Organizational Structure of the Knights Templar
İ 2001 by Salvatore T. Bruno
This article will summarize the detailed analysis presented in my book, Templar Organization: the Management of Warrior Monasticism. I will describe the hierarchy of the one of the most remarkable institutions of the medieval world; The Order of the Poor Knights of Christ of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, (the Templars). This singular group was founded on the completely unique innovation of combining the triple monastic vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, with the military vocation of knighthood. This concept was revolutionary (and not wholly embraced by the clergy of the day). Drawing from the best of both worlds, these men created a complex, highly disciplined crusader war machine that was altogether unique among its contemporary rivals. The effectiveness of this group impressed the most experienced and successful military leaders of the day. The monastic context allowed the Templars to achieve a very high degree of discipline and uniformity more commonly associated with modern military organizations. A study of their highly evolved organizational structure reveals a great deal about how they were able to achieve their successes.
This analysis is primarily based on the French Rule (OF Rule) as translated into English by J. M. Upton-Ward. This amazing set of military regulations describes the responsibilities of the Orderıs members in wartime and in peace. It evolved from the original "Primitive Rule" created by the Council of Troyes in 1129 over the entire 180-year history of the Order until its suppression by King Philip the Fair in the early 1300ıs.
It is important to view the Templars within the context of their secular contemporaries. Although the Templars were profoundly innovative in the vision of their founding, the basic organizational building blocks were a product of their secular environment. Members were well indoctrinated in the outside world before joining. The Rule clearly states that children were not to be admitted to the Order. Knights were to be raised and trained in the secular world at least until they had reached adulthood before being admitted into the Templars. Thus, the influence of the norms, social structure, and standard military tactics of medieval Europe was pervasive. With that in mind, let us start this analysis with a brief sketch of how that secular world operated. Iıll also discuss how the Templars contrasted with the secular world in subtle, but important ways.
The Central focus of military tactics in the medieval world was the heavy cavalry charge of a group of mounted knights. This was supported by the mounted sergeants (ignoble mounted soldiers) and prepared for by the infantry. Although Philippe Contamineıs research tells us that a typical army contained four to nine times as many infantrymen as mounted warriors, the medieval military mind was almost exclusively centered on the Knight, as its most devastating weapon.
The secular Knight is, therefore, the fundamental element of interest for our discussion. The "Knight" was not an individual in this context. He was the central figure of a tactical and logistic unit. To avoid confusion, Iıll refer to this concept as a "Lance". A basic Lance was comprised as follows:
A Knight with a destrier (war horse). He rode a mule, palfrey, roncin, or such traveling mount to and from engagements. This kept his "main battle tank" fresh and ready for action.
A lightly armed squire to care for the destrier and equipment, typically riding a mule. One or two pack animals.
Wealthy knights might double or triple this entourage. Altogether, we have between two and five people and three to ten mounts per Lance. The romantic image of a lone errant knight is strictly a literary invention. A lone knight was generally a miserable figure, down on his luck, and extraordinarily vulnerable.
Ten to twenty knights formed a banner. Ten to twenty Banners would form a Squadron. Five to ten squadrons formed a "battle", assuming that many troops were present. The battles were generally arranged in five groups; The Van, Left and Right Wings, the Center or Main Battle, and the Rear Guard. The size, distribution and character of these forces varied greatly. They were organized around the feudal lords who were called up or under hire. The detailed deployment of the forces while on campaign was a daily affair, arranged on an ad hoc basis. Not surprising, the equipment and logistical support (such as it was) was anything, but uniform. Managing the force and maintaining discipline must have been a Herculean task.
The Templars employed the same basic structure used by the secular armies, but did it with Prussian efficiency. A fundamental difference between the Templars and their secular counterparts was the submission of free will. This important characteristic of modern armies was not present in secular medieval forces. Secular knights tended to be very independent. They were responsible for their own gear, squires and upkeep, and were brought together on campaign only for a short time each year. Controlling them was difficult, at best. By contrast, Templars possessed a high degree of discipline and conformity. The concept of the monastic vow of obedience is that a monk should obey the instructions of his abbot as if he were obeying the Lord. The Rule further instructs that Brother Knights should obey the orders of the commanders set over them. The effect of the culture of obedience was that Templars were noted for maintaining formation and order under the most difficult situations.
Like all real armies in the field, the Templars often found themselves with other than ideal force levels. Unlike their secular counterparts, however, their structure and basic building block units remained relatively consistent. The Rule precisely specifies the equipment, mounts and personal staff of every member , from the Master right down to Brother Sergeants. It even provides for modifications when horses or squires are in shortage or abundance. The Rule also leads us to believe that Banners and Squadrons were standardized in composition. With all of the equipment and mounts belonging to the order and not the individual Knights (who took the vow of poverty), the Templars developed a centralized system for the supply and efficient distribution of these resources.
The Templars utilized the basic military model of the secular world from which they originated. Their ability to achieve discipline and uniformity, however, set them apart. As I will discuss below, the Templars were also available around the clock and all year round. This was also a very important distinction between them and their secular counterparts.
As stated above, the basic military unit of both the secular and Templar worlds was the Knight. Feudal socioeconomic structure was organized to support this military building block. The fundamental economic unit was the "knightıs fee" or "basic fief". This was usually an agricultural entity consisting of around 60 to 120 acres held by as few as one or as many as eight villein families . Several of these together would support a knightly household consisting of a married knight, his children and a few servants.
This was a tenuous existence. War, bad crops, or other misfortune could bounce these families right out of the knightly class in the blink of an eye. Such noble families appeared and disappeared on a regular basis throughout the middle ages. Never the less, these were the lucky middle class of knighthood. Most knights never achieved their own household and spent their lives attached to the hotel of another important lord.
These fundamental knightly units were gathered together by wealthier lords into Knight Bannerets. Several Bannerets might be joined together as a County under the lordship of a Count. In regions continually threatened by invasion, counties often gathered together under a Marquis. From there, we work our way to up to Dukes, Princes, or Kings. The simplistic and theoretical view of this system was an orderly pyramid. The King was at the top. All land belonged to him and he farmed it out in exchange for annual military service. In reality, this completely nationalistic view was generally held by no one except the King.
A more accurate model would be to think of feudalism as a system of rights and obligations. It is a "relativistic" set of relationships that should be viewed from the instantaneous perspective of the individual of interest. He looked downward to the rights he held from his vassals and upward to the obligations he owed to his lords. He rarely perceived this chain traveling beyond the next layer. Kings would occasionally try to extract personal oaths of fealty from everyone. This weak attempt at nationalism was rarely effective.
By the thirteenth century, the standard service obligation was only forty days per year. If this was not bad enough, several exclusions, clauses and limitations also existed. For example, it might only be "20 days south of the Alps", or zero days beyond a certain district. The knight was also compensated if his horse were killed. Although this was not a cash based economy, it became increasingly necessary to pay not only the specialist mercenary troops, but also oneıs own vassals just to keep them in the field for a reasonable length of time. For any major campaign, it was usually necessary for the lord to borrow heavily and mortgage his estates in order to raise the necessary cash. We must bear in mind that a system of regular taxation did not exist. Revenues were "opportunistic". Great Lords seldom achieved the numbers during a muster to which they thought themselves entitled. Looking back on this system from modern times, it is amazing that large scale wars ever happened at all!
The difference in the economic support system and administrative command structure available to secular leaders and that employed by the Templars is stark. While both were agrarian at their foundation, the Templars had a cohesive chain of command from the top to the bottom. The Orderıs organization achieved the advantages of nationalism without the existence of a physical country. Under the Papal Bull Omne Datum Optimum, the Templars held gifted estates all over Europe but owed no taxes or fealty to anyone, but the Pope. The Master was the Great Ruler of a virtual state.
Income was consistent, regular, and supplemented by shipping, banking, and other industries. No "active duty" time limitations existed for Templar military personnel. They were signed up for life. The Templar force was available for field duty year round. The highly disciplined Templar troops were powered by a vast and efficient resource system. Free from the plague of complex feudal obligations and limitations, the Templar command structure was stable, consistent and efficient. These attributes made them a powerful war machine, especially in comparison to their secular contemporaries.
The operation and management of such a unique group also required innovation in its basic internal organization. The Templars had a dual organizational structure with the Master at the Head. Beginning with the Seneschal and flowing down through the Commanders of the Lands, a complex system of administration existed for the raising of revenue, maintaining of castles, and support of the Brothers when not on campaign. A similar hierarchy existed in Europe under the eight Western or Provincial Templar Masters. The main job of the European administrative branch, which included the majority of the Orderıs members, was to create the resources necessary for the Order to pursue its primary role: Defense and conquest of the Holy Land from the Saracens.
The following organization chart provides a good frame of reference for how the peacetime side of the Order was structured.
Templar administrative organization.
The Orderıs structure altered while on campaign. It formed a second branch that was led by the Marshal. He acted as Commander in Chief of the brothers under arms, reporting directly to the Master (Rule 103). The Brother Knights and Sergeants were transferred from the command of the Houses to the Marshalcy while on campaign. The Marshalcy also controlled the horses, weapons, and other directly military equipment (Rule 102). This structure is actually somewhat simpler:
Templar organization while engaged in battle.
This duality can be somewhat challenging for the casual student. It is also further confusing in that the same individuals moved between the two branches, occupying different roles. The Commander of the Land of Jerusalem is a good example. His peacetime role was to be the Chief Administrative Officer in the kingdom of Jerusalem and the Treasurer of the Order. In this capacity, he reported through the Seneschal. This job was much like that of a modern regional COO and overall CFO combined. In wartime, however, he would become a simple Squadron Commander under the authority of the Marshal (Rule 103). Thus, one might say he had "two bosses", a common complaint of personnel in modern matrix organizations.
It is fascinating to realize that the duality of the Templar organizational structure bears a striking similarity to modern organizational theory. Some of the most sophisticated principles employed in private business and military organizations can be found in the system described above. There are three basic types of organizations, which are generally recognized; Functional, Projectized, and Matrix. Functional and projectized organizations are the most common. In a functional model, organizational units are identified by basic functional definitions. Which to say; the kind of work performed. Personnel are grouped in these units and authority and responsibility flow within these divisions. In a projectized model, organizational units are formed around products or projects. Personnel are not divided along functional lines until further down the organizational tree, if at all. The matrix structure is a less common model in which the previous two are blended together. Personnel are grouped into major divisions according to function, but are then "farmed out" to support projects. This is the most complex of the three types.
A modern executive, drafting a matrix organization for a group like the Templars, would create something like this:
Templar organization in a typical matrix structure.
Viola! This is the actual organizational structure that was used with the minor exception that the post of Treasurer was combined with that of the Commander of the Land of Jerusalem (Rule 111). This was no doubt due to the physical proximity of the Commander to both the Orderıs headquarters and the capital city of the Holy Land. The ultimate "product" of the Templars was the making of war on the enemies of the Christian States. The Marshal was in charge of this "product". The three lands and eight Provincial Masters were the functional groups charged with raising revenue and the literal "care and feeding" of the Brothers when not on campaign.
This is an extraordinarily sophisticated structure for a medieval institution. Remember that the Matrix Model has only recently gained wide spread popularity in our own time. It is clearly the most complex of the choices available. It is also much more difficult to execute successfully, requiring many more choices to be made. The Templars seem to have adopted this model very early in their history. Their environment would have encouraged this from the start. Their mission was fighting in Outremer, but their resources were scattered throughout the Western Europe and the Near East. This created the need for a matrix structure. The monastic nature of the Order enabled its application. As a church organization, a unifying coherency of authority was implicit. Without a coherent chain of command, a matrix organization would rapidly fracture. Thus, we see the happy convergence of need with ability.
Even a quick review of the Orderıs accomplishments tell us that there is something extraordinary about this group:
Over 170 years of successful military service in the Holy Land
The Only (along with the Hospitallers) major standing army in the Frankish East
Garrison and construction of many of the most important Christian fortifications
Vast property holdings all over Europe
A sophisticated, international banking system
Interests in most Mediterranean and European industries
The analysis discussed above has shown that the Templar organizational structure was highly tuned to their complex and widely dispersed interests. Indeed, when we examine it against the standards of modern organizational theory, we find a sophisticated matrix structure, executed so well as to put many modern corporations to shame. What is more remarkable, however, is that this was achieved during the Middle Ages, when socioeconomic institutions were relatively primitive. Without breaking important interfaces to the secular world, the Templars evolved this very modern structure from a purely feudal origin.
The vision of Founder Hugh de Payens, a monastic military order, was the underlying moral compass. It guided the application of the Templarsı unique tools and abilities. The effectiveness of the secular socioeconomic system was greatly hampered by the fragmentation of authority, the absence of even a rudimentary chain of command, and the acute lack of a consistent cash flow. Hughıs original vision overcame these shortfalls. He and his successors carried the Templars though more than a century and a half of unparalleled success. Their accomplishments are truly remarkable.