Teutonic Knights from the eastern Mediterranean


Ordo Militaris Teutonicus Levantis (OMTL)


1311 – 1365 OMTL in Cyprus

OMTL znak

This Knightly Order named Ordo Militaris Teutonicus Levantis was founded in 1311 by Cypriot King Henry II Lusignan who granted the Order administrative autonomy. Cyprus was a Crusader state in these times. After the last Christian stands in Palestine (Akkon 1291) fell to the Muslim hands, Cyprus was the closest base of the Latin Christianity in eastern Mediterranean (in Levant) so the Templar and Johanite headquarters moved there from the Holy Land after 1291 what gave Cyprus an exceptional position. Teutonic Knights moved their headquarters to Venice and then to Malborg in Prussia after 1309. Unlike Johanites or Templar, Teutonic Knights did not try to maintain territory at Greek islands Rhodes and Cyprus.

1311 – Merging of a part of Teutonic Knights, Knights of St. John and Templar into OMTL

This was used by Henry II King of Cyprus in 1311 because a possibility to found a new Order with a slightly changed name Ordo Militaris Teutonicus Levantis in eastern Mediterranean in other words in Levant opened before him. This Order was created by merging of a part of Knights loyal to King Henry II belonging to the military Order of Teutonic Knights, Order of St. John and Templar Order. It was not common to enter a different Order in this era, but in these times of change it was not a rarity as many historical sources confirm. If we imagine era after the year 1291 in Cyprus, we can see great confusion among allied and rival groups concerned purely on political issues of power.

Before they became rulers of Jerusalem and Cyprus, house of Lusignan went through many significant battles alongside Crusaders. Guy de Lusignan,Guy de Lusignan King of Jerusalem bought Cyprus from knights Templar for 100.000 denarii in 1192. Lusignan dynasty brought High Gothic to the island, for example Cathedral of St. Claus in Famgusta (recently a mosque of Lala Mustaf Paša). In the end of 13th century, Knights Templar was probably the richest and the most powerful European Order. Some rulers minded their money and success; others minded how they meddled in political affairs of various countries. Their extinction caused by the French Crown (Philip IV Dapper) and the Pope is a common knowledge. The fact that they had Czech King Wenceslas III murdered or that they attempted a successful coup in the house of Lusignan in Cyprus in 1306 is not so broadly known. Knights Templar or some of their high Representatives replaced Cypriot King Henry II (ruled 1285-1306) by his brother Amaury (ruled 1306-1310). Their sudden arrests in France on Friday (October 13, 1307) and following 127 charges paralysed the entire world known in that time. It was as if you learned from the morning paper or TV news that all the directors of banks and business companies were arrested. It was an event of such importance. For Henry II it was an opportunity to get the throne back. And Henry II took the chance. In 1310 he had his brother Amaury murdered and reclaimed the Throne. The second era of his rule is dated from 1310 to 1324. He consolidated his power with the support of his loyal Knights of three Orders (Teutonic, Johanite and Templar) who remained at the island. Henry II clearly distinguished what importance has a loyal personal Guard that would have a recognised and immense strike force. Henry II brought Knights templar to justice on pope’s request in 1310. They were all freed. Then Within Europe-Wide unjust persecution, the Pope ordered second trial, we have no records about it, but only several Representatives remained in prison and all the other Knights were freed.

Erb OMTL (773x800)Templar Cyprus Governor Guillaum Mauviel became the first Grand Master of the Order Ordo Militaris Teutonicus Levantis; he was wise enough to create a tactical character for the Order composing of symbols of all three Orders. The name Teutonicus completely diverted attention from Templar Knights who were united in Ordo Militaris Teutonicus Levantis and made 70% of new Knights.

Subsequently Knights of St. John left Cyprus (where they were not able to increase their wealth and properties on the order of the King and local Barons) and under command of their Grand Master Fulk von Villaret moved to island Rhodes that their conquered with help of a Genoa pirate Vignol de Vignoli. In the end, they bought it from the Byzantine governor in 1306. In 1309 they started to build a thorough fortification of the island (and the islands around- together 30 fortresses) and a hospital.

After the abolition of Templar Order (by Bulla Vox in Excelso in 1312), relocation of biggest part of Johanites to Rhodes (1306) and Teutonic Knights to western Prussia (1309), Cyprus remained the only Christian power interested in Holy Land.

1365 – Conquest of Alexandria

Despite all the efforts, only one Crusade of some significance was realised in the next years. King Peter I of Cyprus ordered it in 1365 (he even discussed a possible cooperation on this Crusade with the bohemian King Karl IV in August-September 1364).  Together with his Chancellor Philippe von Meziéres, who was also a Grand Master Ordo Militaris Teutonicus Levantis (OMTL) and a Commander of King’s elite troop, they led their Knights to Rhodes in 1365 where they assembled a fleet and set sail to Alexandria. They conquered this city and with it they gained and immense wealth, all this after a short fight. Only three days later a great Muslim army reached the city. Peter I accessed the situation and realised, he could not defend the city against such an immense army. He decided to withdraw his men immediately. Muslims therefore got the plundered city with hardly any fight back.

Cypriot King still remained King of Cyprus and Jerusalem by Name, what he emphasized for a long time and after his coronation in the Capital Nicosia, second coronation with the Jerusalemite Crown took place in Famagusta, the closest city to the Holy land, in 1372.

1489 – 1570 Dominion of Venice

Venice dominated Cyprus in a brazen way in 1489; it was a strategic key point to domination of the Mediterranean. After marriage to Catherine Cornaro, a lady from one of the noblest Venice families, King of Cyprus was poisoned. Consequently Lusignan sovereign rights moved to Venice. OMTL had to fully comply with this change and swear loyalty to the new rulers – Venice. After 1500 Venice fully dominated trade in Mediterranean and conquered North-East Italy from the Adriatic seat to the Alps. To maintain such a wide area, constant military conflicts were inevitable. The goal of Cambrai league, founded by the most powerful men of Europe – Pope Julius II, Ferdinand Kat., Emperor Maximilian I, and Louis XII (King of Bohemia and Hungary Vladislaus II) – in 1508, was to destroy Venice. Troops of Maximilian I plundered cities of Verona, Padua and Treves. Julius II conquered Perugia and Bologna, but the area remained faithful to moderate Venetian dominion.

Venetians broke the Cambrai league by giving the Pope and Ferdinand Kat. What they wanted. Maximilian and Louis considered this move treason and wanted to punish the Pope for breaking away from them and so they convened a Church Council in Pisa aimed against Julius II. As a revenge, the Pope together with Venetians, Ferdinand Kat. and the Swiss the Holy League and convened the fifth Lateran Church Council against the Council of Pisa in 1516.

1570 – 1699 Period of Turkish wars

A thread much greater represented the Turks against whom the OMTL fought. In 1522 the Turks widened the Ottoman Empire and displaced Venice from the eastern Mediterranean. Turkish influence grew. In 1530 the Turks attacked cities of Chaniá and Sitiá so the Venetian strengthened the defence of the island again.

Turkish fleet appeared by the Cypriot coast in June 1, 1517 and then anchored near Larnaca. There its Commander Lala Mustafa Paša ordered to debark. He had 50.000 men in infantry, 2.500 horsemen and 80 cannons. Againts them, there were only 3.000 men in the original crew including OMTL Knights and 2.000 men under command of Martineng (who, however, died on the way.) Venetian cavalry on Cyprus had been in a catastrophic state and the post of military Commander of the island was empty after the death of Lorenzo Bomba. Given the above and also because the Cypriot had little reasons to love the Venetians, they offered the Turks that they would not fight against them. They also announced them that the defence of the island stands on islands Nicosia, Famagusta and Cyrenaica. General of militia Astore Baglione commanded defence. His suggestion to stop the Turks was rejected and he withdrew from Nicosia to Famagusta. Lala Mustafa Paša conquered the Capital first and then after a long siege Famagusta at the beginning of September 1571. Cyrenaica capitulated without defence. Reinforcements from Europe (Venetian and Spanish army) that gathered near Rhodes disintegrated. Spanish commander Doria refused to help Famagusta claiming that the aim of the expedition was Nicosia. So the Spanish army floated away and weakened Venetian army withdrew to Crete.  Conquest of Cyprus resulted in moving of OMTL from Cyprus to Venetia. A year later a decisive naval battle at Lepanto took place and western fleet commanded led by Venetians (under the Command of Don Juan d´ Austria) achieved victory over the Turks and got Cyprus back.

In 1575 – 1577 Venice was stricken by the Plague epidemic and 56.000 people died.Expansionism of the Turks was great and reached more and more of central Europe. Venetian Cities Chaniá and Réthymnon fell into the Turkish hands in 1645. From July 14 to September 12, 1683 army of one hundred thousands of sultan Mustafa besieged Vienna. Turkish-Tatar hordes penetrated to Moravia (to Brno and Prerov) where they plundered and pillaged. Moravian Estates constituted defensive troops of musketeers and dragoons to protect numerous Moravian towns (Straznice, Vsetin, Frenstat) at the beginning of August 1683. Polish King Jan Sobieski came to help the besieged Vienna. His Army was passing through Moravia from the mid August and reached Mikulov in August 25. Turkish defeat in Vienna by the Polish-Austrian army (commanded by Charles Duke of Lorraine) signified the end of Turkish expansions in Hungary.

Another battle field where Knights of OMTL fought was Candia on Crete where they were supported by Knights of St. John. The Turks besieged the city of Candia (Heraklion in the Venetian times) for twenty two years. Another Plague epidemic struck in these years. Turkish commander Hussein Pasha was recalled to Constantinople after fifteen years of unsuccessful besieging and was punished for this military failure by public strangulation. 30.000 defenders and more than 100.000 Turks died during besieging of the city until the Venetians were exhausted and the city of Candia capitulated in 1699 in exchange to peaceful depart of Venetians.

Those long fights were completely exhausting for both sides so the peace treaty was signed in Sremski Karlovci in January 26, 1699 and the war between the Holy League and the Ottoman Empire ended. Habsburgs regained eastern Hungary, Transylvania, Croatia and a major part of Slavonia. Also Poland gained some territories (right coast of Ukraine), Venetia got Peloponnese and fortresses in Dalmatia and Russia gained Azov and surroundings. The Turks withdrew from the Central Europe but this status quo was not considered final.

1699 – 1789 Holy League

The Ottomans declared war to Venice in December 8, 1714 under the pretext of naval incidents and because the Venetian Republic supported Monte Negro. Turkish Grand Vizier Damad Ali focused on the Venetian Republic as the weakest part of the holy League. He found Morea (Peloponnese) to be a best target. The Republic gained the city by the Kralovici agreement. Therefore the Turks displaced Venetians from the Greek Morea. In a letter of Prince Eugene de Savoy to the Grand Vizier from April 2, 1716 is quoted president of the Court Military Council about maintaining the conditions of the Kralovici peace treaty where he expresses his fear from the Ottoman arming. High Port should have reduced their hatred towards Venetia a repaid war costs. Ottoman Empire had been given ultimatum by this letter. Then the affairs got a quick turn and in April 133, 1716 alliance between the Republic of St. Mark and the Pope has been crated. It had been both for attack and defence, certain renovation of the Holy League. The document avowed the “calling” to fight against the Ottoman. In reality it had been a group aimed towards a goal, its members seek their own political goals. The main difference from the previous agreements was that they allied not only against Ottomans but also against other mutual enemies, primarily Habsburgs. After the Morea disaster was not difficult to get Venice to agree. The Grand Vizier Damad Ali declared war by a letter to Eugene de Savoy in June 1716. Turkish Grand Vizier Damad Ali died in the battle of Petrovaradin in 1716. In the war from 1716-1718, the Turks had decided to follow a careful tactic to avoid the decisive fight in one battle. The conquest of Timişoara and the battle of Petrovaradin broke the offensive power of the Ottoman army, but did not destroy it in any case. It was not until 1717 and the fall of Belgrade that Prince Eugene de Savoy’s victory over the Turks became evident. He wisely stopped his army in 1718 and did not try to get further inside the Balkan Peninsula to pursue Turks. In the case of Venice, the war confirmed the decline that began at the beginning of the 18th century after the Kralovici peace. It became apparent that the Republic of St. Mark was not able to keep Morea (the Peloponnese). For the Ottoman Empire the lost war signified a benefit of sort. The exhaustion that was felt by all the classes of the inhabitants enabled the Sultan to wage continuous politics and stopped the decline of his Empire.

1789 – 1815 The Napoleonic Wars

The faith of the Order changed again significantly during the Napoleonic Wars. The tension between France and England had been rising since the Great French Bourgeois Revolution in 1789. Great French bourgeois revolution had been something unacceptable and hardly understandable for the Europe in that time and therefore a so called first anti-French coalition was founded (also Prussia was an active member there) and tried to bring the revolutionary France back to the old order. The English – French war was announced in November 1, 1793. The execution of Louis XVI served as a pretext. In reality it was about who would get the domination over the world. England started to build the anti-French coalition right after the declaration of war. It enters into a contract with Austria, Prussia, Russia, Holland, Hessen-Kassel, Napoli and Sardinia. Also Spain became an aly because it feared for its monarchy.

Even in France the contra-revolution expanded, its base was in Toulon. The insurgents occupied the city and handed it over to the English, their allies. The fleet commanded by Admiral Hood captured without any fight thirty one common ships and fifteen frigates plus a fortified port. Admiral took it to pledge on behalf of Louis XVII. According to Royalists, the true heir to the crown was son of the executed Louis XVI – Louis Charles. However he died in the Tower in 1795 as ten years old.

The first anti-French coalition did not succeed to bring France to senses therefore The Basel Peace is signed in 1795. Prussia which had been actively involved so far fell back and kept its distance from conflicts with France. In Prussia, King Bardi William III and Queen Louisa ruled over the country, but the political orientation had been set mainly by Minister of Foreign Affairs August Christian earl von HaugwitzChristian August Heinrich Kurt Graf von Haugwitz who stood for neutrality of Prussia in the era of The Napoleonic Wars.

OMTL remained in Venice until Napoleon put an end to the Venetian Republic in 1798. Napoleon overthrew the antique Venetian Republic and handed it over to the Austrians as a part of final peace settlement. This action antagonised the Knights against the French.

England formed an alliance with Russia in early 1799. Russians then also signed Union Treaty with the Turks, their life-long enemies who started to feel vulnerable. English Admiral Nelson Horatio hated the Russians, alongside French they had been his greatest enemies. England took their usual strategy and wanted to burden their allies as much as possible and benefit from it themselves. The Russians led by Vice- Admiral Usakovov conquered Ionian Islands and occupied Corfu where a French crew dwelled. English-Russian conflict aroused after expulsion of the French from Malta (OMTL also contributed on this victory). Vice- Admiral Usakovov became Nelson’s adversary as he diligently served the interests of Russia. In the end, Malta fell to English hands which resulted in cooling of relations between the two countries and closer cooperation of the Order with Russia.

Knights of OMTL got in touch with Austria and Russia and thank to it they entered the anti-Napoleonic fights under the Tsarist flag. The bound between the Knights of the Order and the Imperial house of Russia started when Tsar Paul I became a Grand Master of the Order of St. John but could not been recognised by the Holy See because of his Orthodox religion.

In the Napoleonic Wars, OMTL Knights were successfully fighting alongside Prussians and Russians against the French. Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France in 1799 when he overthrew the directoire and had himself named one of the three Consuls who should have led the republic.

Russian Tsar Paul I was murdered in night from 11th to 12th March 1801. His son Alexander succeeded him on the throne.

Napoleon Bonaparte had himself crowned emperor in 1804. Admiral Nelson’s fleet defeated French powers in the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The battle of three emperors, also known as the battle of Austerlitz, aroused from the efforts for control over Austria in December 2, 1805. After the victory, Napoleon Bonaparte created a so-called Riesling Association which put an end to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. After napoleon’s negotiating with the Prussian Minister of the Foreign Affairs August Christian Earl von Haugwitz in December 7, 1805 Napoleon pronounced the Prussian statesman a very capable man.

OMTL was reorganised in 1810. Napoleon’s incursion into Russia was defeated in 1812 when after a victory in a battle of Borodino (where OMTL Knights bravely fought against Napoleon) Napoleon Bonaparte entered the Moscow where he only found ruins because the Russian choose tactics of burned ground. Therefore, because of the winter coming, Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to turn back and in the battle of Berezina encountered OMTL Knights once again and suffered a defeat this time. One of the Brethren from the Order who became known for their participation in the fights of Borodino, Moscow and Berezina was a Grand master of the Order Peter Christianowitsch earl von Wittgenstein (Ludwig Adolph Peter Fürst zu Sayn-Wittgensein)Ludwig Adolf Peter zu Sayn-Wittgenstein (1769-1843) who commanded Army Corps alongside Kutuzov against Napoleon’s Guard. After the disastrous return from Russia, Napoleon Bonaparte created a new army of newcomers which was completely crushed in the three day battle of nations in Leipzig in 1813. Wittgenstein became commander of the Russian army after Kutuzov’s death in January 1813. In 1815, after napoleon’s escape from Elba (where he was exiled) and his return to Paris (so-called Hundred Days Empire), battle of Waterloo that signified Napoleon Bonaparte’s final defeat took place.

1815 – 1825 Operations in Russia

In the past ten years, military operations of the OMTL took place mainly in Russia where the headquarters were also moved. After the victory over Napoleon, Knights gave the office of Grand Master of the OMTL to Tsar Alexander ITsar Alexander I and since 1816 the Order had been subjected to the Tsarist dynasty. Most of the Knights of the Order served Tsar in so-called Preobrazhensky Regiment that was famous for its striking force as Tsar’s personal guard. Tsar Alexander I named as his heir to the position of Grand Master Prince Cherib Spiridovic. The late Grand master and member of the Order Petr Christianowitsch earl von Wittgenstein (Ludwig Adolph Peter Fürst zu Sayn-Wittgensein) became a Field Marshal of the Russian army in. Tsar Alexander I got lost without a trace in 1825.

1825 – 1918 Relation to Prussia

The new Grand master Prince Cherib Spiridovic issued that only a member of the Roman-Catholic Church can become member of the Order. Petr Christianowitsch Earl von Wittgenstein led OMTL and Russian army to the battle against the Turks in 1828. His strong orientation towards Prussia that was based in the Order and its highest representatives resulted in his promotion to the princely state (Fürst zu Sayn-Wittgenstein) by the Prussia. OMTL had been opened to any Christian since 1845. Prince, advisor and adjutant of the Russian Tsar bequeathed the office of Grand master to his son Albert Victor so the OMTL remained under Tsarist rule. Earl of Ashburnham became OMTL Knight in 1867 (he was given Order of the Golden Fleece by Emperor Franz Josef). Brethern of the Order contemplated about the future of the Order a lot in this time. Inside the Order, there was a strong influence of remembering the qualities that were attributed to the Prussian army. Nevertheless, Prussia was a direct successor of the original Ordinal state of Teutonic Knights. Relation to Prussia became really intense. The Blazon of the Order had been newly coloured and enriched of emphasised Prussian symbols. Collapse of the Tsarist Empire in 1917 solved some doubts of Brethren whether to remain under Prussia or Tsarist Russia.  Horror and Terror dominated Russia so the Order had to quickly move their headquarters abroad.

1918 – 2006 OMTL in England

In this time the Grand Master was a son of the late Grand Master Albert Victor. He led Ordo Militaris Teutonicus Levantis during the Russian revolution (1917) and in 1918 to England that seemed to provide better hinterland then contemporaneous Prussia. He had a great help in a member of the Order Earl of Ashburnham who played a significant role in this process. This era was very tumultuous for entire Europe. Fall of the Tsarist Russia, end of the World War I and disintegration of Austro-Hungary. In this quick process of changes, it was difficult for Knights of Ordo Militaris Teutonicus Levantis to navigate. A decision made on the basis of previous experiences and the office of Grand Master was put to the hands of a Clergy man. Metropolita Gregorius who managed to gather all the information about the Order’s history, Archbishop Frederic Harrington and Archbishop Jacobus of Selsey were the three Grand Masters who led the Order till the 60’ of the 20th century. Then was a short period when Geary who died in 1986 was a Grand Master. Following 20 years was disastrous for the Order. From 1987 to 1992, the Order had several Grand Chancellors in Malta.  Grand Chancellor Knight Galea unfortunately died too early. His death was a disaster for the Order. Firstly, Galea was the one who examined, recorded and catalogued Order’s history and many documents were in his possession.  He was also the one who navigated the Order and provided direction. Grand master of the Order died shortly after him. Leadership of the Order was paralysed and executive powers were substituted by great canonry. Most of the members were British.

1992 – 2006 Efforts to move OMTL to Germany

It had been decided to move the headquarters of Teutonic Order from Levantis to Germany. This decision also influenced election of a new Grand Master that was von by the current Marshal of the Order German Achim Wili von Bickel in 2006. His goal and afford to move the Order to Germany however encountered a radical opposition of the local land management of the Teutonic Order. Newly appointed marshal of the Order Svatopluk III. Prince von Haugwitz offered his help, ensured Order residence at Zbiroh Castle in the Czech Republic and managed to get the Status for the official operating in the Czech Republic from the State authorities (what meant the Order was allowed to reside and operate in CZ).

2007 – now OMTL in The Czech Republic

Recent Grand Master and Ruling Prince is his Highness Achim Wili Prince von Bickel who is of German nationality. Headquarters of the Order were moved to the Czech Republic to the Zbiroh Castle in 2007 and two descendants of the Czech Nobility are currently members of the grand canonry. One of them is His Serene highness Petr II. Michael Vojtíšek Prince von Hahn who holds the position of the chapter adviser and international Chancellor and the second one is His Serene Highness Svatopluk Prince von Haugwitz who holds the position of the chapter adviser and marshal of the Order.