Teutonic Order

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Oct 3, 2022

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The Teutonic Order, also known as the Teutonic Order, Teutonic Knights or Teutonic Order, is a Roman Catholic religious order. With the Order of Malta, it is in the (legal) succession of the knightly orders from the time of the Crusades. The members of the Order have been regular canons since the reform of the Order's rule in 1929. The order has about 1000 members (as of 2018), including 100 priests and 200 religious sisters, who devote themselves mainly to charitable tasks. Today, the headquarters are located in Vienna.

The full name is Order of the Brothers of the German Hospital of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, Latin Ordo fratrum domus hospitalis Sanctae Mariae Teutonicorum Ierosolimitanorum. From the Latin abbreviation Ordo Theutonicorum or Ordo Teutonicus the abbreviation OT is derived.

The origins of the Order lie in a field hospital of Bremen and Lübeck merchants during the Third Crusade around 1190 in the Holy Land during the siege of the city of Acre. Pope Innocent III confirmed the transformation of the hospital community into a knightly order on February 19, 1199, and the granting of the Knights of St. John and the Knights Templar to the friars of the German House of St. Mary in Jerusalem. After the elevation of the Spitalgemeinschaft to a spiritual order of knighthood, the members of the originally charitable community became involved during the 13th century in the Holy Roman Empire, the Holy Land, the Mediterranean region as well as in Transylvania and participated in the German colonization of the East. This led to a number of settlements with more or less long existence. A central role was played from the end of the 13th century by the Teutonic Order state founded in the Baltic. At the end of the 14th century, it covered an area of about 200,000 square kilometers.

Due to the heavy military defeat at Tannenberg in the summer of 1410 against the Polish-Lithuanian Union as well as a protracted conflict with the Prussian estates in the middle of the 15th century, the decline of both the Order and its polity, which began around 1400, accelerated. As a result of the secularization of the remaining state of the Order in the course of the Reformation in 1525 and its transformation into a secular duchy, the Order no longer exercised any significant influence in Prussia and after 1561 in Livonia. However, it continued to exist in the Holy Roman Empire with considerable landholdings, especially in southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

After the loss of territories on the left bank of the Rhine in the late 18th century as a result of the Coalition Wars and after secularization in the Rhine Confederation states at the beginning of the 19th century, only the possessions in the Austrian Empire remained. With the disintegration of the Habsburg Danube Monarchy and the Austrian Law on the Abolition of the Nobility after the First World War of April 1919, the knightly component in the structure of the Order was lost in addition to the loss of considerable possessions. Since 1929, the Order has been led by religious priests and is thus run according to canon law in the form of a clerical order.

In the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, the reception of the history of the Teutonic Order was mostly concerned only with the presence of the Order in the Baltic States - the Teutonic Order state was equated with the Order itself. Research and interpretation of the Order's history were extremely different in Germany, Poland and Russia, strongly national or even nationalistic. A methodical reappraisal of the history and structures of the Order did not begin internationally until after 1945.

Foundation and beginnings in the Holy Land and Europe

After the First Crusade led to the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, the first chivalric religious communities were established in the four Crusader states (called Outremer in their entirety). Originally, they provided medical and logistical support to Christian pilgrims visiting the biblical sites. To these tasks were soon added the protection and escort of the faithful in the militarily always embattled country. In 1099, the French-dominated Order of St. John was formed, and after 1119 the Order of the Knights Templar, which was more oriented toward military aspects.

As a result of the crushing defeat of the Crusaders in 1187 at the Battle of Hattin, the capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was lost to Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. As a result, the Third Crusade began in 1189. From remaining bases on the coast, the Crusaders attempted to retake Jerusalem. The first target was the port city of Acre.

During the siege of Acre (1189-1191), the crusaders' camp on the Toron plateau (not to be confused with the later castle of the same name), which was largely blocked by Muslim troops, was in a catastrophic hygienic condition. Crusaders from Bremen and Lübeck who had arrived by sea therefore founded a field hospital there. According to legend, the sail of a cog stretched over the sick was the first hospital of the Germans.

The well-established hospital continued to exist after the conquest of Acre. The brothers serving there adopted the charitable rules of the Knights of St. John and named the institution "St. Mary's Hospital of the Germans in Jerusalem" - in memory of a hospital that is said to have existed in Jerusalem until 1187. In the Holy City, after the expected victory over the Muslims, the main house of the order was also to be built.

The hospital gained economic importance through donations, especially from Henry of Champagne. In addition, the order was given new military tasks. Emperor Henry VI finally obtained the official recognition of the hospital by Pope Clement III on February 6, 1191.

In March 1198, during the German Crusade, the community of the former nurses was raised to the status of a knightly order at the instigation of Wolfger von Erla and Konrad von Querfurt, following the example of the Knights Templar and the Knights of St. John. Recognition as a knightly order was granted by Pope Innocent III on February 19, 1199, and the first Grand Master was Heinrich Walpot von Bassenheim. After the death of Henry VI (1197) and the unsuccessful end of the crusade, which was primarily supported by the German feudal nobility, an order of knights shaped by the German nobility was to serve as a political ally of the future ruler in the empire through family relations and feudal dependencies. Until then, the Staufer and Guelph power groups fighting over the vacant imperial throne in Outremer had no clerical institution representing their interests. German interests in the national sense, however, were unknown in the Holy Roman Empire.

The members of the Order were bound by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Voting rights in the General Chapter, on the other hand, were granted only to brother knights and priests. Like all knightly orders of the Middle Ages, the Teutonic Order initially consisted of:

In addition to military tasks, nursing and care of the poor initially remained important focal points of the order's activities. As a result of donations and inheritances, the knights of the order received considerable landed property and numerous hospitals. The latter were continued to be run by priests and half-brothers of the order. The extensive willingness to donate can be explained by the world view of the early 13th century, which was characterized by "fear for the salvation of souls" as well as a spiritual "end-time mood". Through the endowments in favor of the order, people tried to assure their own salvation.

In 1221, through a papal general privilege, the Order succeeded in obtaining its full exemption from the diocesan authority of the bishops. The income increased due to the granting of the right to comprehensive collection also in parishes not assigned to the Order. In return for appropriate remuneration (legate), persons subject to ban or interdict were also allowed to be buried in "consecrated earth" in the cemeteries of the order's churches, which would otherwise have been denied to them. The Order was ecclesiastically independent of the Pope and thus on a par with the Knights of St. John and the Knights Templar. On the part of these communities, the Teutonic Order was viewed with increasing skepticism, not least because of its acquisitions. The Templars claimed the White Mantle for themselves and even lodged an official protest with Pope Innocent III in 1210. It was not until 1220 that Pope Honorius III finally confirmed that the Teutonic Knights could wear the disputed mantle. Meanwhile, the Templars remained bitter rivals of the Teutonic Order. A formal war broke out in Palestine. In 1241, the Templars drove the Teutonic Lords out of almost all their possessions and no longer tolerated even their clergy in the churches.

Already at the end of the 12th century, the Order received its first possessions in Europe. In 1197, a hospital of the order was mentioned for the first time in Barletta in southern Italy. The first settlement on the territory of the Holy Roman Empire north of the Alps was a hospital in Halle around 1200. Friars founded St. Kunigunden on a site west of the city that had been donated to them. The hospital was named after the canonized Empress Kunigunde, the wife of Henry II. The scattered territorial possessions soon became so extensive that as early as 1218 a land commander had to be appointed for Germany. In the following decades, the Order spread throughout the entire territory of the Empire, favored by numerous foundations and the accession of prominent and wealthy nobles.

The Teutonic Order supported 1228

Contingents of the Order's knights supported the Central European dominions affected by the attack of the Mongol armies under Batu Khan in 1241. In the lost battle of Liegnitz, for example, the entire contingent of the Order deployed for the defense of Silesia was wiped out.

Development in Europe and Palestine until the end of the 13th century

In the Holy Land, the Order succeeded in acquiring not only a share in the port customs in Acre, but also, through the donation of Otto von Botenlauben, the former dominion of Joscelin III of Edessa in the environs of the city (1220). In addition, the castle of Montfort (1220), the dominions of Toron (1229) and Schuf (1257) and the castle of Toron in the dominion of Banyas (1261) were acquired.

Nevertheless, the end of the Crusaders' rule in the Holy Land was in sight. Jerusalem, acquired peacefully by Emperor Frederick II in 1229, finally fell in 1244. After the victory of the Egyptian Mamluks over the Mongol armies of the Ilkhanate, which until then had been considered invincible, in the battle of ʿAin Jālūt in 1260, Mamluk forces increasingly put the bastions of the crusaders under pressure. The remaining fortresses of the knightly orders were systematically conquered in the following decades. With the fall of Acre in 1291, the end of the "armed marches to the grave (of Christ)" was finally in sight. A significant contingent of Teutonic Knights took part in the final battle at Acre. It was led by the Grand Master Burchard von Schwanden until his abrupt resignation, then by the War Commander Heinrich von Bouland.

The final loss of Acre in 1291 marked the end of the Teutonic Order's military involvement in the Holy Land. Unlike the multinationally oriented Knights of St. John and Knights Templar, the presence of the Teutonic Order was subsequently concentrated within the borders of the Empire and in the newly acquired bases in Prussia. However, the headquarters of the Grand Master was still located in Venice, an important port for the passage to the Holy Land, until 1309, due to the temporarily persisting hope for a reconquest of the Holy Land.

In the Kingdom of Sicily and in the Levant, a number of religious houses were founded in the first quarter of the 13th century. Especially in the Kingdom of Sicily, after 1222, as part of the preparations for the Crusade of Frederick II, a large number of smaller houses of the Order were founded, the most important of which were the already older commandery in Barletta and the houses at Palermo and Brindisi. In Greece, on the west coast of the Peloponnese, there were also isolated branches, which primarily served to supply pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land and on their way back.

In view of the fragmented possessions, Grand Master Hermann von Salza seems to have striven early on to establish a coherent territory dominated by the Teutonic Order. Against this background, it is understandable that he willingly accepted a request for help from the Kingdom of Hungary in 1211, at a time when the available forces of the Order were actually tied up for the purpose of liberating the tomb in Outremer. Andrew II of Hungary offered the Order, through war services against the Cumans, a birthright in Burzenland Important ecclesiastical duties, including the right to tithe, the king also conceded to the Order. Moreover, the Order was allowed to mint coins and to fortify its castles with stones. The latter was considered a special privilege of the king in Hungary.

However, Hungary's relations with the Teutonic Order soon began to deteriorate. Anti-German resentment grew in the country, which also led to the death of Gertrude of Andechs in 1213. The queen was the German-born wife of Andrew II. In 1223, Pope Honorius III granted the Order an exemption privilege in the form of a bull, which explicitly referred to Burzenland. Its implementation would have de facto abolished the last legislative ties of Hungary to the territory it claimed. The Hungarian nobility therefore massively urged the king to resist the order.

In 1224, on the advice of Hermann of Salza, the pope attempted to administratively enforce the privilege documented in the previous year. For this purpose, he placed the Burzenland under the protection of the Apostolic See. This was to provide legal support to the Teutonic Order, which was directly subordinate to the Pope, in its land seizure and in the flare-up of hostilities with the Hungarians. Andrew II now intervened militarily. The numerically superior Hungarian army besieged and conquered the few castles of the Order.

The attempt of the Teutonic Order to establish an autonomous dominion outside the Hungarian kingdom, invoking the granted homeland right and with the active support of the Pope, ended in 1225 with the expulsion of the Order and the destruction of its castles.

One of the most important charitable institutions taken over by the order was the hospital founded by the landgravine Elisabeth of Thuringia in Marburg. It was continued and expanded by the Order after her death in 1231. With the canonization of Elisabeth in 1235, this hospital and its operators acquired a special spiritual significance. The resulting reputation for the order increased even more when the saint was reburied in the spring of 1236 with the personal participation of Emperor Frederick II.

In the first half of the 13th century, the individual commends were combined into regionally structured bailiwicks. Thus, the bailiwick of Saxony was created around 1214, the bailiwick of Thuringia before 1221, the bailiwick of Bohemia and Moravia in 1222, the Teutonic Order bailiwick of Alden Biesen before 1228, and the bailiwick of Marburg in 1237. Later followed Lorraine (1246), Coblenz (1256), Franconia (1268), Westphalia (1287). These possessions, like the bailiwicks of Austria and Swabia-Alsace-Burgundy, were subject to the Deutschmeister. In northern Germany, too, there were isolated commends near the Baltic ports of Lübeck and Wismar, which were directly subordinate to the Landmeister in Livonia. These served primarily for the logistical handling of armed pilgrimages to the Baltic States. There the order developed its own state system.

The State of the Teutonic Order

The history of the Order between 1230 and 1525 is closely linked with the fate of the Teutonic Order state, which later became the Duchy of Prussia, Latvia and Estonia.

A second attempt at land acquisition was successful in a region that offered a far-reaching perspective to the Order of Knights' missionary command, the Baltic States. Already in 1224, Emperor Frederick II had placed the pagan inhabitants of the Prussian land east of the Vistula and the neighboring areas under the direct control of the church and the empire as imperial freemen in Catania. As papal legate for Livonia and Prussia, William of Modena confirmed this step in the same year.

In 1226, the Polish duke of the Piasts, Conrad I of Mazovia, called the Teutonic Order to his aid in his fight against the Pruzes for the Kulmerland. After the unfortunate experiences with Hungary, this time the Teutonic Order secured itself legally. It got a guarantee from Emperor Frederick II with the Golden Bull of Rimini and from Pope Gregory IX with the Bull of Rieti that after the subjugation and missionization of the Baltic, i.e. the Pruzes, the conquered land would fall to the Order. At his insistence, the Order also received the assurance that, as sovereign of this territory, it would be subject only to the Pope, but not to any secular feudal lord. In 1230, after a long hesitation, Conrad I of Mazovia ceded the Kulmerland to the Order "in perpetuity" in the Treaty of Kruschwitz. The Teutonic Order considered this treaty as an instrument for the creation of an independent dominion in Prussia. Its wording and authenticity have been questioned by some historians.

In 1231, Landmeister Hermann von Balk crossed the Vistula with seven knights of the Order and about 700 men. He built a first castle, Thorn, in Kulmerland in the same year. From here the Teutonic Order began the gradual conquest of the territory north of the Vistula. The conquest was accompanied by purposeful settlement, whereby the settlements founded by the Order were mostly granted the right documented in the Kulmer Handfeste. The Order was supported in the first years by troops of Conrad of Mazovia and the other Polish constituent princes and by crusader armies from the Empire and many countries of Western Europe. Pope Gregory IX granted the participants in the war campaign against the Prussians the extensive forgiveness of sins and other promises of salvation, which were customary for a crusade to the Holy Land.

The remaining knights of the Order of the Brothers of Dobrin (fratribus militiae Christi in Prussia) were incorporated into the Teutonic Order in 1234. The Order had been founded in 1228 on the initiative of Conrad to protect the Mazovian heartland, but could not prevail militarily against the Prussians.

Founded in Riga in 1202, the Order of the Brothers of the Sword (regalia: white cloak with red cross) suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Schaulen in 1236 against Shamaite Lithuanians and Semigallers. As a result, Hermann of Salza personally negotiated with the Curia the Union of Viterbo, as a result of which the Teutonic Order and the Order of the Brothers of the Sword were united. Thus, together with the Livonian commends, a second heartland was acquired, the so-called Mastery of Livonia, where, following the example of Prussia, the already existing system of castles (so-called fortified houses) was expanded.

The sustained eastward expansion of the Livonian Union ended at the Narva River. After Pskov was temporarily occupied in 1240, there were constant battles between knights of the Livonian branch of the Order and followers of the Livonian bishops and Russian detachments. These culminated in April 1242 in the battle on the frozen Lake Peipus (also known as the Battle of Ice), the exact course and extent of which is disputed among historians. A Russian contingent under Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod, defeated here a larger army division under Hermann I of Buxthoeven, Bishop of Dorpat. In the summer of 1242 a peace treaty was concluded. It de facto fixed the respective spheres of influence for more than 150 years.

The subjugation of the Pruz settlement area was accompanied by Christianization and German settlement of the land. This undertaking occupied the Order for more than 50 years and, after serious setbacks, such as various revolts of the Pruzes, was completed only in 1285. The original legitimizing objective of the so-called pagan mission was maintained even after the missionization of Prussia.

The Order created for itself a dominion whose organizational structures and modernity in economic thinking in the Empire were equaled at best by Nuremberg and in many respects were reminiscent of the most advanced state systems in Upper Italy. He was already a significant economic factor in his nominal capacity as sovereign and, moreover, drew greater profit from the land through his efficient structures determined by economic planning and rationality. He became the only non-metropolitan member of the Hanseatic League and maintained a branch in Lübeck with the court of the Teutonic Order. As a resource-rich riparian of the Baltic economic area, which was flourishing due to the Hanseatic League of Cities, this opened up new trading opportunities and expanded scope for action.

The Order State was one of the most modern and prosperous polities in economic and administrative terms, when compared to the territorial states of the metropolitan area. Far-reaching innovations in agriculture as well as pragmatic innovations in the field of craft production in combination with efficient administration and a highly developed monetary economy characterize an organizational structure that was superior to the traditional feudal system. The expansion of the transport infrastructure, which was accelerated after 1282, and the perfection of the communications system had a beneficial effect.

The Grand Master had his headquarters in Acre until 1291, when this last crusader base was lost. Conrad of Feuchtwangen therefore resided in Venice, traditionally an important port for embarkation to Outremer. In 1309, Grand Master Siegfried von Feuchtwangen moved his seat to Marienburg on the Nogat River. Prussia had thus become the center of the Order. During this period, the Knights Templar were persecuted by King Philip IV of France, supported by the compliant Pope Clement V. The Orders of Knighthood were the focus of general criticism in the first decade of the 14th century due to the loss of the Holy Land. Thus, it seemed advisable to move the seat of the Grand Master to the center of their own territorial power base.

The seizure of Gdansk and Pomerania in 1308 took place through military action against Polish duchies and on the basis of the Treaty of Soldin with the Margraviate of Brandenburg. In Poland, not least because of these events, resentment grew against the Order and also against Germans residing in Poland. In 1312 the rebellion of the bailiff Albert was put down in Krakow and the Germans were expelled. In the following years, Władysław I Ellenlang was able to consolidate the territorially fragmented Poland of the Piast period as the Kingdom of Poland. Archbishop Jakub Świnka of Gniezno in particular pursued a policy of separation from the Germans. The conflicts between the Order and local Polish rulers, which arose as a result of the loss of Pomerania and Gdansk, as well as a kingdom that was politically weak for the time being, subsequently developed into a permanent feud. Even the peace treaty of Kalisz, in which Poland officially renounced Pomerelia and Gdansk in 1343, did not bring any long-term relief between the Order and Poland.

With Lithuania in the southeast, moreover, gradually rose a Grand Duchy against which the Order was engaged in constant warfare for ideological and territorial reasons. The Lithuanian Wars of the Teutonic Order lasted for more than a century, from 1303 to 1410. Since this eastern grand principality vehemently rejected baptism, the Lithuanians were officially considered pagans. The constant emphasis on the mission of the pagans only insufficiently concealed the territorial interests of the Order, especially in Schamaiten (Lower Lithuania). Through continuous support of noble Prussians, the war was carried to Lithuania through many smaller campaigns. The Grand Princes of Lithuania, for their part, proceeded in the same way, repeatedly advancing into Prussian and Livonian territory. The climax of the wars was the Battle of Rudau in 1370, when an army of the Order under the command of Grand Master Winrich of Kniprode and the Order's marshal defeated a Lithuanian force north of Königsberg. Despite this, Lithuania, which extended far to the east, could never be permanently defeated. The cause of this successful resistance is considered to be the numerical strength of the Lithuanians in comparison with other ethnic groups subjugated by the Order, such as the Prussians, the Boers and the Estonians, as well as their effective political organization.

Grand Master Winrich von Kniprode led the Order State and thus the Order to its greatest flowering. A consolidated economy and sustained military successes against Lithuania proved to be the key to success. The number of knight-brothers remained nevertheless small, around 1410 about 1400 belonged to this group, around the middle of the 15th century only 780 religious. Under Konrad von Jungingen, the greatest expansion of the Order was achieved with the conquest of Gotland, the peaceful acquisition of Neumark and Samaiten. The conquest of Gotland in 1398 was intended to crush the Vitalien brothers encamped there. It meant liberation from piracy, which had become a plague, within the main Hanseatic routes on the eastern Baltic Sea. The Order subsequently occupied Gotland militarily as a bargaining chip. It was not until 1408 that a settlement was reached with the Kingdom of Denmark, which was also interested in possession of the island. Margarethe I of Denmark paid 9000 Nobel, about 63 kilograms of gold. The settlement, however, came about under the aspect of the looming escalation of the conflict with the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

In 1386, the marriage of Grand Duke Jogaila to Queen Hedwig of Poland had united the two main opponents of the Order. At the beginning of August 1409, the Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen sent his opponents the "Feud Letters", declaring war.

On July 15, 1410, a united Polish-Lithuanian force defeated the army of the Order in the Battle of Tannenberg, which was supplemented by Prussian troops, guest knights from many parts of Western Europe and mercenary units. The Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen was also killed, along with almost all of the Order's commanders and many of its knights.

The core of its Prussian territories, including Marienburg, was preserved by the order through the efforts of the commander and later grand master Heinrich von Plauen, and was maintained in the First Peace of Thorn of 1411. This peace treaty as well as its amendment in the Peace of Melnosee in 1422 also ended the war campaigns of the Order's forces against Lithuania and against the later personal union Poland-Lithuania, which had been carried out offensively for more than a hundred years and had been weakened permanently at Tannenberg. However, the Peace of Thorn required the payment of high tributes in the amount of 100,000 shocks of Bohemian groschen, among other things for the ransom of prisoners. The contributions led to the introduction of a special tax, the so-called Schoss, which contributed to a hitherto unusually high tax burden on the Prussian estates.

Already towards the end of the 14th century, a destructive development for the Order and its state became apparent. While European chivalry was decaying in the late Middle Ages, the "fight for the cross" was increasingly glorified and stood for an ideal that hardly held up in the reality of the time.

The nobility increasingly reduced the knightly orders to a secure supply base for descendants not entitled to inherit. Accordingly, the motivation of the knighthood declined. Everyday tasks in the administration of the Teutonic Order were now perceived as burdensome duties. The conservative liturgy of the order contributed to this view. The daily routine in peacetime was meticulously regulated. In contrast, the content of a spiritual order of knights with missionary character had largely outlived its usefulness. Moreover, at the instigation of the King of Poland at the Council of Constance (1414-1418), the Order was formally prohibited from further missionary activity in the now officially Christian Lithuania.

In the crisis following the heavy defeat of 1410, the grievances widened. Internal disputes weakened both the Order itself and, subsequently, the Order's state. Landsmannschaft groups fought for influence in the Order, the Teutonic Master strove for independence from the Grand Master. The cities of Prussia and the Kulm landed gentry, united in the Lizard League, demanded co-determination due to the greatly increased taxation to pay for the war costs and the contributions to be paid to Poland-Lithuania, which, however, were not granted to them. Thus, in 1440, they joined together in the Prussian League. Grand Master Ludwig von Erlichshausen aggravated the conflict by his demands to the Estates. Emperor Frederick III sided with the Order at the end of 1453. On the occasion of the marriage of King Casimir IV of Poland with Elisabeth of Habsburg, the Prussian Confederation entered into a protective alliance with Poland at the beginning of 1454 and openly rebelled against the Order's rule.

As a result, the Thirteen Years' War broke out, characterized by sieges and raids, but hardly by open field battles. As early as September 1454, Polish troops were defeated at the Battle of Konitz and subsequently provided only marginal support to the Prussian uprising. Eventually, a stalemate was reached due to general exhaustion. The Order could no longer pay its mercenaries and for this reason even had to abandon its main residence, Marienburg Castle. The castle was pledged to the unpaid mercenaries, who immediately sold it to the King of Poland. In the end, the higher financial power of the rebellious cities, which paid all war expenses themselves, including especially Gdansk, tipped the scales.

In the Second Peace of Thorn in 1466, the Order now also lost Pomerelia, Kulmerland, Warmia and Marienburg. This treaty was not recognized by the emperor or the pope. However, the Order as a whole had to recognize the Polish feudal sovereignty, which from then on every newly appointed Grand Master tried to avoid by delaying or even not taking the feudal oath. A large part of the Prussian cities and territories in the west were able to break away from the Order's rule as a result of the Second Treaty of Thorn.

To maintain the territorially shrunken state of the Order, subsidies from the bailiwicks in the Holy Roman Empire were now needed, which put many of the commends there in a difficult financial situation. German Master Ulrich von Lentersheim tried to relieve himself of these obligations, requested support from the Emperor on his own authority and for this purpose placed himself under the feudal sovereignty of Maximilian I in 1494. However, this action contradicted the treaties of Kujawisch Brest and Thorn with Poland, which resulted in protests from the Prussian branch of the Order and especially from the Kingdom of Poland.

The Grand Master Albrecht I of Brandenburg-Ansbach tried unsuccessfully to gain independence from the Polish crown in the so-called Equestrian War (1519-1521). In the hope of thereby obtaining support from the Holy Roman Empire, he subordinated the Prussian territory of the Order to the fiefdom of the Empire in 1524 and undertook a journey to the Empire himself.

Since these efforts were also unsuccessful, he made a fundamental political about-face: On the advice of Martin Luther, he decided to secularize the state of the Order, to give up the office of Grand Master and to transform Prussia into a secular duchy. He thus distanced himself from the Empire and gained support for his plan to secularize the Order's state from the King of Poland, whom he had previously opposed as Grand Master. Moreover, through his mother Sofia a nephew of the Polish king, Albrecht took the oath of fealty to King Sigismund I of Poland and was enfeoffed by him with the hereditary dukedom in Prussia ("in" and not "of" Prussia, because the western part of Prussia was directly under the patronage of the King of Poland). The former Grand Master resided in Königsberg as Duke Albrecht I from May 9, 1525.

The institutions of the Holy Roman Empire did not recognize the secular Duchy of Prussia, but formally appointed administrators for Prussia until the end of the 17th century.

The branch of the Order in the Empire did not come to terms with the transformation of "its" Order state of Prussia into a secular duchy. On December 16, 1526, a hastily convened general chapter installed the former Deutschmeister Walther von Cronberg as the new Grand Master. In 1527, he received from the emperor the enfeoffment with the regalia and the right to call himself administrator of the Grand Mastership and thus to maintain the claim to ownership of Prussia.

It was not until 1530 that an imperial decree allowed Cronberg to call himself Hochmeister. This name later became the abbreviated title of Hoch- und Deutschmeister. At the same time, Cronberg was proclaimed administrator of Prussia and enfeoffed with the Prussian lands by Emperor Charles V at the Imperial Diet in Augsburg in 1530.

Cronberg then sued his former Grand Master, Duke Albrecht, before the Imperial Chamber Court. The trial ended in 1531 with the imposition of the imperial imperial oath against Duke Albrecht and the instruction to Albrecht and the Prussian Confederation to restore the Order's ancestral rights in Prussia. In Prussia, which was outside the empire, these steps had no effect. It received a Lutheran regional church. Warmia, on the other hand, which had been withdrawn from the sovereignty of the Order since 1466, remained an ecclesiastical territory as a prince-bishopric and became the starting point of the Counter-Reformation in Poland.

In 1561 the possessions of the Livonian branch of the Order, i.e. Courland and Semgall, were transformed into a secular duchy under the former Landmeister, Duke Gotthard von Kettler. Livonia proper came directly to Lithuania and formed a kind of condominium of the two parts of the state in the later state of Poland-Lithuania. The duchies of Prussia, Livonia, Courland and Semgall were now under Polish feudal sovereignty.

In the face of the Russian threat and represented by their knighthoods, northern Estonia with Reval (Tallinn) and the island of Ösel (Saaremaa) submitted to Danish and Swedish sovereignty, respectively. In 1629, most of Livonia became part of Sweden as a result of Gustav II Adolf's conquests; only southeastern Livonia (Lettgallen) around Dünaburg (Daugavpils) remained Polish and became the Voivodeship of Livonia, also called "Polish Livonia".

After the end of the Great Northern War, Livonia, together with Riga and Estonia, was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1721 in the form of the so-called Baltic Sea governorates. Latgalia joined the Russian Empire in 1772, and Courland and Semgallia only in 1795 in the course of the Polish partitions.

The Order in the Empire

After 1525, the sphere of activity of the Teutonic Order, apart from the scattered possessions in Livonia, was limited to its possessions in the Holy Roman Empire. Since the Reformation, the Order was triconfessional; Catholic, Lutheran (Saxony, Thuringia) and mixed (Hesse) bailiwicks existed. After the loss of its Prussian possessions, the Order succeeded in external and internal consolidation under Walther von Cronberg. The Cronberg Constitution, the future constitutional law of the noble corporation, was issued at the Frankfurt General Chapter in 1529. The residence of the head of the Order and at the same time the seat of the central authorities of the territories directly subordinated to the Grand Master (the Mergentheim Mastery) became Mergentheim.

Outside of this territorial rule adapting to the new conditions, the bailiwicks led by the land commanderies developed into largely independent entities. Some of them had the rank of imperial estates and ranked in the prelate group within the imperial register. They often became dependent on neighboring noble families, who sent their sons to the order. In Thuringia, Saxony, Hesse and Utrecht, where the new doctrines had become firmly established, there were also Lutheran and Reformed brethren of the order who - following the corporate thinking of the nobility - were loyal to the Grand Master, also lived in celibacy and only replaced the vow formula with an oath.

After 1590, the High and German Masters were chosen from leading families of Catholic territorial states, especially from the House of Habsburg. This created new family and political cross-connections to the German high nobility, but also made the Order more and more an instrument of Habsburg domestic power politics.

Against this background, an inner change of the order began in the 16th century. A Catholic-influenced reform led to a return to its original orientation, and the rules of the order were adapted to the new circumstances. In the course of the 16th century, the nobility's thinking in terms of class, which tended to push for exclusivity, pushed back the importance of the mostly non-noble priest brothers. In modern times they had neither a seat nor a vote in the general chapter. Pastoral care in the commends was often in the hands of members of other ecclesiastical orders. Since laymen with legal training worked in the chanceries of the order, this activity also fell away for priest brothers. As a result, their number had fallen sharply.

The leadership of the order followed the demands of the Council of Trent and decided to endow new seminaries. This happened in Cologne in 1574 and in Mergentheim in 1606. The founder of the latter seminary was Grand Master Archduke Maximilian of Austria, on whose initiative Tyrol had also remained Catholic. In general, it can be noted that possessions belonging to the Teutonic Order remained Catholic even in predominantly Reformed areas, a fact that continues to the present day. External branches of the Order in Protestant areas played an important role in providing pastoral care for Catholics passing through or for the few Old Believers who remained there. In some commends, moreover, the idea of the hospital fraternity reappeared. Among other things, the order established a hospital in Frankfurt-Sachsenhausen in 1568.

However, the order, which was still influenced by the nobility and its values, considered the most important task to be the martial deployment of the knight brothers, who from the 17th century onward also called themselves cavaliers, following the Italian model. The Turkish wars, which had been escalating since the 16th century, offered an extensive field of activity for the statutory defense of the Christian faith. Despite financial hardships, the Order made considerable contributions in this way to the - in the parlance of the time - defense of the Occident against the Ottoman Empire. Professed knights mostly served as officers in regiments of Catholic imperial princes and in the imperial army. In particular, the imperial infantry regiment No. 3 and the k.u.k. Infantry Regiment "Hoch- und Deutschmeister" No. 4 drew their recruits from the German territories of the Order. All fit knights had to serve a so-called exercitium militare. They served for a period of three years in the rank of officer in the border fortresses, which were particularly endangered by military campaigns, before they were allowed to take over further offices of the Order.

After the Thirty Years' War, the commends of the order developed a lively building activity. Castles, often combined with remarkable castle churches, and representative commendatory houses were built. Such buildings were erected in Ellingen, Nuremberg, Frankfurt-Sachsenhausen, Altshausen, Beuggen, Altenbiesen and in many other places. In addition, numerous new, richly furnished village and town churches were built, as well as secular functional buildings.

Territorial losses and restructuring in the 19th and 20th centuries

The Coalition Wars resulting from the French Revolution during the late 18th century were the cause of another major crisis for the Order. With the cession of the left bank of the Rhine to France, the bailiwicks of Alsace and Lorraine were lost completely, and Koblenz and Biesen to a large extent. The Peace of Pressburg with France after the heavy defeat of the Austro-Russian coalition at Austerlitz against Napoleon in 1805 decreed that the possessions of the Teutonic Order and the office of High and German Master should pass hereditarily to the House of Austria, i.e. Habsburg. The office of the Grand Master and with it the Order were integrated into the sovereignty of the Empire of Austria. Emperor Francis I of Austria, however, allowed the nominal status of the Order to continue. The Grand Master at that time was his brother Anton Viktor of Austria.

The next blow came with the outbreak of a new warlike conflict in the spring of 1809. On April 24, after the Austrian invasion of the Kingdom of Bavaria as a result of the Fifth Coalition War, Napoleon declared the Order in the Confederation of the Rhine dissolved. The property of the Order was ceded to the princes of the Confederation of the Rhine. In this way, Napoleon intended to compensate his allies materially for their war effort against the Coalition and to bind the princes more closely to the French Empire. The Order now had only the possessions in Silesia and Bohemia, as well as the Bailiwick of Austria, with the exception of the commanderies around Carniola, which had been ceded to the Illyrian provinces. The Ballei An der Etsch in Tyrol had fallen to the French vassal kingdoms of Bavaria and the kingdom in northeastern Italy that had emerged from Napoleon's Cisalpine Republic in 1805.

In the course of secularization in the early 19th century, the Order lost most of its territories, although it had still been recognized as a sovereign in the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss. But already in 1805, Article XII of the Peace of Pressburg stipulated that "The dignity of a Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, the justiceships, domains and incomes ... should be left hereditarily in the person and in a straight male line according to the birthright to that prince of the imperial house whom His Majesty the Emperor of Germany and Austria will appoint". The Order had thus become part of Austria and the Habsburg Monarchy.

Although, as a result of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the bailiwicks of Carniola and Tyrol fell to Austria and thus into the Order's domain, a restoration of the Order's full sovereignty was no longer possible in view of the now insufficient assets.

In 1834, Francis I again renounced all rights from the Peace of Pressburg and reinstated the Order to its old rights and duties: the Order became legally an independent ecclesiastical-military institute under the bond of an imperial direct fief by cabinet order of March 8, 1843. Only the bailiwick of Austria, the mastership in Bohemia and Moravia, and a small bailiwick in Bolzano remained.

After the fall of the Danube Monarchy in the aftermath of the First World War, the Order was initially regarded as an honorary Imperial Habsburg Order in the successor states of the multi-ethnic monarchy. Therefore, the responsible authorities considered confiscation of the Order's assets as nominal property of the Habsburg Imperial House. For this reason, Grand Master Archduke Eugene of Austria-Teschen renounced his office in 1923. He had the Order's priest and Bishop of Brno Norbert Johann Klein elected as coadjutor and at the same time abdicated. This caesura proved to be successful: by the end of 1927, the successor states of the Danube Monarchy recognized the Teutonic Order as a spiritual order. The Order still included the four bailiwicks (later called provinces) in the Kingdom of Italy, the Czechoslovak Republic, the Republic of Austria and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

On September 6, 1938, the National Socialist German Reich government issued a decree dissolving the Teutonic Order. In the same year, as a result of this decree, the Teutonic Order was dissolved in Austria, which was annexed to the German Reich as Ostmark. In 1939, the same edict was applied in the so-called Rest of Czechoslovakia, the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which had been annexed by the German Reich. In the Italian South Tyrol, there were ideologically based attacks by local fascists on institutions and members until 1945.

In the "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes", respectively the "Kingdom of Yugoslavia" (1918-1941), the Order was tolerated in the twenties and thirties. During the Second World War, its possessions, mostly located in the Slovenian territory, served as military hospitals. After 1945, members of the Teutonic Order were persecuted in the Federative People's Republic of Yugoslavia, not least as a result of the name, due to the war and post-war events. In the course of the abolition of all ecclesiastical orders here in 1947, the Yugoslav state authorities secularized the property of the Teutonic Order and expelled its members from the country.

In 1947, after the Second World War, the decree of abolition of 1938 was annulled by state law in Austria and the remaining property was restituted to the Order.

Members of the Order were also expelled from Czechoslovakia. In Darmstadt, these members of the order founded a convent in 1949, which was abandoned in 2014. In 1953, a motherhouse was created for sisters of the order in Passau, in the former Augustinian canons' monastery of St. Nikola (the sisters' portion of the order in Passau was legally supervised by Franz Zdralek). In 1957 the Order acquired a house in Rome as the seat of the Procurator General, which also serves as a pilgrims' house. In 1970 and 1988 the rules of the order were modified - also with a view to a better participation of the female members.

Today the German Order with the official title "Order of the Brothers of the German House of St. Mary in Jerusalem" is a spiritual order. Currently it has about 1000 members: about 100 priests, 200 sisters and 700 familiars.

The spatial districts of the Order are called provinces. They have their own provincial offices, which can be understood as regional administrations of the Order. These are located for Germany in Weyarn, for Austria in Vienna, for South Tyrol

In keeping with its original ideal of "serving the needy for the sake of Christ in selfless love," the order is now active in charitable and educational activities. The main focus is on helping the elderly and disabled, as well as addicts. In addition, the order maintains guest houses in Vienna and priests serve as pastors in various parishes. Another focus is the research of the history of the order. Since 1966, the Order has published the book series Sources and Studies on the History of the Teutonic Order in 60 volumes, with the collaboration of authors from all states and denominations.

In 1999, as a result of mismanagement, the German Order Province of Germany experienced glaring financial bottlenecks, as a result of which the province had to declare insolvency in November 2000. A liquidation of the corporation under public law was averted in the last instance by the appointment of a new management in agreement with the creditors.

Order Management


Religious priests and lay brothers

The first branch of the order is formed by the priests (abbreviation behind the name: "OT" for "Ordo Teutonicus"). They make a solemn perpetual vow (profession), are entitled as successors of the knights of the order to lead the order alone and are primarily active in parish pastoral care. This branch also includes lay brothers who take simple perpetual vows.

The convents are organized into five provinces:

At the head of each is a Provincial who holds the title of "Prior" or "Land Commander".

Religious Sisters

The second branch is the Congregation of Religious Sisters. They take simple perpetual vows. Within the order, they manage their affairs independently and devote themselves to the care of the sick and the elderly. They are also organized in five provinces

Familiars and Knights of Honor

The third branch is the Institute of Familiars (abbreviation behind the name "FamOT"). These make a promise (not a vow) to the Order and also regulate their affairs independently within the Order. On solemn occasions they wear a black cloak with the coat of arms of the Teutonic Order on the left side. They are divided into the bailiwicks

Well-known family members are or were, for example, Franz Josef Strauß or Edmund Stoiber.

A special category within the Familiars is the class of Knights of Honor, which is limited to twelve members. They wear a white coat with the coat of arms of the order as well as the Knight's Cross of the order on the collar. Well-known Knights of Honor are or were, for example, Konrad Adenauer, Otto von Habsburg, Cardinal Joachim Meisner (Cologne), Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (Vienna), Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), Archbishop Stefan Heße (Hamburg), Udo Arnold or Carl Herzog von Württemberg.

Signs and regalia

The shape of the order's sign changed over the centuries from a simple bar cross to a black paw cross on a white background.

The clothing of the members of the Order corresponded to the respective time, but since the founding of the Order, the White Mantle with the black cross on the right side (as seen from the viewer) has always been a landmark of the Order. In addition to the coat, which is obligatory on solemn occasions, the typical clothing of the Order today for the clergy includes the cassock, neck cross and pectoral cross.

The motto of the Order is "Help, Defend, Heal".

Inner condition

Originally, the order had adopted the rules of the Knights Templar for its military activities and those of the Knights of St. John for its charitable activities. From the 13th century, the order formed rules confirmed by Pope Innocent IV in 1244, which were recorded in a so-called "Book of the Order". The oldest preserved copy of an order book dates back to 1264. The Teutonic Order originally maintained its own form of the rite of the liturgy. In the period of origin, the brothers celebrated the service according to the rite of the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. By an approbation of Pope Innocent IV, the Dominican liturgy was introduced in the Order. Although the Council of Trent permitted the retention of this ancient liturgical form, the form of the Tridentine Mass slowly prevailed in the Order and was finally adopted in 1624. Since then, the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, which is valid at the time, has also been in force in the Teutonic Order. The patron saint of the Order, besides the Virgin Mary, is Elizabeth of Thuringia, canonized in 1235.

The Constitution of the Order, also called the Statutes, was and is approved by the General Chapter of the Order.

In 1929, the Grand Chapter of the Teutonic Order approved the two revised Rules of the Order of the Brothers and the Sisters, both of which were confirmed by Pope Pius XI on November 27, 1929.

The Sisters of the Teutonic Order are a Congregation of Pontifical Right attached to the Order of Brothers. The General Government is vested in the Grand Master; representatives of the sisters participate in the General Chapter and the General Council. This form of religious life is solitary in the Roman Catholic Church. After preliminary approvals, the Rules of the Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem and the Rules of Life of the Sisters of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem were confirmed by the Apostolic See on October 11, 1993. Both had already been approved according to the directives of the Second Vatican Council and, most recently, had also been adapted to the norms of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. All statutes of the Order are published in Rules and Statutes of the German Order "Das Ordensbuch. Vienna 2001".

Offices and institutions

Originally, the General Chapter was the decision-making assembly of all full members of the Order (knights, priests, Graumäntler). Since this was not logistically possible, it was limited to deputations of the individual commends and bailiwicks under the chairmanship of the respective Landmeister. Originally intended to be an annual assembly, in practice a general chapter met in the High and Late Middle Ages almost exclusively for the election of the respective grand masters. The resolutions were formally binding for the territories of the Order.

The Grand Master is the highest office in the Teutonic Order and is subject only to the Pope in Rome. Elected by the General Chapter until 1525, in the Holy Roman Empire he had the rank of a clerical imperial state. In Prussia, until 1466, the Grand Master was also considered a sovereign sovereign. Nevertheless, hierarchically he must be considered first among equals. This meant that he had to take into account the intentions and demands of the individual groupings in the order. To what extent this happened was closely related to the personality of the respective Grand Master. From 1530 to 1929 the office was colloquially called "Hoch- und Deutschmeister". The last Hoch- und Deutschmeister from 1894 to 1923 was the k.u.k. Field Marshal Archduke Eugene of Austria from the House of Habsburg. Bruno Platter was elected as the 65th Grand Master of the Order on August 25, 2000, and received the abbatial edict from the Bishop of Bolzano-Bressanone Wilhelm Egger on October 29, 2000. Frank Bayard was elected as the current 66th Grand Master of the Order on August 22, 2018.


Until 1525, the so-called "Großgebietiger", appointed by the Grand Master himself, were responsible for the entire area of the Order. Their respective official residences were located in Prussia. In addition to administrative tasks, the Grand Territorial Officers also performed representative duties in the state administration and often fulfilled important diplomatic missions in the service of the Grand Master. Until 1525, there were five office-specific grand territorial governors:

The German-language designations for the offices of the Grand Territorials originated in the organizational form of the Order of the Knights Templar.

Landmeister was a high office and title in the Teutonic Order. The Landmeister was a position between the Hochmeister and the Landkomturen of the Balleien. In the Empire, the bailiwicks were subordinate to the Landmeister, and in Prussia and Livonia, the commanderies were subordinate to the Landmeister. Thus, the Landmeister was in effect the deputy of the Hochmeister. The Landmeisters were soon able to extend this autonomous function, so that even the Hochmeister could no longer decide against their intentions. They were elected by the regional chapters and merely confirmed by the Grand Master. In the middle of the 15th century, at the time of the decline of the Order's rule in Prussia, one even already spoke of the three branches of the Order, with the Grand Master having only the equal role of the Land Master of Prussia.

Within the Order there were initially three, later only two Landmeister. The Deutschmeister acted for Germany and Italy, as well as a Landmeister in Livonia. The office of the Landmeister of Prussia was dissolved in 1309 as a result of the transfer of the headquarters to Prussia by the Grand Master. The last Landmeister of Prussia residing in Elbing was Heinrich von Plötzke. After the Reformation and the dissolution of the office of the Grand Master in Prussia, the Deutschmeister became at the same time the administrator of the Grand Masterdom and his competences were extended to Prussia, which in practice turned out to be only a formal act.

The most important landmaster in Livonia was Wolter von Plettenberg. He remained Catholic, as did his successors until 1561. But under him the Reformation prevailed in Livonia among Baltic Germans, Estonians and Latvians. The Protestant faith remained until today in the states of Estonia and Latvia. In the middle of the 16th century Livonia was also lost.

As a result, the office of a Landmeister effectively came to an end, as the remaining Landmeister fulfilled the functions of the office of Hochmeister as Hoch- und Deutschmeister.


The Landkomtur was the head of a Ballei. In a bailiwick, different commends were grouped together. Some of the German bailiwicks had the rank of imperial estates and ranked in the matriculation of the empire in the group of prelates. With the transformation of the order into a clerical order, the ballei of the order in the provinces went

In his office the commander was assisted by a councilor. This was a brother knight who was elected from among the brother knights of a bailiwick. The councilor had a say in the admission to the order, transfers and the awarding of commends.

The commander was the head of a branch of the order, a Kommende. He exercised all administrative powers and supervised the bailiwicks and tithe courts subordinate to his Teutonic Order commandery. A control was given by so-called Ämterwandel, with which with rotational abandonment of the office a general inventory took place, as well as by visitations. Until the 19th century the convents of the order were called commends. In these administrative units lived both knight-brothers and priest-brothers. Under the leadership of the commander, a monastic life with choir prayers was formed in the commends. It was not until after the Reformation that the communal life in the Teutonic Order dissolved and the commends became pure sources of income for the knight-brothers of the order, who were usually in the military service of a sovereign.

The size of the commends varied greatly. In contrast to the commends in Prussia, those in the German Empire were smaller and already in the 13th century consisted only of a commander, two to six conventuals and a priest. With the transformation of the order into a clerical order, the commends were transformed into convents, whose head was now called superior, the Latin form of "superior," rather than commander.

Within a commandery there could be other offices, but they did not exist at all times or in all commanderies:

Administrative structure in the middle of the 14th century


The original seat of the Grand Master, and thus also of the Order, was its hospital in Acre. In 1220, the Order acquired Montfort Castle, which became the seat of the Grand Master after its reconstruction. In 1271 the castle was conquered by the Mamluks and the Grand Master returned to Acre. After the fall of Acre in 1291, under the Grand Master Konrad von Feuchtwangen, first Venice became the headquarters, then from 1309 under the Grand Master Siegfried von Feuchtwangen, Marienburg.

After their loss, Königsberg became the headquarters of the Order in 1457. From 1525

The then Coadjutor and later Grand Master Norbert Johann Klein moved the seat to Freudenthal in 1923. Since 1948, the seat of the Grand Master has been back in Vienna. The Deutschordenshaus in Vienna, located behind St. Stephen's Cathedral, is also the seat of the Central Archive of the Teutonic Order and the Treasury of the Teutonic Order, which is open to the public.

The completely preserved documents of the Prussian State Archives Königsberg from the time of the Order State are in the Secret State Archives Prussian Cultural Heritage. The documents from Mergentheim are in the Ludwigsburg State Archives. Other records are in the State Archives of North Rhine-Westphalia. and in the State Archives of Nuremberg. The state of Baden-Württemberg and the city of Bad Mergentheim are the sponsors of the Deutschordensmuseum in Bad Mergentheim.

On July 4, 2014, the German Order Research Center was established in Würzburg.

The source situation concerning the Order and the history of the regions concerned can be considered good due to two facts:

From the early period of the order until the beginning of the 14th century there are almost no chronicle sources. All the richer is the documentary tradition, e.g. of donations or the granting of privileges by the pope. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to describe the conquest of the country with the help of contemporary testimonies.

From 1324 to 1331 the priest-brother Peter von Dusburg wrote the Chronicon Prussiae. He reported on the beginnings of the Order in Prussia, the struggle against the Prussians, their beliefs and customs. Most of what is known of the early days of the Order is based on his work, which in turn drew as its source from a lost version of the Narratio de primordiis Ordinis Theutonici found in the 19th century. Nikolaus von Jeroschin later translated this Latin Chronicon Prussiae into German in verse form on behalf of Luther of Brunswick.

Towards the end of the 15th century, the first beginnings of a stronger interest in historical science emerged with humanism. Starting in 1517, the Dominican friar Simon Grunau wrote his extensive Prussian Chronicle. Since the source-critical method was still unknown, Grunau unceremoniously invented documents and speculated where he did not know anything more precise. His writings are characterized by a negative point of view towards the Order. Grunau commented at length on his sources and their accessibility. He was later used as a source by other historians - who, however, also criticized him for writing too much in the Polish sense. Caspar Schütz wrote the multi-volume Historia rerum Prussicarum in 1592 on behalf of Albrecht of Brandenburg. In 1679, Christoph Hartknoch described both the pagan period and the period shaped by the Order in his historical work Altes und Neues Preussen. Between 1722 and 1725, Gottfried Lengnich's nine-volume History of the Prussian Lands was published.

Johannes Voigt wrote a nine-volume history of Prussia between 1827 and 1829. His account was based for the first time on a systematic evaluation of original sources, especially documents and records. Voigt's work on the history of Prussia was groundbreaking and is still considered standard literature today.

The historiographical reception of the Teutonic Order in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century was mostly concerned only with the presence of the then knightly order in the Baltic States - the Teutonic Order state was equated with the order itself. Thus, the peculiarities of the Order as the bearer of the administration were given little consideration. As a whole, the order, which continued to exist in the empire, remained hardly considered. A reappraisal of its history and structures began in Germany and internationally only after 1945. Research and interpretation of the history of the Order in Germany, Poland, and Russia were - depending on the respective governments

German-Polish controversies

A controversial evaluation of the Teutonic Order began in the first decades of the 19th century with the rediscovery and romanticization of the Middle Ages, on the one hand, and the occupation and ongoing partition of Poland, on the other. This resulted in a "vicarious cultural struggle" from 1850 onwards. The dispute began between Polish intellectuals and Prussian-German historians. After 1860, Polish historians also officially became involved.

While Polish publications accused the Order, among other things, of genocide against the Prussians and a policy of unrestrained conquest, German historians stylized the Order as a Germanic bearer of culture.

This controversy continued on the German side until 1945, on the Polish side in a weakened form until 1989. The Polish historian Tomasz Torbus characterizes the controversy as follows: "The use of the Teutonic Order in humanities subjects, in propaganda and as a symbol in current politics can be traced in Germany with interruptions from the foundation of the Reich to the collapse of the Nazi state, in Poland until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989".

The first phase of Polish intellectuals' confrontation with the occupiers took place in the literary field. As early as 1826, Adam Mickiewicz published his verse epic Konrad Wallenrod. Here, the author used a historical parable to disguise criticism of Russia's restrictive policy toward Poland and, in this way, to circumvent Russian censorship. Mickiewicz transferred the Polish-Russian conflict to the Middle Ages and drew a gloomy picture of the German knights of the Order instead of the Russian occupiers. In the mid-19th century, the Lviv historian Karol Szajnocha wrote the historical narrative Jagiełło and Jadwiga, which introduced generations of readers to the Polish view of the conflict with the Teutonic Order. Finally, in Krzyżacy (Knights of the Cross) by Henryk Sienkiewicz, which appeared in 1874, the knights of the Order were demonized throughout. Wojciech Kętrzyński (actually Adalbert von Winkler), co-founder of an independent Polish historiography, held from 1865 that German rule had brought nothing but "misery and bondage" to the subjugated Slavs. This view of a "Teutonism driven by criminal energy and rolling eastward by force or by exploiting the naiveté of local Slav rulers" later led to an interpretation of the Wars of the Order as genocide or extermination in nationalist Polish journalism (but often left untranslated in Polish).

In particular, the Germanization policy in the Prussian territories after the founding of the Reich in 1871 met with resistance from the Polish population. The growing national pride was also oriented towards history and transfigured the victorious Battle of Tannenberg into a myth, which was reflected in the large crowds at commemorative rallies on anniversaries of the battle. At the same time, Polish historical painting began to flourish, depicting the glorious episodes of Polish history, especially Polish victories over the Teutonic Order. Thus, the oversized painting by the most important representative of this genre, Jan Matejko, stylized the Battle of Tannenberg as a triumph over the Teutonic Order and pretentious Germanness. The novel Krzyżacy (Engl.: The Crusaders) by Henryk Sienkiewicz, which was translated into many languages and negatively described the Teutonic Order through the morally repulsive appearance of its representatives, is also historicizing.

After the establishment of the Second Polish Republic in 1918, Polish historians increasingly took up the history of the Teutonic Order. Publications questioned the authenticity of the Treaty of Kruschwitz and the legitimacy of the Knights of the Order in the Baltic. The actions of the Order's knights in missionizing the Prussians were considered genocide, citing the Prussian historian Heinrich von Treitschke, and the occupation of Pomerelia in 1308 was equated with the occupation of ancestral Polish lands.

Isolated attempts to subsume the disappearance of the Prussians under the modern concept of genocide, which mostly occur in the context of the German-Polish tensions of the 20th century, are mostly rejected by researchers today as ahistorical, not factually justifiable and not verifiable in terms of sources. For example, exact figures on the proportion of Pruzes who died directly in battle or who migrated later, as well as the reasons for the abandonment of language and identity, are not available. Also, no deliberate and planned extermination on the part of the order can be stated.

After almost six years of occupation of Poland and the end of the Second World War, Polish propaganda equated the defeat of Nazi Germany with the victory of Tannenberg: "Grunwald 1410

During the Cold War, the Teutonic Order was officially regarded as a symbol of fear of border revision by the Federal Republic of Germany, which was integrated into NATO. As early as the 1950s, Polish communists compared the allegedly expansionist Knights of the Teutonic Order with the Federal Republic of Germany, which was considered revanchist. The ties between the communist People's Republic of Poland and the Soviet Union were placed in the tradition of a Pan-Slavic alliance against the so-called German drive to the East, and Polish national history was used to legitimize the country's own rule. The Polish historian Janusz A. Majcherek writes about this:

After 1972, within the framework of the Ostpolitik of Willy Brandt and his successors, which aimed at détente, there was increased contact between the German and Polish sides, which resulted in a joint UNESCO Textbook Commission in 1977. With the relativizations in the mutual evaluation of history provided by this committee, the presence of the Teutonic Order was also increasingly evaluated by the Polish side in a more objective context.

The memory of the victory over the Order in 1410 is still alive in Poland today. For example, the Polish tabloid press has repeatedly attempted to use terse allusions to the Battle of Grunwald to fuel subliminal anti-German resentment. During the 2008 European soccer championship, before a preliminary round match between the German and Polish national teams, the Polish tabloid Fakt, which belongs to the German Springer publishing group, depicted the defeated captain of the German national soccer team, Michael Ballack, in a medal coat and pickelhaube. Such provocative methods of presenting history are the exception in today's Poland.

Every year on Saturday around the historical date of the Battle of Tannenberg in July 1410, a re-enactment event is held on the historical battlefield to commemorate the events of that time. German groups are also present, using this event for international understanding and friendly exchange with Polish and Lithuanian former "enemies". In 2010, as part of the 600th anniversary of the battle, Grand Master Bruno Platter was also present, who gave a speech and laid a wreath.

The Russian view

In Russia, the confrontation with the common history took place under special auspices. The starting point was the direct confrontation with the Knights of the Order in the northern Baltic, which culminated in the battle on Lake Peipus in 1242. As early as the Middle Ages, Russian chronicles stylized this - in the estimation of modern historians - major skirmish as a decisive battle between the Roman Catholic Church and Russian Orthodoxy. This interpretation of history was also able to conceal the defeats of the Russian principalities against the Mongols of the Golden Horde. However, the fierce resistance of the Russians against the Germans compared to the Mongols could be explained by the fact that the Mongols did not touch the Russian way of life and religious issues and only demanded tribute payments. The Teutonic Order, on the other hand, was ideologically-religiously motivated to convert or destroy the Orthodox "heretics" and was supported in this by the papacy.

The Russian victory at Wesenberg in 1268 was no less important than the Battle of Lake Peipus. The Battle of Tannenberg in 1410 was also noted by Russian chroniclers, as it involved White Russian regiments. Russian historians have always attributed decisive importance to these units.

In the 1930s, the reception gained a new dimension as a result of the ideological clashes between the Soviet Union and the National Socialist German Reich. The Teutonic Order was seen as a ruthless aggressor on Russian territory and as an early precursor of National Socialism. A well-known example of an artistic treatment of this interpretation is the film Alexander Nevsky by director Sergei Eisenstein, which served as anti-German propaganda during the Great Patriotic War of 1941 to 1945.

Until the end of the Soviet Union, the view of the Teutonic Order remained dominated by this view of history. Even today, national Russian circles insist on the interpretation that the Order was an aggressive instrument of the Roman Catholic Church and the German feudal lords for the conquest of Russian soil and the destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Receptions in Austria

Under Emperor Leopold I, a reference to the traditions of the Teutonic Order was cultivated in 1696 by naming a regiment of the Imperial Habsburg forces, which was later continued, among others, by the K.u.k. Infantry Regiment High and German Master No. 4. In today's Austrian Army, the Jägerbataillon Wien 1, which bears the epithet Hoch- und Deutschmeister, continues this historical lineage.

Prussian and German Perspectives

The Teutonic Order was distanced in Protestant Prussia, not least because of the Thirteen Years' War with the Prussian estates in the middle of the 15th century, until negative

Only as a result of the Napoleonic wars did a turnaround begin, with the historian Heinrich von Treitschke playing a decisive role. From then on, the Order embodied the "German mission in the East" and assumed the role of a "cultural carrier against Slavicism" in historiography. Treitschke interpreted the state of the Order as a "firm harbor dam, boldly built out from the German shore into the wild sea of the eastern peoples" and the defeat of the Order at Tannenberg at the same time as the defeat of the Occident against the "barbarian" East. The Order itself embodied "traits of the German nature, the aggressive power and the imperious mindless hardness".

Under the impression of the identity-forming evaluation of the Battle of Tannenberg of 1410 on the Polish side, there was a move at the end of the 19th century to counter the Polish commemorations with a "German component". The result was a glorification of the Order as the "colonizer of the German East" by nationalist circles in Wilhelmine Prussia. This view is reflected in the novels Heinrich von Plauen as well as Der Bürgermeister von Thorn by Ernst Wichert. Historian Adolf Koch claimed in 1894: "The kings of Prussia rise on the shoulders of the Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order."

Due to the territorial cessions, especially in West Prussia, to the newly created Polish state, a non-partisan propaganda developed that tied in with the Teutonic Order tradition in these areas. The situation of East Prussia, now isolated from the Reich, gave rise to associations with the Teutonic Order state as a "German bulwark in the Slavic tide" and drew parallels to the foreign policy situation of the Order state in 1466. In the referendum in East Prussia in the voting district of Allenstein on July 11, 1920, a vote was held on the national affiliation of southern East Prussia due to border disputes with Poland. In the context of these votes, the "Ostland tradition" of the Teutonic Order was intensively reminded by the German side. Whole streets were decorated with Order crosses on pennants and flags. During the Weimar Republic, several Free Corps in the East used the Order's symbol in their insignia. Examples of this are the Grenzschutz Ost or the Baltische Landeswehr. The most important national association besides the Stahlhelm - the Jungdeutscher Orden (Young German Order) - borrowed directly from the model of the Teutonic Order in its naming, organizational form, and officer designations.

During the National Socialist era, the attitude towards the Teutonic Order and its past was ambivalent, even within the leadership. The general consciousness, especially Heinrich Himmler and Alfred Rosenberg cultivated the image of the Order from the 19th century, which had positive connotations from a Prussian-German perspective.

As early as 1924, Adolf Hitler glorified the German settlement in the East in his book Mein Kampf and developed far-reaching plans for conquests "on the road of the former knights of the order". On the occasion of the burial of the Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, who died in 1934, in the Tannenberg Memorial, the deceased was honored as an imperial commander in the Second Battle of Tannenberg in 1914, which was already declared in the First World War as a revenge for the defeat of 1410.

In contrast, Himmler had other ideas within the framework of his racial theories. He wanted to found an own "German Order" as the gene donor of a new German world empire, for which also the newly created order castles served. Therefore, the rightful sacral name bearer had to disappear. Then, in 1938, the Order was dissolved by a decree of abolition. In the Reich, Joseph Goebbels' propaganda apparatus succeeded in suppressing the previous tradition of consciousness and making room for a new idea of the Order. In East Prussia, the former heartland of the Order State, this propaganda was not very successful. For example, the Reich Labor Service combined the swastika and the Order's cross in its badge for Gau 25. During the Second World War, despite these efforts, a tank detachment of the SS Panzergrenadier Division "Nordland" bore the name of the Grand Master Hermann von Salza.

After 1945, the retrospective view of the Order in the Federal Republic of Germany decreased due to the loss of the Eastern territories. Glorification of the Teutonic Order no longer took place, in contrast to previous decades. The topic was socially rather taboo. Revanchist associations made an exception.

The links between the associations of expellees and the historical commissions - such as the Herder Council - were not very pronounced from the beginning. However, until the early 1960s, Eastern studies was dominated by researchers who programmatically wanted to see the traditional nationalism and "historical defensive struggle in the East" continued - cleansed of völkisch aberrations and colored in a European way. This changed in the early 1960s, also due to a generational change among researchers.

In 1985, the "International Historical Commission for the Study of the Teutonic Order" was founded in Vienna, which investigates the Order from the perspective of the history of ideas, regional and European issues.

In the GDR, the image of the order remained as a "stronghold of aggression as well as revision". A military encyclopedia from 1985 gives the official reading: "... The bloodstained order continued to exist and was finally transformed in the 20th century into a predominantly charitable church organization. At present it plays a role in Austria and the FRG as a clerical-militaristic traditional association."

On September 4, 1991, the Federal Republic of Germany issued a commemorative coin "800 Years of the Teutonic Order" with a face value of 10 German marks to mark the anniversary. Stamps with motifs of the Teutonic Order have also appeared.

Also on the occasion of the anniversary, an exhibition of the Germanic National Museum Nuremberg was opened in 1990 in cooperation with the International Historical Commission for the Research of the Teutonic Order under the title: 800 Years of the Teutonic Order.

Via the colors of Prussia, the colors of the Teutonic Order found their way into the jersey colors of the German national soccer team.

Use of the Order Coat of Arms

The Black Cross on a white background used by the Teutonic Order in its coat of arms was used in later times by the Prussian and Imperial armed forces as a badge of sovereignty and military decoration. While the German Wehrmacht used the cross in the form of simple white-framed bars, the Bundeswehr still uses the traditional symbol in a modified way, as a stylized white-framed paw cross. The Order's crest is also used, for example, as the squadron crest of the 7th Fast Boat Squadron of the German Navy. German naval officers continue to be trained at the Mürwik Naval School, whose building in Flensburg-Mürwik, erected from 1907, is modeled on Marienburg Castle. The school's coat of arms shows the red castle building with the black cross on a white background.

Contemporary chronicles

Links to the history of the Order:

Links to the present-day Teutonic Order:

Left to the reception:


  1. Teutonic Order
  2. Deutscher Orden
  3. Deutscher Orden hat neuen Hochmeister. In: domradio.de, vom 23. August 2018
  4. Deutscher Orden – Deutsche Brüderprovinz. (Nicht mehr online verfügbar.) In: www.deutscher-orden.de. Archiviert vom Original am 2. April 2016; abgerufen am 21. April 2016.
  5. Wolfgang Sonthofen: Der Deutsche Orden; Weltbild, Augsburg 1995, S. 134.
  6. Franz Kurowski: Der Deutsche Orden – 800 Jahre ritterliche Gemeinschaft, Nikol Verlagsgesellschaft, Hamburg 1997, S. 340.
  7. Dieter Zimmerling: Der Deutsche Ritterorden. S. 28.
  8. A felszentelés napja.
  9. Eltekintve az 1809 és 1834 közötti provizóriumtól, amikor a rend feloszlatva volt.
  10. ^ "Deutscher Orden: Brüder und Schwestern vom Deutschen Haus St. Mariens in Jerusalem". www.deutscher-orden.at.
  11. Daantje Meuwissen, blz. 81.

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