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Useful Notes / The Teutonic Knights

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Blitzkrieg, 12th century style.(image by Giuseppe Rava)

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

The Deutsche Orden (Latin, Ordo domus Sanctæ Mariæ Theutonicorum Hierosolymitanorum (OT) or the "Order of the House of St. Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem") is a Roman Catholic and monastic religious order, more commonly known as "The Teutonic Knights." They are considered to be the ancestor for the popular set of virtues known as Germanic Efficiency. Traditionally founded c. 1190 A.D. by merchants from Bremen and Lübeck in Acre as a hospital service for Germans in the Holy Land (on the grounds that neither Richard the Lionheart nor Philip of France particularly liked or cared about the German crusaders), by 1198 it imitated the older crusading orders, the Hospitallers and Templars, in acquiring knightly brothers whose original mission was to protect pilgrims, but who soon expanded their activities to include military actions against Muslim enemies of the Crusading states. Like the Templars, whose rule they substantially adopted, they wore as their habit a white mantle with a cross, but a black rather than a red one. (It would be some time before the form was standardized into the Tatzenkreuz or "Cross patée" version borne today;)

Even before the decline of the Crusader States in the early thirteenth century, they sought other fields of operation, since the Hospitallers and Templars dominated pretty much all the available real estate in the Middle East and Cyprus. Under the most important of the early Grand Masters Hochmeister ( literally "High Master") Hermann von Salza (1209-1239), a Thuringian knight who was a favourite of both Pope Gregory IX and of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and established the Order's habit of trying to remain in the good books of both the Papacy and the Empire, the Order expanded first into the so-called Burzenland of Transylvania, acting as a bulwark against the Pagan Cumans who tended to raid through the Carpathians. They were remarkably successful at this and significantly expanded their granted territory and then, after an uncertain incident which seems to have involved them trying to get their land put under Papal sovereignty (essentially swiping it from under the King of Hungary, Andrew II's, nose) and their resultant expulsion in 1225. Then, in 1226, they were invited into the Baltic area at the request of Conrad, Duke of Masovia, to crusade against the heathen Prusai (a people speaking a now-extinct language related to Lithuanian and Latvian) who he'd annoyed one time too many and wanted dealt with while he turned his attention to scrapping with his relatives over the Grand Duchy of Poland. The Knights accepted in 1230 — after Hermann had carefully made sure that all lands conquered by the Order were to be administered by it. This was the foundation of the so-called Ordensstaat (or "Order-state"). After the fall of Acre in 1291, the Grand Masters moved their residence first to Venice, and then in 1309 to the Marienburg (now Malbork in Poland).

The Livonian Brothers of the Sword were an originally unrelated crusading group, but were eventually reluctantly absorbed into the Teutonic Knights (who had previously inspected them and stated that they wanted nothing to do with them, until the Pope forced them) as the Livonian Order. Consequently this article (like many others) tends to lump them in together, but an important distinction is that the Livonian Order ruled the northern territory of Latvia-Estonia, whereas the Teutonic Knights controlled East and West Prussia — conquering Lithuania would have united the two (and created arguably the most powerful state in Northern Europe). The Pope turned the Knights' attention to fighting not just the pagan Lithuanians, but also the Russian "schismatics" in the form of the Republic of Novgorod (hence their appearance as stand-ins for the Nazis in Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky), who they were gearing up to fight anyway, over control of the mouth of the Volga (which in turn controlled trade down into Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Black Sea) and the Baltic.

As the various Prusai tribes were conquered, the Order settled the land with German colonists, developing a powerful and sophisticated civilization outside the borders of the Holy Roman Empire (though at least at first under nominal suzerainty of the Emperor), which was controlled wholly by the representative of the Order in each particular territory (the Landmeister) and gradually integrating the natives into it. After the conquest of Prussia had been completed, the Order expanded eastward, throughout the 14th and 15th centuries — or at least tried to.

The very success of the Order (by the late 14th century it was successful enough that it had turned Crusading into a package tour industry for Europe's knights in between rounds of The Hundred Years War, with one participant being a certain Henry Bolingbroke - later Henry IV of England) brought about its downfall. Having substantially converted the heathen populace of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, they came into jurisdictional conflict with the now converted natives, particularly after 1386, when Jogaila, the leader of the Lithuanians, was baptized and became the Christian King Władysław Jagiello of Poland. The Order refused to accept that the Lithuanians were Christian, and recriminations and open warfare between the Order and the Poles were the result, with the latter gradually gaining the upper hand. The defeat in the battle of Grunwald (German name: Tannenberg, 15 July, 1410) and a rebellion by the local nobility and cities aided by a Polish intervention (1455-1466) resulted in the Order sustaining large territorial losses and having to accept Polish suzerainty over the part of East Prussia they retained. Due to the loss of Marienburg, the Order had to move its residence to Königsberg (modern Kaliningrad).

The worst challenge to the Order, however, came with the Protestant Reformation. In 1525, the Grand Master, Albert I of the Brandenburg branch of the House of Hohenzollern, converted to Lutheranism, repudiated his vows and seized upon the lands of the Order, making himself the first Duke of Prussia. Many of the knightly brethren followed suit, while others remained faithful to Catholicism. The Grand Mastership thereafter reverted to the Landmaster within the Kingdom of Germany, who became known as the Hoch und Deutschmeister. After the Hohenzollern dukes of Prussia became extinct in 1618, their title and lands were inherited by their cousins, the Margraves of Brandenburg, who went on to found the Kingdom of Prussia and eventually the German Empire.

The Teutonic Knights, who were actually an organization dedicated to conversion rather than colonization (even if they did mix the two together), were later appropriated by the most radical of German nationalists as representatives of the fabled Drang nach Osten ("Drive to the East"). (Note that in some older works, this is actually viewed as a positive characterization.) This has led to the real Teutonic Knights, nasty people as they may have been, like most mediæval warriors, being subjected to a Historical Villain Upgrade or worse, as an example showing that All Germans Are Nazis. Ironically, despite the Nazis appropriating the Teutonic Order's symbols for its propaganda, the Order itself, which, by 1930s, was dedicated purely to peaceful endeavors, was violently suppressed during the Third Reich. It was reconstituted only with the defeat of the Nazis in 1945 and currently has about 1,000 members providing spiritual guidance and care for the physically infirm, mostly in German speaking lands.

Works Associated with the Teutonic Knights:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • On Hetalia: Axis Powers the character Prussia was the Teutonic Order before becoming Brandenburg-Prussia. At least one strip shows him and several Teutonic Knights in battle with Poland. He "grows up" having gained Baltic territory — his child-form interacts with Hungary and gallivants around the Burzenland.
  • First Squad borrows its ghostly German knights from Alexander Nevsky, so there's probably some Teutonic influence in there.
  • Bleach: The Quincies are very heavily influenced by the Teutonic Knights. When Uryuu first shows up in his Quincy uniform, he's compared to a priest and his attacks and magical chants are performed in German. Although Uryuu states the Quincies favour archery, he's been well-trained in swords. The Quincies also end up Putting on the Reich, becoming a highly organised, highly efficient and very ruthless military organisation led by a Grand Master who serves a holy Emperor. The last Quincy free of the Vandenreich is a Hospital Director, a callback to the original leadership of the early Teutonic Knights being Hospital Masters instead of Grand Masters.

    Comic Books 
  • Thurim in Requiem Vampire Knight used to be one, though he was already evil then, secretly being a devil worshipper who was only using his status as a crusader to cover his real objectives. He accidentally caused them to lose the Battle of the Ice by using an overpowered artifact which broke through the ice (his comrades praying as they sank).
  • Heinrich Himmler creates the New Teutonic Order (essentially a Badass Army that rivals the SS) in the Alternate History comic book Block 109. The Castle of Marienburg is used as the HQ of this Order, just like during the Middle Ages in real life.
  • Damnation Crusade follows the story of a Black Templar from his novitiate training all the way to his interment in a Dreadnought.
  • Thor: Vikings features an Teutonic knight called Magnus of the Danes who is displaced from his timeline to fight against the titular zombie vikings. Some artistic licenses were taken from him, such as his vest bearing the red Templar cross in place of the Iron Cross associated with the Templars. Even though he is a devout Christian, he has no problem fighting alongside a pagan god like Thor and gets sent to Valhalla upon his death.


  • The Teutonic Order appeared in the Star Wars: The Old Republic fanfic Earth: A Rendezvous with Destiny where in an instance of tragic irony survivors of the Sith Holocaust were put to the sword after being discovered by a Lance of the Teutonic Order and were mistaken to be demons.

    • The Bailiwick of Utrecht, an extant Protestant branch of the Teutonic Order based in the Netherlands, also appeared in a short scene in the aforementioned story after the Dark Council learned the Teutonic Order still exists, much to their befuddlement as they were unaware that the Order has evolved into being exclusively a charitable organization.

  • Alexander Nevsky is a film by Sergei Eisenstein (which ironically is just the sort of surname you'd expect one of the Knights to have). Wildly historically inaccurate, especially since it was created in Josef Stalin's Soviet Union, it is also full of propaganda (the Knights' helmets even resemble the Stahlhelms of 20th century German soldiers). It nevertheless has dominated the contemporary conception of the Teutonic Order, and is a damn fine film.
  • The 1960 film adaptation of Henryk Sienkiewicz's Krzyżacy (See "Literature" below).
  • They also appear in the Ridley Scott epic Kingdom of Heaven as three assassins sent to kill Balian of Ibelin. They are not referred to as such, but they do dress like Teutonic Knights.

  • Henryk Sienkiewicz's Krzyżacy (The Knights of the Cross). The Teutonic Knights are (almost to the last man) Always Chaotic Evil stand-in for Germans, Poles are all noble and brave, and there is a decent guest of the Order who is there to be repulsed by how the Knights turn out to be. In case you haven't already guessed, it was written around the time when Poland was being ruled by the Austrians and Prussians (and the Russians).
  • Wolfbreed has them raising werewolves as super soldiers at first. When that doesn't work out they move onto Plan B: kill them all.
  • James A. Michener's Poland devotes one chapter to a very detailed retelling of the Battle of Grunwald.
  • Teutonic Knights and their relationship with the Lithuanians form the central theme of Adam Mickiewicz's epic poem Konrad Wallenrod.

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

    Tabletop Games 

  • Warhammer: Inner Circle Knights of the Empire. They even sport the same insignia - black cross on white.
  • In Warhammer 40,000 the Black Templars are some kind of futuristic Teutonic Order. They are dressed in black and white with crosses of the same color. They love to fight with Swords, have sometimes altered, more medieval-looking helmets, and are very fanatic. One of their High Marshals is called "Sigismund" and they've got other German names like "Gervhart" or "Helbrecht". Even among the other Space Marines they're the best example of Warrior Monks as they are constantly crusading around the galaxy, have rules which enforce them using extremely aggressive close-combat tactics and are famously known for charging into suicidal situations to avenge their fallen brothers in arms. For comparison, another Space Marine chapter known for maddened melee fighting is the Blood Angels, who have a flaw to their Bio-Augmentation that makes them susceptible to falling into two examples of Unstoppable Rage. The Black Templars don't have a similar flaw in their genes; their aggression appears to be borne from overwhelming fervor more than anything biological.
  • Pan Oceania has recreated this and other knightly orders as elite crack teams. The Teutonic Order is known for being particularly brutal close up, even in a game that focuses on ranged combat.
  • Mutant Chronicles has the Brotherhood who have the Teutonic Knights' aesthetics and color schemes.

    Video Games 
  • The first Assassin's Creed game has them — even though all of the major targets, Muslim and Christian alike, are actually secret Templars. They can be found harassing street people and threatening Altaïr in German, as opposed to the French spouted by Hospitallers.
  • In the Kingdoms expansion of Medieval II: Total War, the Teutonic Order is a full-fledged faction in one of the campaigns. They definitely follow Eisenstein's portrayal of the Order, with their most powerful units, the Ritterbrüder, wearing scary looking armor and their mere presence frightening nearby enemy units.
  • The Teutons are a playable faction in Age of Empires II. Teutonic Knights are their faction-specific unit. They kick ass in melee combat, but they'll get destroyed by archers due to their movement speed being slightly greater than a crawl.
  • The Teutonic Order appears in Crusader Kings when the player starts fighting the Baltic pagans, but isn't a playable nation.
    • Within the sequel they are one of three "Holy Orders" available to Catholics in vanilla, functioning as elite mercenaries, but limited to fighting heathens and heretics, and costing piety rather than gold. With the expansion Sons of Abraham, they can gain land as can all Holy Orders, and now may request favors. However, they seem very prone to administrating land taken in crusades, perhaps reflecting on their Real Life role.
      • Holy Fury fully implements them, along with a full system for representing Northern Crusades separately from the other Crusades. They appear after a certain date and will wage war on any de jure ruler in the Baltics or Finland that hasn't been converted to Christianity yet, and then rule it as the Teutonic State.
  • It also appears in Europa Universalis, in which it is a playable nation and one of the more popular. The Livonian brothers are vassals and allies of the Teutonic Order.
    • It's also possible that if you play long enough, the option becomes available to become Prussia.
  • Medic's Polycount Set in Team Fortress 2 makes him into one of these, comprised of a helmet, a Healing Shiv crossbow, and a bonesaw with a Taunt effect similar to the Buff Banner. It's either a play on his German heritage and/or a reference to his Knight in Sour Armor attitude towards his job.
  • The Teutonic Knights appear in the Red Alert 3: Paradox mod as part of the Order of the Talon along with The Knights Templar and The Knights Hospitallers, and specifically are represented by the Chevalier unit. In the Paradox timeline, the Teutonic Knights were virtually extinct until Talon heroine Lady Maria revived them as an Amazon Brigade comprised of her handpicked students.
  • They are featured as one of the best armored swordsman units in Knights of Honor, but are only limited available to Catholic nations ruling specific provinces.
  • Available to the German civilization as a Heavy Mounted unit in Empire Earth 2. The German campaign has you play as the Order for a few levels, giving the even better Teutonic Crusader: fast, tough horsemen that can convert enemies.