The Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099. Pilgrims immediately began traveling to the Holy Land, but danger awaited them. Bandits and Muslims murdered and robbed Europeans making the trek. The Crusaders had secured Jerusalem, but not the surrounding areas. As a result, the Knights Templar formed to escort Pilgrims to the city. In the beginning, the Templars served as a medieval police force and Middle Eastern peace keepers, but their role greatly expanded over their first century of existence.
Islamic bandits routinely massacred European Christians attempting to visit Jerusalem. The journey from Jaffa to Jerusalem was particularly deadly. As a result, French nobleman Hugues de Payens gathered eight relatives together to protect the tourists. Payens asked Jerusalem’s King Baldwin I for permission to police the highway. A grateful king granted land on the Temple Mount to establish a headquarters. As a result, they became the Knights Templar because they were based on the Temple Mount.
The original roster of nine knights included Payens. Eventually, the church sanctioned their mission in 1129. Church support made them a popular charity in Europe. Nobles donated money, land, and even their children to the order. The contributions ensured a place in heaven for the nobles. Some of the donations were quite large and often included tracts of land.
Their popularity led to more benefits than simple access to noble pocketbooks. In 1139, Templars received tax exempt status and became subject only to Papal authority. Additionally, the knights could move across borders unobstructed. The group’s popularity, wealth, and benefits led to a dramatic expansion of the order and its mission.
The Pope granted the knights more power due to their mission and charitable status. They became sanctioned bankers for Europeans travelling to the Holy Land. Pilgrims could go to the Templars, deposit funds, receive a voucher, or check, for the amount deposited, and then go to the Middle East without carrying money. This proved a further protection against banditry. The knights also began lending money with interest, holding noble wealth in trust for crusaders, and engaged in business to turn a profit. Templar profits financed security in the Middle East, military adventures, and covered general operating costs.
On top of their security and banking roles, the Templars engaged the Muslims. They even defeated the great Saladin in 1177. The knights fought with Richard the Lionheart on a successful Crusade. Their ventures increased their fame and popularity.
By the turn of the thirteenth century, the Knights Templars were extremely powerful. They enjoyed church protection and sanction. Their capital and banking ventures created great wealth. The Templars martial skills and role as peace keepers made them legend. They became the preeminent Knightly order of the Middle Ages.