The Templar workforce

"Whenever Templars appear in books or films, it is always the knights of the Order in their flowing white surcoats, hacking their way through the dust of battle. But to function properly, the Order needed more than squadrons of combat-hardened knights. It required armies of other men to undertake the hundreds of skilled tasks necessary to keep everything running. The Templar workforce.

Traditional monasteries faced an identical challenge, and many turned to the most obvious solution in addition to paid staff: two types of monks. ‘Choir monks’ were educated: trained to read, write, and chant. As the medieval period progressed, they were increasingly also ordained as priests, and the high-flying frequently had careers that took them to royal courts or the papal curia.

Medieval monasteries were like self-contained villages. To manage the hundreds of skilled tasks necessary to keep them functioning, many had ‘lay brothers’ (often called conversi). These lay brothers took the same monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as the choir monks, but instead of concentrating on theology, administration, or politics, they brought the vital practical abilities, knowledge, and experience necessary for the monasteries to function.The conversi were frequently masons, carpenters, glaziers, blacksmiths, farriers, cooks, butchers, bakers, millers, grooms, swineherds, gardeners, and all the other crucial craftsmen, artisans, and workers the monasteries required.

The Templars quickly adapted this two-monk model. Where monasteries had choir monks and conversi, the Templars had knights and sergeants. The sergeants took exactly the same vows as the knights, promising to become poor, chaste, and obedient monks. But where the knights focused on their military calling, the sergeants employed a wide range of skills to keep the Templars operational.

This 3D reconstruction of a Knights Templar commandery is based on discoveries made during the archaeological survey (1998) of the commandery at Payens in the French Departement Aube. Production: General Council of Département de Aube. Director: Okénite Animation. Length 6 minutes. Explanation in French.

Maintaining the Order was a vast logistical task. Aside from looking after the fabric of the buildings, managing the land and kitchens, maintaining the weapons and horses, and all the other necessary jobs, there was also the pressing economic need to raise money. The Templars had to arm and equip a vast number of troops and maintain hundreds of castles and commanderies worldwide. This took large resources, and raising the money was something many sergeants were experienced at.

Although the Templars’ larger commanderies in European cities were home to knights busy with the Order’s administration and political relationships, the hundreds of smaller commanderies and ‘granges’ scattered across the countryside lay at the heart of a vast international property and farming empire.These rural European commanderies were the domain of thousands of sergeants. When the sergeants were not attending services in the commanderies’ small chapels, they generated the rental incomes and rural produce (agriculture and livestock) to fund the resource-hungry war effort in the East. Thanks to widespread exemptions from many taxes, they were able to sell their produce easily and profitably. For example, the Templars had significant property in and around Roquefort in southern France, where they developed expertise in making and selling the famous blue sheep’s cheese that has since made the village’s name famous worldwide...

The ratio of sergeants to knights varied according to time and place. In Europe, many commanderies were staffed exclusively by sergeants. And in some Palestinian castles, sergeants outnumbered knights nine to one. On average, the ratio was around three to one. For instance, in the late 1200s, the Order had perhaps 2,000 sergeants and 600 knights in Palestine."

The illustration shows Templar sergeants in their black/brown habit source; The text quotes from a publication by Dominic Selwood to be found here.

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