Templars thwarted the alliance simply for the sake of the tribute. It seems that they did not want any alliances being forged behind their backs, and that the murder of the envoy was as much aimed at King Amalric as the Assassins. (Relations between the Templars and Amalric were already strained: the King had ordered 12 Templar knights to be executed six years before for, in his view, surrendering too easily in a siege.)

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