Templars, Hospitallers, and 12th-Century Popes: The Maltese Evidence

Lecture by Jochen Burgtorf, given at Saint John’s University on February 26, 2015.

Blessed by an influx of pilgrims from western Europe, but threatened by a barrage of attacks from their Muslim neighbors, the 12th-century crusader states of the eastern Mediterranean launched two unprecedented religious institutions: the Templars (an armed escort) and the Hospitallers (a nursing outfit). In time, the two communities developed into standing armies and primary defenders of the crusader states, and the popes granted them formal bulls (documents establishing their largely autonomous status and privileges), thereby placing them under their personal protection.

The surviving documentation for these institutions reveals one of the most intricate social, cultural, and political networks of the Middle Ages. In 1198, the papal curia established registers of incoming and outgoing mail, which facilitates our study of this network. However, for the century leading up to 1198, the documents are scattered throughout multiple European archives. To date, scholars have cataloged approximately 1,000 pre-1198 papal documents for Templars and Hospitallers, including deperdita (lost documents, inferred from other, still existing documents), as well as forgeries and falsifications.

20-25% of the pre-1198 papal correspondence for both institutions resides in the Hospitallers’ central archives—now known as the “Archives of the Order of [St. John on] Malta” (AOM)—because the Hospitallers absorbed the Templars’ possessions (including some of their archival materials) after the latters’ dissolution in the early 14th century. The AOM has been microfilmed by HMML and serves as the primary basis of this project, and the lecture addresses the question, among others, how the Maltese evidence (the “center”) relates to the evidence preserved elsewhere (the “periphery”).

Dr. Jochen Burgtorf is Professor of Medieval History at California State University, Fullerton.

You can learn more about the Templars in the latest issue of Medieval Warfare magazine.

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