Religious Orders of Knights

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Religious Orders of Knights


military monastic organizations of knights in Western Europe, founded during the Crusades in the 12th-13th centuries under the direction of the Catholic Church. The main goal of the religious orders of knights was the defense and expansion of the lands held by the Crusaders in the East and the conquest of territory in Europe, under the pretext of fighting the “nonbelievers” (Muslims and pagans). Among the religious orders of knights were the Hospitalers, the Templars, the Teutonic Order, orders of Alcántara and Calatrava..

Like monks, the members of the knightly orders took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In practice, however, the monastic vows were ignored. Like feudal knights, they carried arms and took part in aggressive campaigns. The structure of each order was hierarchical. The head of each order was a grand master who was elected for life and confirmed by the pope. The grand master governed the officials of the order’s so-called provinces—the priors, the marshals, who controlled the order’s finances, and the commanders of castles and fortresses. The officials of the knightly orders met regularly as a general chapter with legislative power.

Through donations, conquests, usury, and trading the religious knightly orders acquired great wealth, became important landowners who cruelly exploited the serfs, and attained considerable economic and political power. As centralized authorities became stronger in European states, the religious orders of knights lost their importance. However, several of them, including the Teutonic Order, exist today.


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