The Teutonic Order made history by means of its foundation of a state in Prussia, at the North Slope of which the not so stable Livland attached.
|Marienburg near the Nogat|
Many people speak of Prussia when they talk about the Teutonic Order. However, its cradle was not at the Baltic Sea, but rather the Mediterranean. Its infancy was during the crusades in the Holy Land, and it was there that the Order gained ground before it came to Europe.
The country in which Christ was born and where he died fell to the Islam and remained in Islamic hands until the first crusade. Although Islam was the prevailing religion in the Holy Land, the sanctuaries of Palestine were still open and accessible for the Christians. Numerous individual and organized group pilgrimages to the Holy Tomb in Jerusalem were taking place. Not only pilgrims, but also merchants from almost all Christian countries of the West came to Palestine in the time before the crusades in order to do trade with the merchants of the East.
A pressing problem for pilgrims and merchants alike was to find an accommodation in Jerusalem, particularly for those who fell ill. Therefore, hospitals were erected for accommodating them. In the district of Jerusalem, in which there is the Holy Tomb, a complex of religious hospices was established. Particularly the Order of St. John established in 1099 dedicated itself to these hospital services. With the foundation of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem in the year 1099, the Christians additionally had to protect the numberless pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. For this purpose particularly the Knights Templar came into being.
Upon the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 a lot of German-speaking pilgrims and merchants came to the Holy City, only few of them spoke Latin or Arabic. This is why a German couple, probably merchants, built a hospital in the year 1118 with their own means, in which pilgrims from the German-speaking countries found accommodation; they also built a chapel that was consecrated to Mary the mother of God. With the loss of Jerusalem in 1187 this hospital ceased to exist.
Foundation of the Hospital Brotherhood
After the fall of Jerusalem European sovereigns embattled for the third crusade. On 1 September 1189 a contingent of German crusaders arrived with 55 ships at the port of Acre, the seaport west of the Sea of Galilee, and prepared for helping the King of Jerusalem with the siege of the city.
Among them were men from Bremen and Lübeck, who – under the direction of a certain Sibrand - established a hospital near the St Nicolaus cemetery between a hill and the river for those wounded, in that they used a ship sale as shelter. For more than a month they worked as Good Samaritans, until Frederick, Duke of Swabia and Alsace, came in order to take over as commander-in-chief of the remains of Frederick Barbarossa’s army. Shortly thereafter the crusaders of Bremen and Lübeck returned to Germany. However, urged by Duke Frederick’s and other peers of the German army, before they left they passed the hospital to Friedrich’s chaplain Konrad and his chamberlain Burkhard.
The field hospital was to be converted to a permanent facility, a hospital. Konrad and Burkhard renounced the world and dedicated themselves to the hospital in that they vowed the Evangelical counsels chastity, obedience and poverty. Those sharing their ideals followed them. Upon the capture of the city of Acre they bought a garden before the Nicolaus Gate within the city walls. Here they erected a hospital with a Church of St. Mary. After the recapture of the Holy Land, they probably hoped to relocate the hospital to Jerusalem. This is why the new hospital brotherhood called itself "Brüder vom Deutschen Haus St. Mariens in Jerusalem" [Teutonic Knights of St. Mary’s hospital in Jerusalem] (fratres domus hospitalis sanctae Mariae Teutonicorum in Jerusalem). Already in autumn 1190 the hospital was richly rewarded by King Guido.
Recognition by the Church
|Papst Cölestin III. and the black Cross|
Duke Frederick, Barbarossa’s son and successor in leading the German army of knights, endeavoured to obtain the papal acknowledgement for the hospital. Already on 6 February 1191, Pope Clemens III. provided papal protection to the field hospital of Acre with the hospital brotherhood and all properties. This papal acknowledgement can be deemed as final step in the actual foundation of the German hospital community of Acre. The ideal of the brotherhood was to serve those people in need for Christ’s sake with unconditional love. Their maxims thereby were the Charter of the Order of St. John. On 21 December 1196, Pope Celestine III. confirmed the hospital of Acre all of its present and future territories and granted essential privileges of an Order, by means of which the hospital community was equated with the remaining Orders in many aspects; however, the exemption took place much later.
Promotion to an Order of Knights
In the year 1197 a great crusade under the emperor Henry VI was planed. More than 20 ecclesiastic and secular sovereigns of the empire hurried ahead the monarch. When he died in September 1197, the Cross army disbanded. However, before they left Palestine the German sovereigns decided to convert the brotherhood of the Acre hospital to an Order of Knights for the protection of the pilgrims in the Holy Land. This took place in spring 1198 in the framework of a major assembly in Acre.
The German sovereigns as well as the prelates and barons of Palestine decided unanimously that the German hospital should follow the rules of the Order of St. John in their care for the poor and the ill, whereas the remaining activities as priests and knights and other activities should fall under the rules of the Templars. Pope Innocent III. confirmed the conversion to an Order of Knights and the assignment of the rules of the Order of St. John and the Templars for the brothers of St. Mary's hospital in Jerusalem, usually referred to shortly as "Teutonic Order". The knights and priests of the brotherhood received the white mantle with the black cross.
The promotion to an Order of Knights has not diminished the care of the poor and the ill; in these times of predominant misery the Order was additionally given the task of protecting Christianity against the enemies of Christ. Pope Honorius III. admitted exemption from the jurisdiction of the local bishops for the Knights of St. Mary’s hospital in Jerusalem on 1 October 1218. This freedom was the last step for the Teutonic Order to develop to an Order in the full sense of the wording. As of 9 January 1221 the Teutonic Order was legally put on par with the two older Orders of Knights of St. John and the Templars by Pope Honorius III.
The altruistic commitment of the members of the young religious congregation for the suffering and needy people, and their courage in the protection of the Christian faith soon triggered a whole myriad of donations and thus a fast expansion of the Order over the Mediterranean area and the neighbouring countries. The first house was erected in Acre only few weeks after the conquest of the city.
Until 1196 five additional houses were established in the Holy Land: In Gaza and Jaffa, Ascalon, Rama and Zamsi.
In 1197, the friars moved to Barletta and Palermo, the important crusaders’ ports in South Italy and Sicily. The Teutonic Order started its astonishingly fast expansion, in the orient as well as the occident. From 1200 to 1300 a Kommende – as these houses of the Order were called - was established almost every year, sometimes two, and sometimes even three to four of such houses. Kommende and hospitals were established in the Holy Land and in Cyprus, Greece and Italy, in Spain and The Netherlands, in the Roman-German Empire and the Baltic area. Around 1300 the order maintained about 300 Kommende from Düna to nearly the Atlantic Sea, from Sweden to the southern tip of Europe.
The expansion of the Order can only be outlined in short herein. In 1199 the foundation for the Kommende Sonntag in Styria was laid, in 1200 the hospital in Halle on the Saale in Thuringia was built, in 1202 the hospital in Bolzano, in 1204 Kommende in Prague and probably the Kommende in Vienna came into being. In 1206 the second house in Sicily, namely in Polizzi, was built, and in 1207 the house in Reichenbach in Hesse was erected. In 1209 the Order came to Greece, and in the same year also to Nuremberg in Franconia; in 1210 the Order entered Bavaria with its houses in Aichach and Regensburg, and in 1211 a house was built in Burzenland in Hungary. In 1218 the first houses in today’s Belgium and Holland were built, around 1225 in today’s Switzerland and 1228 in France; in 1230 the Order finally arrived in Prussia and in 1237 in Livland.
In the Holy Land Hermann von Salza worked on the conquest of large, closed complexes, since only such complexes could provide the economic means and also the men for the almost incessant fight with the Islam. In the year 1200 he conquered the hinterland of Acre and shortly thereafter he built the fortress Montfort (Starkenberg).
An even larger area was conquered behind Tyre, a third Armenia, where in 1212 the fortress Amuda, and in 1236 the city Harunia with four abbeys and 19 large estates fell to the Order. The Order’s properties behind Tyre encompassed 42 villages and towns, the region of Montfort and 50 large estates. When in 1229 Jerusalem was returned to the Christians, the brothers received the old Teutonic hospital in Jerusalem as a gift, which they had to leave again in 1244 as the city was lost. The Order had been resident in Jerusalem for only 15 years. In 1271 the brothers had to vacate Montfort before a mine attack. In the year 1291 Acre, the last bulwark, got lost as well and – just like the other crusaders - the Knights of the Teutonic Order left the Holy Land. The future of the Order was now ultimately in the area around the Baltic Sea – outside the country in which the Order was established a century ago.