New Staff Outbreak | How Did The Teutonic Knights Become So Powerful?

Ok I am a little confused in this… The Teutonic order started off as being basically hospital staff and guards in the holy land. How did they become such a huge powerful Order during those times to the point they were slaughtering an entire nation of people like the Lithuanians. And then stand against Poland with the Holy Roman Empire? And after there defeat at the hands of Poland how did the order survive to become Prussia and then Modern day Germany? What am I missing that the history books aren’t saying?? Where did there income come from, the manpower, and so on?Sorry couldn’t find anywhere else to post this..That was very informative. I had no idea the Teutonic order grew like that. I honestly was thinking that Poland offered them land for taking over the Lithuanians. Another question tho.. How did they survive the failed war against Poland? I have a feeling that the Holy Roman Empire played a big part in that.

This is indeed a very confusing topic! Throughout history there are many examples of powerful institutions that started out humbly and transformed over time. (You could argue medieval Christendom itself is an example of this phenomenon, considering that Christianity began as a fringe protest movement among the Hebrews.) The Teutonic Knights also are an example of this phenomenon. All of the military orders that appeared during the crusades had humble origins as knights or sergeants who took monastic oaths to fight for the kingdom of Jerusalem. As these orders gained prestige in European society, they grew in size and especially wealth. Large numbers of wealthy European families donated land and treasure to the orders (for example, the Templars began as guards sworn to poverty and to protect pilgrims, but by 1300 they had become a major landowner in England and France and operated what is now seen as the first international banking system in history).By the early 1200s, the kingdom of Jerusalem had fallen and attempts to retake it from the rulers of Egypt (or to attack Egypt itself) had failed. Only a handful of defensible cities and castles on the coast remained in the hands of crusaders, and even these were systematically reduced by the Egyptian mamluks over the course of the 1200s. The military orders had become so rich and influential that the papacy seemed to deem it impossible to disband them. The force that became the Teutonic Knights were directed to the Baltic region, where a lesser crusade against pagan Prus and Balt tribes had been waged for some decades (at the request of Germanic warlords supposedly in response to persecution of Christian converts but in reality the purpose was land expansion). The Teutonic Order based itself in a network of strongholds along the Baltic coast and became a permanent, institutional force maintaining the Baltic crusade (as the other Germanic warlords only pursued the crusade short-term for plunder or limited land acquisition).From the mid 1200s through the early 1400s, the Teutonic Order remained a church-sanctioned religious order technically of warrior-monks. They continued to recruit German warriors as members, but they remained a fairly small warrior elite. Much of their income and additional power came from attracting short-term volunteers who would pay to join a ‘raiza’ (a “raid”) that would last perhaps a few months into Baltic lands to seize plunder. (Chaucer’s famous “Knight’s Tale” mentions going on a raiza.) By the early 1300s, though, the Prus and most Baltic tribes had been conquered and Christianized. These old Baltic tribal lands had become feudal domains like Livonia and Lithuania. The Teutonic Order was the technical lord of some of these lands, particularly on the Prussian and Livonian coast. The Christianized populations of these lands, reinforced by German immigrants, supplied the Teutonic Order with additional economic resources and hired military manpower (crusading warrior-monks were never a majority of any crusading army, which relied much more heavily on volunteers or mercenary troops).The Teutonic Order, thus, became a player just like any other medieval state in the contest for control of lands in the Baltic region, competing against Lithuania, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia. While the order won some victories and suffered some defeats, it persisted in its strongholds on the Prussian and Livonian coast and was never driven out of all of them. The Black Death (initially in the 1340s but with frequent subsequent outbreaks well into the 1400s) created an enormous economic vacuum–once the population of Western Europe began to regrow, economic recovery in that region demanded an enormous amount of resources (especially timber and grain) which the Baltic region was well-positioned to supply. In the late 1400s, the Teutonic Order finally voluntarily secularized–the order’s grandmaster proclaimed himself a Grand Duke and his subordinate commanders became the feudal aristocracy. This new secularized state then started to impose Western-style serfdom on the peasantry of the Baltic coast (just like Lithuania and Poland were starting to do as well), in order to gain firm control over resources that would be profitably exported to Western Europe.The descendants of the secularized Teutonic Knights on the Baltic coast became the founders of the German principalities of Brandenburg, Prussia, and Livonia. They were fairly weak in the 1500s and balanced themselves playing Sweden, Poland, and Russia off each other, but by the 1600s they had become the heartland of the emerging Prussian state (which became recognized by the rest of Europe in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, though its ruler wasn’t recognized as a “king” until around 1700, and only grudgingly).

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