The Wealth of the
The increasingly sophisticated management structure and practices prompted the Templars to make many economic
innovations, 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 who 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
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
This 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
methods 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 prayers. 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
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
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
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