Did Templars Use Slaves?

Did Templars Use Slaves?

One of the most enigmatic and influential organizations from the Middle Ages, the Knights Templar, was founded in the early 12th century. Known for their warrior-monk lifestyle, the Templars played a crucial role in the Crusades, protecting Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. Many questions and myths have been associated with the Templars, one being their relationship with slavery. This article delves into the historical context to shed light on the question: Did Templars use slaves?

The Knights Templar: A Brief Overview

Founded in 1119, the Templars’ original mission was to protect Christian pilgrims who were making the dangerous journey to Jerusalem, a region controlled by Muslims at the time. Known for their distinctive white mantles adorned with a red cross, the Knights Templar became one of the most formidable military orders in the Christian world.

Understanding the Context: Slavery in the Middle Ages

To answer the question of whether the Templars used slaves, it is vital to understand the societal norms of the time. Slavery was a common practice in the Middle Ages, and many social and economic systems were built around this institution. In the Muslim-controlled territories of the Middle East, slavery was prevalent. On the other hand, in Christian Europe, slavery had largely given way to serfdom, a system wherein serfs were tied to the land but were not property themselves. Yet, it wasn’t absent, with slaves commonly captured during wars, raids, or bought from slave markets.

Life of a Knight Templar: A Day-to-Day Perspective

The day-to-day life of a Knight Templar was defined by a rigid structure infused with religious devotion, military training, and communal living. As a religious, military order, the Templars embraced a lifestyle that merged a monk’s ascetic life with a soldier’s disciplined existence.

Upon entering the Order, a Knight Templar took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Their day began with prayer, with strict adherence to the seven canonical hours – Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. Each prayer session was integral to their day, cultivating a profound sense of devotion and discipline.

Between prayer sessions, the knights trained for battle, practiced horsemanship and studied strategy and tactics. They also engaged in various duties related to the maintenance of their estates or preceptories, from overseeing farming and construction to taking care of their horses.

A knight did not personally own anything; even the serfs and servants who worked on Templar estates were considered part of the Order’s collective property. The knights lived communally, shared meals in silence, and wore uniform attire, reinforcing the sense of brotherhood and equality among them.

From this perspective, it’s clear that the Knight Templar’s life was characterized by austerity, community, discipline, and devotion. The relationship between a knight and those working on their estates, whether serfs or servants, was more akin to a lord-vassal relationship than one of a master-slave.

Templars and Labor

The Knights Templar were not just a military order. They also managed vast estates across Europe and the Middle East. They ran farms, mills, and vineyards, managed fisheries, and operated a wide range of other enterprises. Such endeavors would have required a large labor force.

Historical records suggest that the Templars primarily relied on paid labor, rent from tenant farmers, and the work of their brother knights and sergeants. There’s little evidence to suggest the widespread use of slaves by the Templars on their properties. Instead, they seemed to favor a workforce that, while not always voluntary (in the case of serfs and servants), was not strictly enslaved.

The Templars’ Rule

The ‘Rule of the Templars,’ a document created in the mid-12th century, guided the Order’s conduct. Although it does not directly address the issue of slavery, it provides some clues. The Rule often emphasizes charity, care for the poor, and a commitment to Christian morality. Enslaving others would seemingly go against these principles, suggesting the Templars may not have widely practiced slavery.

Templars and the Slave Trade

While there’s no definitive evidence that the Templars used slaves extensively, it’s plausible that they might have had indirect involvement in the slave trade, given their role as financiers. The Templars built an extensive network of banking and credit services, which could have included financing transactions involving slaves, especially in regions where slavery was prevalent.

The Templars and Serfdom: A Closer Look

As the Knights Templar held large tracts of land across Europe, managing these estates necessitated an extensive labor force. Rather than slaves, the primary form of labor used was serfdom – a system widespread across Medieval Europe.

Serfdom, unlike slavery, was a condition that was tied to the land rather than the individual. Serfs, though not free, were not chattel; they could not be bought or sold like slaves. Their duty was to the land they lived on and the lord who owned that land, which, in this case, was the Templars.

Serfs had obligations to their Templar lords – these often took the form of manual labor, such as farming, construction, maintenance work, or dues or rent. In return, serfs were afforded protection, a place to live, and a portion of the crops they produced.

The Templars, in turn, were known to be comparatively decent landlords. They brought improvements to the land, introduced innovative farming techniques, and tended to treat their serfs with a level of respect that was not always prevalent during this period.

The relationship between the Templars and their serfs reveals a system that was part and parcel of the societal structure of the Middle Ages. In this context, serfdom was a practical approach to managing large estates and ensuring their productivity, reinforcing the evidence that the Templars did not rely heavily on slavery.

Interactions with Slave-Owning Societies: Templars in the Middle East

As the Templars were actively involved in the Crusades, they held territories in the Middle East, particularly in areas like Palestine, where slavery was a societal norm. Yet, even amidst these contexts, the Templars’ interactions with slave-owning societies provide no definitive evidence of systematic engagement with slavery.

The Templars’ primary role in the Holy Land was military – they defended Christian territories and protected pilgrims. While there, they interacted with various societies, including Muslim emirates and kingdoms, where slavery was an established institution. Yet, their contact with these societies did not equate to an adoption of their practices.

The few references to enslaved people in the Templar records from the Holy Land typically refer to individual slaves owned by particular knights. Still, these instances are not indicative of a widespread institutional practice.

Moreover, the Templars had rules against personal property among their knightly class, including enslaving people. If any Knight Templar did have a slave, it would likely have been considered property of the Order itself, not the individual knight.

Overall, while the Templars did have regular interactions with slave-owning societies due to their geographical locations and military involvement, it doesn’t necessarily imply their endorsement or extensive practice of slavery. Their conduct, as per historical evidence, appears to have remained mostly consistent with their Rule and Christian principles, even in the complex realities of the Middle East during the Crusades.

The Templars in the Holy Land

The Templars held territories in the Middle East where slavery was a norm. Yet, there’s scant evidence that the Templars engaged in large-scale slavery here. Their primary role in these regions was military, and the few references to slaves in the Templar records from the Holy Land usually refer to individual slaves owned by particular knights, not a widespread institutional practice.

The Templar Network: Connections with Other Orders and Slavery

As a pivotal entity during the Middle Ages, the Knights Templar developed an intricate network that connected them to various other orders, religious institutions, monarchs, and trade routes. These relationships provided them with significant influence, particularly within the realm of finance.

When it comes to the issue of slavery, these relationships become particularly pertinent. Other orders, such as the Knights of Saint John (also known as the Hospitallers) and the Teutonic Knights, shared similar purposes and commitments to the Templars. Still, the extent to which these Orders engaged in slavery varies and remains a historical debate.

It’s important to note that these connections did not necessarily mean shared practices. Each Order had its own Rule and principles guiding their conduct. The Templars’ Rule, for instance, emphasized care for the poor and the practice of charity, which would seem incompatible with slaveholding.

As for their links to trade routes and finance, the Templars’ banking activities might have indirectly involved them in the slave trade. But no conclusive evidence suggests a direct and substantial role in the operation of slave markets.

Thus, while the Templars were interconnected with organizations and institutions that may have had differing levels of involvement with slavery, this does not necessarily implicate the Templars in these practices. As with much of Templar history, the nuanced realities require careful interpretation and understanding.

The Templars’ Legacy and Modern Perceptions of Slavery

In the centuries since their dissolution, the Knights Templar have grown into figures of legend, their history intertwined with myth and speculation. As we grapple with their legacy, it’s essential to reconcile the medieval reality of the Templars with our modern sensibilities, particularly regarding practices like slavery.

In today’s world, where the hatred of slavery is universal and enshrined in international law, it may be challenging to imagine a time when it was a pervasive institution. Yet, in the medieval world, slavery was a complex societal norm inextricably woven into economic, political, and social structures.

With this context in mind, the evidence that the Templars did not extensively practice slavery is both striking and significant. It suggests an organization that, despite operating within an era where slavery was commonplace, maintained a degree of moral consistency. This doesn’t absolve the Templars of the harsh realities of serfdom or indirect ties to the slave trade but paints a more nuanced picture of their moral compass.

On the other hand, it’s important not to romanticize or oversimplify their legacy. The Templars, like all historical entities, were products of their time. They were involved in many activities that modern audiences might find objectionable, from the violence of the Crusades to their role in the finance system, which had potential connections to the slave trade.

Balancing the medieval reality of the Templars with our contemporary understanding of ethics and human rights helps us appreciate the complexity of history. As we continue to explore their legacy, we learn more about the Middle Ages’ societal structures, adding layers to our understanding of human progress.

The Templars’ relationship with slavery, or lack thereof, offers critical insights into their organization and their time. It serves as a reminder that, even within societal norms, there can be variations and exceptions, and these nuances make the study of history so fascinating.


The question of whether the Templars used slaves is complex. The prevailing evidence suggests that while the Templars operated in a world where slavery was a societal norm, they did not significantly engage in the institution of slavery themselves. They primarily relied on other forms of labor for their various enterprises, and their Rule suggested a moral framework inconsistent with the practice of slavery.

While they may have had indirect connections to the slave trade due to their financial operations, and individual Templars may have owned slaves, it does not appear that slavery was a significant aspect of Templar life or operations. Further research may yield more insights, but for now, the image of the Templars as enslavers does not fit well with the historical record.

In interpreting history, we must always remember the complexity of societal norms and values at different times. Even as we seek to uncover the truths about organizations like the Knights Templar, we should be careful not to impose our modern viewpoints on historical realities. The Templars were products of their time, shaped by and shaping the world around them. As we continue to study and learn from their legacy, we gain a deeper understanding of the Middle Ages and the roots of our society.