3) Commercialism (and banking) beyond the Holy Land
While the primary goal of the Templars was to defend the pilgrims against ‘foreign’ forays, it was not long before they were involved in political affairs in Outremer, sometimes at the beckoning of the newly established Christian kingdoms in the region. Such overtures translated to defending borders of these realms or mounting skirmishes against local enemy forces, thus allowing the Templars to flex their military muscle. In return, the Order was gifted lands, farms and even castles for management. Similar scenarios were also played out in the west in Iberia (Spain and Portugal), and Christian kingdoms based there valued the military prowess of the Templars – so much so that they were frequently furnished with swathes of lands on the frontiers that separated the Moors. This scope was further complemented by land and monetary endowments that were situated across Europe, far away from the conflict zones. Supported by such large tracts of real estate, the Templars not only managed farms and vineyards, but also engaged in manufacturing, imports, and even ship-building – thus creating a ‘multinational’ commercial empire of sorts that connected Christendom.
Interestingly, in spite of their mercantile acumen, the individual Knights Templar were sworn to poverty (at least in theory). This, in turn, led to the creation of a trustworthy ‘brand value’ that advertised Catholic Christian virtues with a military veneer. Inspired by these supportive measures, and also fearful of their own safety, European pilgrims (circa 1150 AD) frequently deposited their valuables with the local Templar preceptory before embarking on their overseas journey to the Holy Land. The Templars, in turn, prepared letters of credit that indicated the value of these deposits. So once the pilgrim reached the Holy Land, he/she was handed over an amount of treasure of equal value (as written in the document). Simply put, this system alluded to an early form of banking and quite a successful one at that.