Military History of The Crusader States - Crusader Forces - Heavy Cavalry and Infantry

Heavy Cavalry and Infantry

Crusader heavy cavalry initially did not consist of any military orders like the Templars. These were created after the successes of the first crusade. Most of the heavy cavalry were knights. However, these knights would often find themselves unhorsed throughout their mission, due to starvation and lack of fodder for their mounts. Consequently, many heavy cavalry may have found themselves as infantry towards the end of their crusade.

Some military orders may have fought on foot as dismounted knights. This would have been favorable in circumstances were the ground was difficult or else too narrow for large numbers of cavalry. However, in the open desert plains of the Middle East, it would have been foolish to travel on foot.

Templar Knights

The Templar Knights were created in 1119 when King Baldwin II gave permission for eight knights to start a new military order to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy land. They never retreated from battle and as a result, only a tenth of the Templars survived battle. The Order had to constantly spend large sums of money recruiting new knights. Over time, The Templars grew to an impressive order of thousands of members, though not all would have been heavy cavalry – most would have been squires or servants accompanying the Knights. The Templars participated in almost every major battle of the Second Crusade onwards. They were later betrayed and disbanded by a combination of the French crown and the papacy.

Knights of St. John

The Knights of St. John were founded as a military order in 1113. Their aim was to protect pilgrims and more importantly, to set up hospices and other charitable services to the pilgrims. In 1005, a Christian hospital was destroyed by the Caliph Al Hakim. This was rebuilt later in 1023. The Knights of St. John were forced to evacuate from the Holy Land, traveling across the Mediterranean until finally settling on Malta. They remained a potent force until their dismemberment by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798.

Knights of Santiago

Although many historians see the Reconquista in Spain itself as a long Crusade, the Knights of Santiago did not take part in any campaigns in the Levant. Their mission, like many of the other military orders, was to protect pilgrims heading from Northern Spain, which in the twelfth century was Christian, into the Islamic south and then to the Holy land.

Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Knightly order was founded in the late 12th century after the crusades in the Middle East (most likely the Third Crusade). Of German origin, Germany initially contributed a large army of heavy infantry and cavalry under Frederick Barbarossa. After the aging emperor's mysterious death (and supposed pickling), a few of these knights made it to the Holy Land and established themselves, where they controlled the polls of the ports in the parts of the Levant controlled by the Crusaders. Most of the action seen by these Knights, however, were directed against Prussia and the Polish–Lithuanian commonwealth. The Teutonic Knights declined in importance after a crushing defeat by the Polish–Lithuanian forces in the 1410 Battle of Tannenberg. The Teutons were finally dissolved by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1809. However, the descendants of these Knights formed the elite Prussian officers and such the legacy of the order's martial skill can be examined in the Napoleonic and the Franco–Prussian War.


Typical medieval military doctrine dictated that infantry would be the main composition of any army, but that cavalry would dominate the battlefield. This was certainly true of the Crusaders. It required great horsemanship and archery skills to be a cavalry archer. Horsemen could conserve their strength for battle but infantry had to march to battle. This daunting task across the desert is made all the more uncomfortable when considering the weight arms, armour, and baggage, combined with the threat of getting lost while surrounded by the enemy. Both sides used their cavalry to strike the deepest blow, while the infantry would then be useful in supporting roles, such as archery, covering flanks, or using sheer weight and numbers in attrition and pursuit.

Read more about this topic:  Military History Of The Crusader States, Crusader Forces

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