The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem (official names: Latin: Ordo domus Sanctæ Mariæ Theutonicorum Hierosolymitanorum, German: Orden der Brüder vom Deutschen Haus der Heiligen Maria in Jerusalem), commonly the Teutonic Order (Deutscher Orden, Deutschherrenorden or Deutschritterorden), is a Catholic religious order founded as a military order c. 1192 in Acre, Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The Teutonic Order was formed to aid Christians on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to establish hospitals. Its members have commonly been known as the Teutonic Knights, having a small voluntary and mercenary military membership, serving as a crusading military order for protection of Christians in the Holy Land and the Baltics during the Middle Ages.
Purely religious since 1929, the Teutonic Order still confers limited honorary knighthoods.The Bailiwick of Utrecht of the Teutonic Order, a Protestant chivalric order, is descended from the same medieval military order and also continues to award knighthoods and perform charitable work.
The full name of the Order in German is Orden der Brüder vom Deutschen Haus St. Mariens in Jerusalem or in Latin Ordo domus Sanctæ Mariæ Theutonicorum Hierosolymitanorum (engl. “Order of the House of St. Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem”). Thus the term “Teutonic” echoes the German origins of the order (Theutonicorum) in its Latin name.It is commonly known in German as the Deutscher Orden (official short name, literally “German Order”), historically also as Deutscher Ritterorden (“German Order of Knights”), Deutschherrenorden, Deutschritterorden (“Order of the German Knights”), Marienritter (“Knights of Mary“), Die Herren im weißen Mantel (“The lords in white capes”), etc.
The Teutonic Knights have been known as Zakon Krzyżacki in Polish (“Order of the Cross”) and as Kryžiuočių Ordinas in Lithuanian, Vācu Ordenis in Latvian, Saksa Ordu or, simply, Ordu (“The Order”) in Estonian, as well as various names in other languages.
Formed in the year 1192 in Acre, in the Levant, the medieval Order played an important role in Outremer (the general name for the Crusader states), controlling the port tolls of Acre. After Christian forces were defeated in the Middle East, the Order moved to Transylvania in 1211 to help defend the South-Eastern borders of the Kingdom of Hungary against the Cumans. The Knights were expelled by force of arms by King Andrew II of Hungary in 1225, after attempting to place themselves under papal instead of the original Hungarian sovereignty and thus to become independent.
In 1230, following the Golden Bull of Rimini, Grand Master Hermann von Salza and Duke Konrad I of Masovia launched the Prussian Crusade, a joint invasion of Prussia intended to Christianize the Baltic Old Prussians. The Knights had quickly taken steps against their Polish hosts and with the Holy Roman Emperor‘s support, had changed the status of Chełmno Land (also Ziemia Chelminska or Kulmerland), where they were invited by the Polish prince, into their own property. Starting from there, the Order created the independent Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights, adding continuously the conquered Prussians’ territory, and subsequently conquered Livonia. Over time, the kings of Poland denounced the Order for expropriating their lands, specifically Chełmno Land and later the Polish lands of Pomerelia (also Pomorze Gdańskie or Pomerania), Kujawy, and Dobrzyń Land.
The Order theoretically lost its main purpose in Europe with the Christianization of Lithuania. However, it initiated numerous campaigns against its Christian neighbours, the Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Novgorod Republic (after assimilating the Livonian Order). The Teutonic Knights had a strong economic base which enabled them to hire mercenaries from throughout Europe to augment their feudal levies, and they also became a naval power in the Baltic Sea. In 1410, a Polish-Lithuanian army decisively defeated the Order and broke its military power at the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg). However, the capital of the Teutonic Knights was successfully defended in the following Siege of Marienburg and the Order was saved from collapse.
In 1515, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I made a marriage alliance with Sigismund I of Poland-Lithuania. Thereafter, the empire did not support the Order against Poland. In 1525, Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg resigned and converted to Lutheranism, becoming Duke of Prussia as a vassal of Poland. Soon after, the Order lost Livonia and its holdings in the Protestant areas of Germany.The Order did keep its considerable holdings in Catholic areas of Germany until 1809, when Napoleon Bonaparte ordered its dissolution and the Order lost its last secular holdings.
However, the Order continued to exist as a charitable and ceremonial body. It was outlawed by Adolf Hitler in 1938, but re-established in 1945.Today it operates primarily with charitable aims in Central Europe.