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Knights Templar

Overview of the Knights Templar and their role as international banking pioneers during the Crusades.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] We've already done multiple videos on the crusades but what we're going to focus on in this video is how the crusades help catalyze the start of what many historians consider to be the first international financial institution and that is the Knights Templar. So let's just make sure we have a good hold on the context. So over here we have our timeline. It's occurring during the high middle ages. In other videos we saw the first crusades start at the end of the 11th century, started really by Pope Urban the second with the purported reason to help the Byzantines take land from the Muslims, especially the Holy Land. The first crusade is for the most part successful but they don't return that land to the Byzantines. They set up what are known as Crusader States or Crusader Kingdoms including the Kingdom of Jerusalem and just to read this timeline that I drew up here, green shows a time period when at least Jerusalem is controlled by the Muslims. Red shows when Jerusalem is controlled by Western European powers or by these Crusader Kingdoms which were essentially Western European. These red parts on our timeline show when the actual crusades occurred. So you see the first crusade causes the change of control of Jerusalem from the Muslims to the Western European Christians and once Jerusalem was under their control and it would continue to be under their control for roughly 90 years, you could imagine that many pilgrims from Europe went to the holy sites in the Holy Land especially in Jerusalem, but this was not an easy journey. Not only was it a long journey, these are the paths that I showed in previous videos that the crusaders took, but this could also be the paths that many of the pilgrims took in order to go to the Holy Land and you could imagine a journey of this distance going through multiple kingdoms in this time period could be incredibly dangerous and many of the pilgrims actually were robbed or sometimes worse on their way to the Holy Land. So in 1119 a small group of Knights led by Hughes de Payens, they go to King Baldwin the second, King of Jerusalem. Remember they set up this crusader state, the Kingdom of Jerusalem headquartered on the temple mount and these knights tell King Baldwin the second and Warmund, or Patriarch Warmund the Patriarch of Jerusalem, they say we would like to protect these pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. These guys think it is a good idea and so in 1120 they give them some space, a headquarters on the temple mount in order to start their group. If you translate the Latin version of their name it translates to Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. Now the reason why it says and the Temple of Solomon is because they were headquartered on the temple mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque is believed by many to be on the site of the original Temple of Solomon, but this is often shortened to the Knights Templar. This is their symbol, two knights riding on a horse to show their poverty, but they don't stay poor for long. They are shortly thereafter recognized by the Pope and many people start donating money to this order. Many more people volunteer to be Knights Templar and so over the remainder of the crusades they become an important institution in Medieval Europe. Now most folks often associate the Knights Templar with being Knights. You can see here one of the Knights on horseback. Here you see the Knights protecting pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and they did do that. They did protect the pilgrims and they were also active in battle during the crusades thereafter, but it turns out that even though on the peak there were on the order of 20,000 Knights Templar, only about 10% of them were actual soldiers, were actually these warrior monks as they're sometimes called. The rest of the Templars created this fairly significant complex infrastructure to do multiple things to support the goal of the Knights Templar and perhaps most significantly they developed a sprawling financial enterprise of the time. If you were in London and you wanted to do a pilgrimage to the Holy Land you would need resources in order to do that and you would want to have access to your wealth once you got to Jerusalem and so you could imagine if you were traveling over a long journey to take gold coins with you, not only would they be heavy but more importantly it would be dangerous. A lot of people might want to take that gold from you and so one of the services that the Knights Templar developed was that you could go to their temple in London essentially deposit your money, they'll give you a note of credit saying that, we the Knights owe you a certain amount of money, and then you make your journey and when you get to Jerusalem you can give that note to the Knights there and they will give you your money. Now this is something that we take for granted today. I can go to an ATM machine anywhere in the world and for the most part I can put in my ATM card and get access to money, but there's a lot of infrastructure that makes that happen. Today we have telecommunications, we have satellites that help information go back and forth, we have servers that keep track of all of that data. They didn't have that in the middle ages and so you can imagine this is a very powerful idea that I could deposit money one place and then I could withdraw it someplace else and we still don't fully understand how the knights were able to pull this off. It requires a lot of trust and how were they able to authenticate the notes of credit at any of these points? Not only did they do this type of deposit and withdrawal in multiple locations, they also because they had all of these deposits and people were also donating money to them just to support their cause, they were able to provide loans. Often times loans to very powerful individuals like kings and nobility. They were often brokers in major transactions. This is the reason why historians really do consider them perhaps the first true international bank. In other videos we talk about how in 1187 Saladin is able to retake Jerusalem but then in the Sixth Crusade and the Barons' Crusades it goes back to Christian hands but then 1244 it's retaken again by the Muslims and it stays under Muslim control all the way until the end of World War One and so with Jerusalem taken in 1244 the whole goal of the Knights Templar, the whole purpose of their existence starts to become less important. Although at this point they are a significant and influential financial institution. As we go to the end of the 13th century the whole crusader mentality starts to lose steam. You have the Eighth and Ninth Crusades but they aren't successful and as we get into the early 14th century you have this character Philip the Fourth, King of France and he has incurred a lot of debt in order to have wars especially with England and a good bit of this financing comes from the Knights Templar. He is a powerful man looking for solutions to his debt situation and he realizes one solution is maybe just to arrest the people who you owe money to and then not only do you not owe any money to them, but you can seize their assets and Philip the fourth does exactly that. Famously on a Friday the 13th in 1307 he arrests many Knights Templars including the Grand Master, the leader of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay. He tortures them. They eventually confess to a whole bunch of things but then they retract that confession and they're not willing to retract the retraction and so in 1314 Jacques de Molay as well as other Knights Templar, especially in the leadership, who do not agree to those confessions are burned at the stake in Paris and this is considered the end of the Knights Templar although there are many legends of how they have continued on perhaps in secrecy. So the Knights Templar are to this day are a subject of fascination. There's many legends associated with them, but one of their biggest historical contributions that isn't often talked about but we know happened, is that they really laid the foundation for what we today consider modern international banking.