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The Knights of the Black Cross | Santa Muerte

The Knights of the Black Cross

A Black Cross Knight or medieval Teutonic Knight was a member of the Catholic military order Deutscher Orden or Teutonic Order, officially founded in March 1198 CE. With their famous black cross on a white tunic, the austere Teutonic Knights became masters of trade and diplomacy, carving out vast swaths of territory from their base in Prussia and building castles throughout Europe, from Sicily to Lithuania.


chevaliers teutoniques

Foundation: The Third Crusade

The 3rd Crusade was launched by Pope Gregory VIII following the capture of Jerusalem in 1187 by Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria. Although ruled by European nobility, it was impacted by the accidental death of Frederick I Barbarossa en route, causing most of his army to return home. However, German knights continued the journey and participated in the Siege of Acre which ended in July 1191. Although the Crusaders enjoyed other successes, they failed to take Jerusalem and instead negotiated the control of a small strip of land around Acre and the safety of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land.


chevaliers teutoniques


Around 1190, German knights founded a hospital dedicated to Saint Mary in Acre, as their compatriots had founded one in Jerusalem in the 12th century. In March 1198, Pope Innocent III granted the members of the hospital the status of an independent military order under the name Fratres Domus hospitalis sanctae Mariae Teutonicorum. This organization later became known as the Teutonic Order and its members as the Teutonic Knights. Like other military orders of the time, the Teutonic Order combined knighthood and monastery.


Bracelet soto Croix Noire

 Soto Black Cross Santa Muerte Bracelet


The Teutonic Order acquired lands in the Middle East, ruled by the Crusaders, and built several castles, particularly near Acre. Its main purpose was to defend the Crusader possessions. Additionally, the Order owned land in Cilicia thanks to its good relations with the Armenians in the region, who saw it as an alternative to the Templars. Its headquarters was at the fortress of Montfort (Qal'at Qurain) in the hills of Galilee, near Acre, and the Teutonic Knights had renamed the castle Starkenberg. The Order held two important fortresses in eastern Cilicia and gradually expanded its territory, particularly in Greece, Italy and central Europe.


chevaliers teutoniques


Organization and recruitment

The Teutonic Order was a religious and military order founded during the Crusades in the Holy Land. It was headquartered in Prussia and controlled many lands in Europe and the Middle East. The Grand Master was chosen by an electoral college and had to consult his senior officers and commanders. In the 15th century there was a second master in Livonia who became increasingly independent of the order's headquarters in Prussia. Sometimes a master could be overthrown by his officers, and there was even a case of the murder of a particularly unpopular master. The lands were divided into administrative provinces, each governed by a landmeister.


Bracelet Croix Noire Sibrand

 Sibrand Santa Muerte Black Cross Bracelet


The recruits were mainly Germans from Franconia, Thuringia, the Rhine and other German regions. Knights or brothers were generally aristocrats, but also members of the lower echelons. They were divided into commanderies of 10 to 80 members and had to take monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Motivations for joining the order included promised rewards for crusades, adventure, promotions, and even regular meals and a place to sleep.


Collier Croix Noire

 Santa Muerte Black Cross Necklace


German settlers could join the Teutonic Order, mainly as priests or half-brothers. Each castle convent had a local contingent of archers and non-combatants such as servants and artisans. Foreign knights were also present because the Order was international, but most of the recruits came from Germany. The number of members varied according to battles and territories won or lost. For example, in Prussia there were 700 members in 1379, 400 in 1450, 160 in 1513, and 55 in 1525. The total number of knights in the Order probably never exceeded 1,300.


The order obtained income from the taking of spoils of war and conquered territories, but also benefited from a regular flow of funds from trade, land rents and donations of money, goods or land. In the 15th century, taxes were imposed on local populations in Teutonic territories and some knights had to pay a head tax. This measure was necessary because the order needed more knights and was recruiting mercenaries. Commanderies provided training, residence, retirement to members and assistance to local communities through almshouses, hospitals, schools, cemeteries. The order also built churches, maintained them and supported artists to beautify them.

Uniform and rules

The Teutonic Order was known for its battle-hardened and equipped knights, as well as its sturdy stone fortresses. Knights wore a black cross on a white background or edged in white on their shield, surplice (from 1244 CE), helmet and pennant. The half-Bretons had gray instead of the white reserved for knights.



The Teutonic Knights had many strict rules, more so than elsewhere. Beards were allowed, but not long hair. Any ostentatious clothing or equipment was prohibited. Knights were not allowed to hold money or personal property, even their clothing could not be stored in a locked chest. Personal seals and funerary monuments were not permitted until the 15th century. Personal coats of arms were prohibited. Excessive entertainment was prohibited. Knights could not participate in tournaments, socialize with other knights, or hunt. The only hobby allowed was wood carving to avoid boredom.



The Teutonic Order has had a rich history with military successes and failures (notably in the defense of the Holy Land and against the Russians). However, he achieved his two key goals: spreading Christianity and helping the poor. They converted many pagans and colonized territories with German migrants. They also brought technology, built water mills, and were renowned for their skills in trade and diplomacy. However, their administrative and commercial success often brought them into conflict with other powers. And when their opponents converted, their primary goal lost its importance.

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