How many Templars were there?

Plate_13_DonFelipes_tomb

Four Templar knights on the tomb of Don Felipe in the former Templar church of Santa Maria la Blanca de Villasirga, at Villacazar de Sirga (Palencia, Castile, Spain). Photo: Juan Fuguet Sans.

This is one of those questions that people interested in the Templars often ask. But so far as we know the Templars did not keep membership lists; certainly none have survived. We don’t even know how many Templars there were at any one time. Working from figures given by Archbishop William of Tyre and by the Templar official Terricus (Thierry) after the Order’s heavy losses in the East in 1187, it appears that there were around 300 Templar knights in the kingdom of Jerusalem in the 1180s. Malcolm Barber has estimated that there were around 1,000 sergeant-brothers in addition to the 300 knight-brothers.[i]

Is this a reasonable figure? As a comparison: there were reported to be eighty-three Templar knight-brothers and thirty-five sergeant-brothers on Cyprus just before the arrest of the Templars on Cyprus in May 1308. [ii] So from perhaps 1,300 Templars in the East in 1187 the number had fallen to 118 in 1308 — less than a tenth! The Templars had certainly suffered enormous losses when Acre fell to the Mamluks in 1291 and again when the Mamluks conquered the island of Ruad (Arwad) in 1302, but this decrease of over 90% suggests that the estimated figure of 1,300 Templars in the East in the 1180s is too large. Perhaps there were only 300 brothers in total, in the whole of the East; that would mean that numbers  more than halved between the 1180s and the early fourteenth century, but that would be reasonable after the losses of 1291-1302.

That is only the East: how many Templars were there overall?

In 1992 Malcolm Barber estimated that there were 7,000 Templars in total at the time of the brothers’ arrests in 1307-8. But Anne Gilmour-Bryson has gone through all the surviving testimonies and calculated that between 1307 and 1311 only around 935 Templars testified.[iii]

Some readers assume that this means that a lot of Templars escaped! But there’s a simpler explanation — that estimate of 7,000 is far too large. Malcolm assumed that every known Templar house had two or three brothers in it in 1307, but as scholars work through the inventories and the other records of the trial it now appears that many had no resident brothers at all.

So how many Templars were there in 1307? To judge from Britain and Ireland – where there were around 144 Templars at the time of the arrests but only 108 (that is, 75% of the total) testified – some 25% of Templars avoided interrogation because they were too ill, because they died, or because they evaded arrest.[iv] Roger Sève and Anne-Marie Chagny-Sève calculated that there were ninety-one Templars in the diocese of Clermont, in 1307, of whom sixty-five were interrogated; and ninety-seven Templars in the diocese of Limoges, of whom sixty-eight were interrogated — that is, around 30% were not interrogated.[v] In Cyprus seventy-six Templars testified: 64% of the 118 in Cyprus in May 1308.[vi] If we apply the percentage of interrogations versus actual Templars in Britain and Ireland to Gilmour-Bryson’s figure for testimonies, we get a total of only 1,246 Templars in 1307. The percentage of interrogations to actual Templars in Clermont diocese would give us 1,309 Templars; ditto in Limoges diocese 1,334 Templars; the percentage for Cyprus would give us 1,452 Templars. At the time of writing I don’t have comparable figures for the other provinces, but so far this suggests that there were no more than 1,500 Templars in Europe and Cyprus in 1307.

[i] Barber, The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple (Cambridge: CUP, 1994), pp. 93-4; Barber, ‘Supplying the Crusader States: the role of the Templars’, in The Horns of Hattin. Proceedings of the 2nd Conference of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East: Jerusalem and Haifa 2-6 July 1987, ed. Benjamin Z. Kedar (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1992), pp. 314-326: at p. 315.

[ii] ‘Chronique d’Amadi’ in Chroniques d’Amadi et de Strambaldi, ed. René de Mas Latrie (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1891), vol. 1, p. 286; Nicholas Coureas and Peter Edbury, The Chronicle of Amadi translated from the Italian (Nicosia: Cyprus Research Centre, 2015), p. 268 [570].

[iii] Barber, ‘Supplying the Crusader States’ (1992), p. 319; Anne Gilmour-Bryson, The Trial of the Templars in Cyprus: A Complete Edition (Leiden: Brill, 1998), p. 9.

[iv] Helen Nicholson, Knights Templar on Trial (Stroud: History Press, 2009), p. 49; Proceedings Against the Templars in the British Isles, ed. and trans. Helen Nicholson (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011),  vol. 2, pp. xix, xxxix.

[v] Roger Sève, and Anne-Marie Chagny-Sève, eds, Le Procès des Templiers d’Auvergne, 1309–1311: Edition de l’interrogatoire de juin 1309 (Paris: Editions du Comité des Travaux historiques et scientifiques, 1986), p. 31; p. 32.

[vi] Gilmour-Bryson, Trial of the Templars in Cyprus (1998), pp. 448-50.

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About gawainsmum

I'm an academic researching on the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller, the crusades, religion and the role of women in warfare and in religious life in medieval Europe. This blog will feature developments in my research as it progresses.
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5 Responses to How many Templars were there?

  1. Pingback: The maths of the case - knights templars estates - Blogs - Cardiff University

  2. Roger the Scribe says:

    To undertake the protection of pilgrims across the Holy Land, supply warriors to fight alongside crusaders and look after their banks, and not to mention excavating in Jerusalem, the number must be large. What we must not forget, the Knights Templar were present in many other countries across Europe.

    • gawainsmum says:

      Of course, my calculations already take into account the Templars across Europe. What I didn’t mention in my blog was that the Templars employed mercenaries — like all generals at that time. It is clear from a letter sent in 1260 from Thomas Bérard, Master of the Templar, to Amadeus, grand commander of England, that the Templars were relying on mercenaries to defend their fortresses in the East. (The letter has been translated by Keith Bate in The Templars, Selected Sources translated and annotated by Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), pp. 101-5, but regrettably he translated the word stipenarii, which means ‘mercenaries’, as ‘labourers’, so the point isn’t clear.)

      • Roger the Scribe says:

        Never thought the Templars would use mercenaries… thanks for that info, but I shouldn’t have been that surprised they appear to have broken many of their rules through the ages, based on who is the grand master at the time.

  3. gawainsmum says:

    Did the Templars have a rule against employing mercenaries? The Latin rule (clause 30 or 31, depending on the published edition) refers to squires who serve ‘freely and for charity’ (gratis et caritative), and who should be treated more respectfully for that reason — implying that there are also squires who don’t work for free, i.e., mercenaries.

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