The Origin of the Templars according to Michael the Syrian ca 1180

Michael the Syrian (ca 1129-1199) is also known as Michael the Great or Michael Syrus or Michael the Elder, to distinguish him from his nephew. He was a patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church from 1166 to 1199. He is best known today as the author of the largest medieval Chronicle of Michael de Great, Patriarch of the Syrians, which he composed in Syriac. Various other materials written in his own hand have survived.

In 1168 Michael made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and then stayed for a year at Antioch. Both towns were at the time part of the Latin crusader states, and Michael established excellent relations with the crusader lords, especially with Amaury de Nesle, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem. Between 1178 and 1180 he resided again in the crusader states, at Antioch and Jerusalem. In 1182, Michael received the sultan Kilij Arslan II at Melitene, and held cordial talks with him. Michael died at the monastery of Bar Sauma on 7 November 1199 at the age of seventy-two, having been patriarch for thirty-three years.

This Chronicle runs from Creation up to Michael's own times. The work is extant in a single manuscript written in 1598 in Syriac in a Serto hand. This was copied from an earlier manuscript, itself copied from Michael's autograph. The manuscript is today held in a locked box in a church in Aleppo and not accessible to scholarship.

Michael is a contemporary source for the Latin crusader states. On the beginning of the Templars he writes the following (paragraph 169 in the source, paragraphing below by TN)):

"Now in that period, when Baldwin was the second king of Jerusalem (so between 1118 and 1131, after Baldwin having been Count of Edessa during 1100-1118, TN), there came from Rome to Jerusalem on pilgrimage a prince named Godfrey (de Saint Omer??, TN) , along with thirty horsemen. He had vowed that he would never leave. After a year he became a monk and the thirty horsemen with him also changed their garb and lived in holiness and prayer.

Now since the Turks were harassing the Christians, [people] begged them to go forth into battle against them ... [lacuna] among the Christian forces, saying that fighting the infidels to save Christians was more pleasing to God and more beneficial to their souls. 

The king and the patriarch gave them land and properties, fields and vineyards by the sea, and the Temple as a residence. Others came and joined them and they established their rules [of the order]. They became monastic brethren who lived in sanctity and celibacy and owned no individual private property. They fought against the infidels and never against Christians, and called themselves soldiers of Christ [Knights Templar].

Word of this spread to Rome and everywhere else. The poor, the wealthy [merchants, metsatunk'], and the princes allied with them and they received fortresses and villages, ships, and income from taxes on the Christians, and they grew rich, and became a separate force. 

This was the beginning of the Freres, who are called Hospitallers, since they established hospitals for the poor and sick. Subsequently, others separated from [the main body] and formed a separate entity. And they said: "Give us in writing a share of all [you have acquired] in the past. " The Freres did this.

And [the second group] sold all of this and became wealthy. Then they requested and
received as much land as a pack animal could traverse in one day and night. But then
they realized that they could not survive as two separate communities, and so, they sent
and bought back the lands at great expense with much gold, silver, and villages. Others
also gave to their community, and called them Templars which means "house of the
poor. Such is what we heard about them" 

Obviously this text is quite cryptic, seeming to intermingle Templars and Hospitaller. The key paragraph is the one in which, according to Michael, the Freres (Hospitallers) are requested by "others that seperated from the main (Hospitaller) body to form a seperate entity" (apparently the Templars), ownership of Hospitaller landed? property. After receiving that they sold it and bought it back again. The reason for these transactions not becoming very clear. It is not clear either whether at the end one combined or two "seperate communities" (Hospitallers and Templars) existed. 

What is quite clear is that, prior to becoming a military organizations, the proto-Templars were a monastic brotherhood only, either or not a part of the Hospitaller community or the Holy Sepulchre, as argued in an earlier blog.

Michael's Chronicle serves as only one of the puzzle pieces on the Templar origin presented by primary sources, the Walter Map story being another. TemplarsNow will research further on other primary sources.

Source introduction Wikipedia, illustration from the same source showing a 13th century Armenian translation of Michael the Syrian Chronicle. (public domain).Quote of MIchael's Chronicle from

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