Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerca sull’Ordine Teutonico nel Mediterraneo

The Teutonic Order


Entrance to the main tower of the teutonic castle of La Margana (Sicily)

The Order of the Brethren of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Teutonic Knights of Jerusalem was established in the Holy Land at the end of the twelfth century. It was based on a small hospital, founded by merchants of Bremen and Lubeck near Acre during the Third Crusade (1189-1192) to assist and help the pilgrims and crusaders. In 1196-1197, the hospital was taken by Pope Celestine III under the protection of the Holy See and received from the Emperor Henry VI possessions and privileges in the Kingdom of Sicily. Between September 1197 and February 1198, it was converted into a military religious order with its center in Acre, recognized as such by Pope Innocent III 19 February 1199. At the same time, the order received its own rule, inspired by those of Templars and Hospitallers, which focused on the armed defense of the Faith and the charity.

Jerusalem foto s. Maria dei Teut.

Ruines of the church of the Teutonic Order in Jerusalem

Between 1209 and 1239, the Teutonic benefited from an expansion, thanks to the capabilities and prestige of their Master Hermann of Salza who managed to become an intermediary between the King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and the papacy. At that time, the Teutonic Order was granted the same legal status of the Templars and Hospitallers, received a large number of papal and imperial privileges and became the third largest military religious order of the Middle Ages. The TO owned a series of sites in the Holy Land, for example in Acre, Tyre and Caesarea and was administered from the castle of Montfort near Acre. At the same time, the TO was a rapid expansion also on the European continent where he was between 1200 and 1240, possessions in many regions from Southern Italy until the Baltics. The majority of these properties were in the territory of the German Empire. Under Hermann of Salza, the Teutonic intervened in the christianisation of Prussia, which allowed them to conquer the region (1230-1254) and to create a State, subject only to the theoretical authority of the emperor. In 1237, the TO incorporated possessions of the Brothers of the Sword of Livonia and in 1346 bought the Danish Duchy of Estonia, becoming one of the dominant powers of the medieval Livonia, which reflect current Latvia and Estonia.


Castle of Marienburg (Malbork, Poland)

After the loss of the Holy Land (in 1271 was lost the castle of Montfort in 1291 Acre), the general chapter and the master of the TO was moved to Venice and then in 1309, at Marienburg in Prussia (now Malbork in Poland). At that time, the structures of the TO were divided in three main branches: Prussia, Livonia and the area ofthe “masters of Germany” (“Deutschmeistertum”), which had its most important centers in Hesse and Franconia, but was present in all the western and central parts of the Empire, and also in the Kingdom of France.

In the Middle Ages, the members of the TO were knights (the dominant category) and priests, and there were various types of associated brothers and lay brothers and sisters. At the top of the Order was the master, known as “great master” or “high master” and the general chapter, assisted by a number of officers. Each of the three branches of the order possessed its own master and was divided into provinces, say “bailiwicks”, articulated in local commanderies.


A Teutonic commander (Heinrich Hoemeister) represented in a Crucifixion scene in the church of La Magione in Palermo (1472)

The TO was subject of a series of transformations after the defeat of the Teutonic Knights in 1410 in the Battle of Tannenberg against Lithuanians and Poles of Jagiello (Władysław II) and subsequent civil war in Prussia. During the Lutheran Reformation of 1525, the great master Albrecht of Brandenburg transformed the Prussian branch of the TO into a secular duchy and in 1561, the Livonian branch was resized and transformed into the Duchy of Courland. In 1526 the charges of the great master were taken over by the master of the German branch, and during the following centuries, the TO was closely associated with the court of the Austrian Habsburgs. With the reforms carried out in 1839 and 1929, the TO became a purely religious congregation, abandoning any military vocation. Suppressed under the Nazis and reestablished in Vienna in 1945, the TO, now led by great master Bruno Platter, carries on charity and assistance in various European countries.


Bruno Platter, 65th great master of the Teutonic Order

The Mediterranean and in Italy in particular have played a special role in the history of the TO which had since its creation possessions in the Holy Land, Cilician Armenia, Cyprus, Peloponnese, Iberian Peninsula and elsewhere. In the actual Italian territory, the Teutonic Knights had four provinces: Sicily (with some property in Calabria), Puglia (including possessions in Basilicata and Campania), Lombardia (i.e. Friuli, Veneto, Emilia, Romagna and Tuscany) and An der Etsch (South Tyrol). To these was added the patrimony of the general procurator of the TO in the Papal Curia, concentrated in Rome, Viterbo and Montefiascone. The Teutonic left to Italy several written and material evidence of their presence and, even today, the TO keeps some of its major centers in italian South Tyrol.

DO in Italien Abb. 4Main possessions of the Teutonic Order in Italy in the Middle Ages
Ill.copertina posterioreThe Tower of Monterazzano near Viterbo, center of a Teutonic commandery in the Papal State (end of the 13th century)