The obscure early years of the Knights Templar

"The first ten years of the Temple were difficult. According to a later chronicler (they were ignored by contemporary chroniclers in Palestine), the original Templars were so poor that they had to rely on local charity for food, clothing, and supplies. They had no specific uniform. Everything from their clothes to their quarters on the Temple Mount consisted of dilapidated handme-downs. 

This early penury probably resulted in their later obsession with money, which invited clerical accusations of corporate avarice. When money and possessions began to flow in during the 1130's and 1140's, the Templars immediately set up a system to catalog and maintain them. They were already solvent enough by the Second Crusade (1149-50) to lend money to the King of France.

There is no direct evidence of the Templars' military activities in their first ten years of existence (1120s). At this time, the Palestinian nobles (and the King of Jerusalem) were at the height of their power. Before the Second Crusade, the Templars were so minor a group that no early 12th century European chronicler mentioned them."

"Initially, Templar strength was concentrated in the Amanus Mountains between Antioch and Armenian Cilicia. Five out of six of the major fortresses that the Templars acquired in the 1130's guarded these far northern passes. Later, in the 1150's, their influence extended farther down the coast to Gaza."

One of the earliest sites guarded by (proto-)Templars seems to have been a small passage in the important coastal road from Acre and Haifa to Jerusalem. This narrow, probably man made passage, crosses the sandstone ridge that runs parallel to the coast line directly to the east of Atlit peninsula. In primary sources this passage is called amongst others Petra Incisa ("carved rock") or Districtum/Destrictum, Destroit or Détroit ("strait"). Recent research suggests that around 1115-1118, at the request of King Baldwin I and probably the Patriarch of Jerusalem, around thirty knights (with their servants, so a substantial group of around 100 people) united to participate in the protection of pilgrims. The mission this group was given was to protect the pilgrims at the Petra Incisa Passage near Atlit, for a period of three years. For that purpose they constructed the Destroit Keep of watchtower.

"The defense of these passes may have taught the Templars the experience with Turkish military tactics that they later demonstrated in protecting King Louis VII of France's baggage train during his army's journey through Asia Minor to Palestine."

 "Their first recorded military action (helping the Franks attack Damascus in 1129) did not occur until the year after their confirmation as a monastic order. Their next recorded conflict, the Frankish defense of Montferrand in Tripoli against Zengi, Atabeg of Mosul, came nearly a decade later, in 1137. They lost both. A third conflict (a minor battle) ended in disaster in 1139."

This blog presents slightly edited and/or rearranged quotes from the Preface of Stiles, Paula Regina, "BETWEEN TWO FAITHS: THE ARABIZATION OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR DURING THE CRUSADES" (1999). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 1805. TN has added a paragraph on the Destroit Templar castle, Israel. The illustration shows the present day Tour de Destroits seen from the air, source

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