Did the Knights Templar invent modern banking?

What’s the truth about one of history’s most mythologized order of knights?

Founding of the Templars

The Knights Templar are one of the most mythologized groups in all of history. Rumors of their exploits and fate abound, still today, over 700 years after they walked the earth. For instance, there are theories that the Templars founded the modern banking industry, the Illuminati, or even the Freemasons. There’s even a myth that they discovered and spirited away the Holy Grail. This is the cup that supposedly held Christ’s blood during the Last Supper and of which, if one were to drink, they would be granted immortality. So what’s the truth about one of history’s most secretive order of knights?


First off, the Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon, was their real name. After the first crusade ended, and Jerusalem fell into European-Christian hands, a large influx of pilgrims came to visit the holy city. Since the surrounding area was dangerous, with the bodies of unsuspecting travelers piling up in heaps along the main thoroughfare, a group of mostly French knights, gathered by Hugues de Payens, a nobleman from France’s Champagne region, came together and founded the order. This was 1119.

They took up residence at the Temple Mount, the site where King Solomon’s Temple once stood—thus their namesake. It's also the location of Haram al-Sharif ("The Noble Sanctuary"), which includes Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock (sacred to both Muslims and Jews). The Templars began offering their services to pilgrims as guides and protectors.

A soldier wearing a Knights Templar uniform. The double-barred Cross of Lorrain underneath is the symbol of Godfrey of Bouillon, a founder of the order. 1309. Credit: Getty Images.

Entrance into the Commodities Market

The Templars grew into an elite military force, with each member taking a vow never to retreat in battle. Though not officially religious figures, those within the order lived by a code modeled after the Cistercians or the White Monks. This order stuck rigidly to the Rule of St. Benedict. During initiation, soon-to-be Templars took an oath of poverty, chastity, and obedience, just as the Catholic monks must. They also weren’t allowed to drink alcohol, gamble, or swear.

New members handed over all of their possessions to the brotherhood. Then they were trained in all areas of fighting and warfare. Not only were they an elite force but a well-equipped one as well. Hugues de Payens was voted their first Grand Master, a position held for life. He started his reign by visiting courts all across Europe, essentially fundraising. The Catholic Church officially sanctioned the Knights Templar in 1129 CE. 10 years later, Pope Innocent II issued a Papal Bull saying they answered to no one but the Pope himself. This allowed them to pass freely through all Christian realms and exempted them from taxes.

After a propaganda campaign painting these knights as Christian warriors protecting the holy land, the powerful and secretive order began to collect donations from all over Europe and every stratum of society. Soon, they owned castles, churches, farms, and wineries all over Western Europe and parts of the Middle East. This eventually included a whole fleet of ships. They began selling commodities such as crops, wool, and wine throughout Europe, and also rented huge swaths of land to tenants.

Jacques de Molay (c. 1244 - 1314). This the 23rd Grand Master of the Knights Templar, is being led to his death. He was burned at the stake for heresy. Credit: Getty Images.

A Medieval Financial Services Company

According to British historian Dan Jones, in many ways, the order operated like a financial services company. Jones discusses this in his book, The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God's Holy Warriors. By 1150, the knights were responsible, not only for safeguarding pilgrims but their valuables as well. This forced them to establish what can be described as an early deposit and withdrawal system.

A pilgrim could deposit money or valuables within a Templar stronghold and receive an official letter describing what they had. That pilgrim could then withdraw money along the route to take care of their needs, equal to what they had in safe keeping. Soon, the order grew even more money savvy. By the 12th century, they could freely move their wealth from one property to the next.

The order exercised vast power for almost 200 years. But with the fall of their last stronghold in the holy land in 1291, there seemed no need for them anymore. Instead, their vast wealth and power was coveted and they were seen as a threat. Soon, King Philip IV of France—rumored to be deeply indebted to the Templars, had them arrested on trumped up charges, for heresy. The knights were tortured until they confessed and were burned at the stake.

The Pope and King Philip were in cahoots and soon other kings turned against the order as well. As Jacques de Molay—the last grand master died, he's said to have called up to heaven to curse those who had tortured him and as the story goes, within a year Philip IV and Pope Clement V were both deceased.

To learn more about the Knights Templar click here.


LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

Golden blood: the rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
Keep reading Show less

Want to age gracefully? A new study says live meaningfully

Thinking your life is worthwhile is correlated with a variety of positive outcomes.

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds that adults who feel their lives are meaningful have better health and life outcomes.
  • Adults who felt their lives were worthwhile tended to be more social and had healthier habits.
  • The findings could be used to help improve the health of older adults.
Keep reading Show less