Knights Hospitalers of St. John of Jerusalem

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Knights Hospitalers of St. John of Jerusalem


(Knights of Malta), members of a religious knightly order founded in Palestine by the Crusaders at the beginning of the 12th century and named for the Jerusalem Hospital of St. John (a home for pilgrims; from the Latin hospitalis—welcoming travelers). After the First Crusade the hospital was the first residence of the knights who founded the order.

In 1113 the pope approved the charter of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. Aside from serving Crusaders and pilgrims, the order had to perform military service, which gained particular importance in the 13th century, when the Hospitalers participated in the crusades against the Muslim states. In the 12th and 13th centuries the order became a major military-political force, with branches in many Western European countries and large landholdings in the Middle East and Western Europe.

After the Crusaders were driven from the East in 1291, the Knights Hospitalers moved to Cyprus. At the beginning of the 14th century they settled on the island of Rhodes, from which their other name, the Knights of Rhodes, is derived. In 1530 the Knights Hospitalers arrived on the island of Malta. (From this time they were also known as the Knights of Malta.) The French Revolution dealt a blow to the order: in 1798 the knights lost Malta. Later, they were deprived of their other domains, as a result of which they lost their significance. In 1834 the residence of the order was moved to Rome.

In the 1970’s the Knights Hospitalers still had organizations in the Federal Republic of Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland (the site of one of their propaganda centers, the Johanniter-museum in Bubikon, founded in 1936), Sweden and a number of other countries. About 8,000 men, primarily members of the aristocracy, belong to the order. In order to broaden the influence of the order, a new charter has permitted the admission of men of common origin since 1961. Although they are formally engaged in religious charity, the Knights Hospitalers actually carry on activities of a reactionary political nature.


Zaborov, M.A. Papstvo i krestovye pokhody. Moscow, 1960.
Botarelli, G. Storia politico e militare del Sovrano Ordine di S. Giovanni di Jerusalemme delto di Malta, vols. 1–2. Milan, 1940.
Pierredon, M. Histoire politique de Vordre souverain de St. Jean de Jérusalem (ordre de Malte) de 1789 a 1955, 2nd ed., vol. 1. Paris, 1956.
Cassagnac, P. Histoire de Vordre souverain de St. Jean de Jérusalem. Paris, 1963.
Riley-Smith, J. The Knights of St. John in Jerusalem and Cyprus, 1050–1310. London, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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