Arms and Equipment of the Knights of the Temple
The Knights Templar were originally a small group of warriors sworn to defend pilgrims and the Holy places of Christendom in the Holy Land.
They were given the Al-Aqsa mosque on Temple Mount in Jerusalem as their headquarters and from this they took their name – The Order of the Temple.The Order gained official recognition from the Pope at the Church Council of Troyes in France in January 1129. They burgeoned in wealth and power until their dissolution on Friday October 13th 1307.
Most members of the Order joined as adults, in their mid – late 20’s. Some joined to escape a tough life back home, as penance for sins, a worthwhile career or to escape justice. Some were genuinely intent on protecting pilgrims in the Holy Land.
As many applicants joined in the hope of an easy life – the lifestyle of the Templar’s was far better than that endured by many in the Middle Ages – there was a ‘window period’, where applicant’s motives and performance were assessed by senior Brothers before the recruits were either confirmed as Brothers or rejected.
Once accepted, men would don the Templar robe, or cappa, grow their beards and keep their hair at jaw length – short by early medieval standards.
Most Brothers knew how to fight as Knights before joining the Order. Each warrior was expected to organise his own training – surviving Templar records indicate little evidence of any organised form of training. Hunting was also prohibited. Yet as the Templar’s were renowned for their discipline and tightly packed formations, it is likely that group manoeuvres were practised.
Knight Brothers would don a haubergeon, a coat of padded fabric, over their clothing. Over this would go a hauberk of mail with a mail coif, or hood, attached. Mail chausses (leggings) protected the legs. A white surcoat, adorned with the red Templar cross, would be worn over the armour. In the early 1100’s, a Knights head was protected by a conical metal helmet with nasal bar – later, the entire head would be enclosed in a full or ‘bucket helm’.
The weapons of the Templars were the same as ordinary Knights elsewhere. Each Brother would own a double-edged broadsword, a lance of ash wood some 13 feet (4 metres) long and a kite or triangular shield. Personal adornment of armour, weapons and horse harness was strictly forbidden.
Templar Knight’s would typically be given more than one destrier (warhorse) to ride. They would also have a palfroi (riding horse) and several roncin (packhorses or mules.) Stallions were used as warhorses whilst gentler geldings or mares were employed as riding horses in everyday life. The Knight would have a squire to assist him in maintaining his horses and equipment and to help him arm before battle.
The Templar’s demand for horses was insatiable and they frequently made use of captured muslim horses and equipment.
All of a Templar’s equipment belonged to the Order and, battles aside, a Knight faced expulsion if he lost, broke or damaged any of the equipment for which he was responsible.
Templar Knights would form up in an eschielle or squadron prior to battle. Warriors were not allowed to join other units. They would often sing psalms before charging into battle. Their most effective tactic was a furious mounted charge – contemporary eyewitnesses, both Muslim and Christian, were impressed and terrified by the fearsome Templar charge.
Guiot de Provins, a 13th century French poet, wrote;
‘The Templars are most doughty men… It is the Order of Knighthood. They are in great honour in Syria; the Turks fear them greatly, they are like a castle or wall against them; they will never flee in battle.’
Due to their tremendous fanaticism and the fact that the other elements of the Christian armies in which they fought did not always support their suicidally brave assaults, Templar casualties were very high.