The Teutonic Knights

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    Throughout the history of the Deutschritter the German genius is very evident, romantic idealism implemented with utter ruthlessness.
    —Desmond Stewart, The Monks of War

    The Deutscher Orden (Latin, Ordo domus Sanctæ Mariæ Theutonicorum Hierosolymitanorum (OT) or the "Order of the House of St. Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem") is a Roman Catholic religious order, more commonly known as "The Teutonic Knights." Traditionally founded c. 1190 A.D. in Acre as a hospital service for Germans in the Holy Land, by 1198 it imitated the older crusading orders, the Hospitallers and Templars, in acquiring knightly brothers whose original mission was to protect pilgrims, but who soon expanded their activities to include military actions against Muslim enemies of the Crusading states. Like the Templars, whose rule they substantially adopted, they wore as their habit a white mantle with a cross, but a black rather than a red one. (It would be some time before the form was standardized into the „Tatzenkreuz‟ or "Cross patée" version borne today;)

    After the decline of the Crusader States in the early thirteenth century, they sought other fields of operation. Under the most important of the early Grand Masters („Hochmeister‟, literally "High Master"), Hermann von Salza (1209-1239), a Thuringian knight who was a favorite of both Pope Gregory IX and of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, the Order expanded first into the so-called „Burzenland‟ of Transylvania, and then, after their expulsion therefrom by the King of Hungary (that expulsion was never complete, and large populations of Germans remained in Transylvania until after WWII), into the Baltic area at the request of Conrad, Duke of Masovia, to crusade against the heathen Pruzzi (the ancestors of the modern Prussians) -- after Hermann had carefully made sure that all lands conquered by the Order were to be administered by it. This was the foundation of the so-called „Ordensstaat‟ (or "Order-state"). After the fall of Acre in 1291, the Grand Masters moved their residence first to Venice, and then in 1309 to the Marienburg (now Malbork in Poland).

    The Livonian Brothers of the Sword were an originally unrelated crusading group, but were eventually absorbed into the Teutonic Knights as the Livonian Order. Consequently this article (like many others) tends to lump them in together, but an important distinction is that the Livonian Order ruled the northern territory of Latvia-Estonia, whereas the Teutonic Knights controlled Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) -- conquering Lithuania would have united the two.

    As the various Prussian tribes were conquered, the Order settled the land with German colonists, developing a powerful and sophisticated civilization (nominally under the suzerainty of the Holy Roman Empire, but effectively controlled wholly by the representative of the Order in each particular territory—the „Landmeister‟) and gradually integrating the more primitive natives into it. After the conquest of Prussia had been completed, the Order expanded eastward, throughout the 14th and 15th centuries—or at least tried to.

    The very success of the Order brought about its downfall. Having substantially converted the heathen populace of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, they came into jurisdictional conflict with the now converted natives, particularly after 1386, when Jogaila, the leader of the Lithuanians, was baptized and became the Christian King Władysław Jagiello of Poland. Recriminations and open warfare between the Order and the Poles were the result, with the latter gradually gaining the upper hand. With warfare between the two Catholic powers sternly discouraged by The Pope, the Knights turned their attention to the Russian "schismatics" (hence their appearance as stand-ins for the Nazis in Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky). The Polish wars, however, had gravely weakened the Order's ability to carry on sustained campaigns, and the attempt to expand into Russian territories proved generally unsuccessful.

    The worst challenge to the Order, however, came with the Protestant Reformation. In 1525, the Grand Master, Albert of Brandenburg, having converted to Lutheranism, repudiated his vows and seized upon the lands of the Order, doing homage for them to his uncle, King Sigismund I of Poland, and making himself the first Duke of Prussia. Many of the knightly brethren followed suit, whence were derived many of the leading nobles of Protestant Germany in later times. The Grand Mastership thereafter reverted to the Landmaster within the Kingdom of Germany, who became known as the „Hoch-und-Deutschmeister‟ thenceforth.

    Being founded and run by knights and soldiers probably had a great deal to do with the later Kingdom of Prussia becoming a highly militaristic state almost obsessed with duty and loyalty. It also does not come as a big surprise that Prussia was by far the largest and most influential part of Germany when Those Wacky Junkers took over some centuries later.

    From the time of the Reformation to the end of World War I, the Teutonic Order was largely a preserve of the Habsburg monarchy. Notable (and generally temporary) Grand Masters would include the Archduke Maximillian III of Austria, Archduke Maximilian Francis of Austria, and Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen. After the abdication of the last Holy Roman Emperor, many of the holdings of the Order in Germany were seized by Napoleon and his allies, though some were regained after his fall in 1815, particularly in lands ruled by the Habsburgs. After the fall of the Austrian monarchy, Archduke Eugene of Austria-Teschen, in order to preserve the Order, resigned his position as the last secular „Hoch-und-Deutschmeister‟ and reconstituted it as a purely religious body, rededicating it to its original purpose of hospital work. In this form, the Teutonic Order has survived up to the present day, though its crusading days are long over.

    The Teutonic Knights, who were actually an organization dedicated to conversion rather than colonization (even if they did mix the two together), were later appropriated by the most radical of German nationalists as representatives of the fabled „Drang nach Osten‟ ("Drive to the East"). (Note that in some older works, this is actually viewed as a positive characterization.) This has led to the real Teutonic Knights, nasty people as they may have been, like most mediæval warriors, being subjected to a Historical Villain Upgrade or worse, as an example showing that All Germans Are Nazis.

    Tropes Associated With The Teutonic Knights:
    • Big Badass Battle Sequence: The Battle of Grunwald (a.k.a. Battle of Tannenberg) in 1410, in which the Teutonic Knights were defeated by the allied Poles and Lithuanians, was one of the largest battles of the European Middle Ages.
    • Church Militant: Among the trope codifiers.
    • False Friend: The nations opposing the Knights tend to remember them as such. Theirs' and the Knights' versions of the same deals not matching each other and stuff.
    • Feudal Overlord: Of course.
    • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Almost everywhere east of the Oder/Odra river they're known as some variety of the Cross-Bearers.
      • In Russia and some other post-Soviet states, they are also known under the moniker "Dog-knights" (Псы-рыцари). This name springs from Joseph Stalin failing his history lessons and not recognizing a typo when the German word "Rittersbunde" (knight unions) was mistyped as "Rittershunde" (broken: knight dogs). Everyone in the USSR repeated the same mistake after him.
    • Expy: As explained above, they are frequently used, after Eisenstein, as Nazis By Another Name.
      • No Swastikas: They are partially responsible for Eisenkreuz, the substitution.
    • Faceless Goons: Like most later knights, they had concealing headgear, used to invoke Spikes of Villainy by Eisenstein.
    • Knight in Shining Armor: Or not. (Generally more of a Tin Tyrant.)
    • Knight Templar: Possibly a better example than the trope namer.
    • Putting on the Reich: The Nazis stole some of their imagery, such as a stark black-and-white cross, leading to Older Than They Think. Eisenstein also put them in rather World War II-looking helmets.
    • The Sound of Martial Music: After the mastership of the Knights became a Habsburg preserve, a famous regiment, the „Hoch-und-Deutschmeister‟, (famous particularly for its band) was established, and exists to this day as part of the Austrian army. Moreover, the very last secular Hochmeister of the Deutscher Orden, Archduke Eugen von Österreich-Teschen, was a field marshal of the Royal-and-Imperial army
    • Warrior Monk: A rare western example.

    Works Associated With The Teutonic Knights:

    Anime & Manga

    • On Axis Powers Hetalia the character Prussia was the Teutonic Order before becoming Brandenburg-Prussia. At least one strip shows him and several Teutonic Knights in battle with Poland. He "grows up" having gained Baltic territory—his child-form interacts with Hungary and gallivants around the Burzenland.
    • First Squad borrows its ghostly German knights from Alexander Nevsky, so there's probably some Teutonic influence in there.

    Comic Books



    • Alexander Nevsky is a film by Sergei Eisenstein (which ironically is just the sort of surname you'd expect one of the Knights to have). Wildly historically inaccurate, especially since it was created in Russia during the Stalinist era, it is also full of Soviet propaganda (The Knights' helmets even resemble those of 20th century German soldiers). It nevertheless has dominated the contemporary conception of the Teutonic Order, and is a damn fine film.
    • The 1960 film adaptation of Henryk Sienkiewicz's Krzyżacy. (See Literature, below.)



    • The Russian heavy metal band Ariya has a song about the Battle of Lake Peipus, called The Ballad of the Ancient Russian Warrior. The song describes the events in a quite supernatural light, with weeping icons, Hell promising help to the Grand Master, and the titular warrior still lingering on the lake shores as a ghost.

    Tabletop Games

    • Warhammer: Inner Circle Knights of the Empire. They even sport the same insignia - black cross on white.
    • In Warhammer 40,000 the Black Templars are some kind of futuristic Teutonic Order. They are dressed in black and white with crosses of the same color. They love to fight with Swords, have sometimes altered, more mediæval looking helmets and are very fanatic. One of their High Marshals is called "Sigismund" and they've got other German names like "Gervhart" or "Helbrecht." Even among the other Space Marines they're the best example of Warrior Monks.
    • Pan Oceania has recreated this and other knightly orders as elite crack teams. The Teutonic Order is known for being particularly brutal close up, even in a game which focuses on ranged combat.

    Video Games

    • In the Kingdoms expansion of Medieval 2: Total War, the Teutonic Order is a full-fledged faction in one of the campaigns. They definitely follow Eisenstein's portrayal of the Order, with their most powerful units, the Ritterbrüder, wearing scary looking armor and their sole presence frightening nearby enemy units.
    • The Teutons are a playable faction in Age of Empires II. Teutonic Knights are their faction-specific unit.
      • And they kick ass in melee combat. They'll get destroyed by archers, though.
    • Assassin's Creed has them—even though all of the major targets, Muslim and Christian, are actually secret Templars. They can be found harassing street people in German, as opposed to the French spouted by Hospitallers.
    • The Teutonic Order appears in Crusader Kings when the player starts fighting the Baltic pagans, but isn't a playable nation.
    • It also appears in Europa Universalis, in which it is a playable nation and one of the more popular. The Livonian brothers are vassals and allies of the Teutonic Order.
      • It's also possible that if you play long enough, the option becomes available to become Prussia.
    • Medic's Polycount Set in Team Fortress 2 makes him into one of these, comprised of a helmet, a Healing Shiv crossbow, and a bonesaw with a Taunt effect similar to the Buff Banner. It's either a play on his German heritage and/or a reference to his Knight in Sour Armor attitude towards his job.