BA History and Russian

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Christ's Knights: Hospitallers and Templars in the Latin East and Beyond

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST31621
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


The idea that monks – men who fought the metaphorical battle against the Devil’s temptations through prayer and contemplation – should take up the sword and fight in literal battle against the supposed enemies of the faith was a shocking innovation of the twelfth century. The study of the military religious orders, the fighting monks, is the study of a set of paradoxes: care for the sick and slaughter of the infidel; centres of action on the periphery of Europe; Christian lordship of Islamic populations – not to mention the central paradox of the ‘fighting monk’ himself. We will interrogate these oppositions to grasp what the military religious orders can tell the historian about the nature of medieval society. How could these apparent contradictions be negotiated and reconciled? What did the Hospitallers and the Templars think they were? What did others think they were? Why were so many women drawn to enter what are, at first sight, thoroughly masculine enterprises? Why were the Templars brutally suppressed, but the Hospitallers still survive?


History and joint programmes with History


This course will:

  • engage students with the histories of religious formations, belief, and social structures in the Middle Ages, by examining religious orders that transgressed accepted boundaries between lay and religious spheres of action
  • engage students with the close analysis of a wide range of documentary source materials, utilizing interdisciplinary methodologies developed through interaction with literary scholarship and historical theology
  • explore the epistemological issues inherent in the use and applicability of limited, tendentious, and fragmentary evidence in the construction of historical argument
  • equip students with the advanced skills in the independent evaluation of primary evidence, the construction of argument on that basis, and the concise presentation of complex ideas in writing, necessary to succeed with the L3 Thesis and at L4

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

Knowledge and understanding

  • understand the context in which the religious military orders emerged in the twelfth century, and why historians have found it so difficult to agree on the processes that gave rise to them (‘militarization’)
  • understand why the religious military orders proved repeatedly to be so controversial; and why, as what, and by whom they found acceptance
  • understand the mechanisms by which collective identity was formed, shaped, and purposefully changed over time in a medieval context
  • understand how identity and group belonging is contingent (inter alia) upon place, time, social function, and gender
  • understand the conditions under which organizations survive in radically changing circumstances, or fail to do so

Intellectual skills

  • question the status of received ‘fact’ and understand precisely the fragile evidentiary basis, susceptible to multiple interpretation, on which historical argument rests
  • understand the difficulties inherent in the historical reconstruction of the intangible, such as conceptions of identity, belief, and patterns of thought, and their construction and encapsulation in texts of various types, literary genres, and purposes
  • critically evaluate the status of historiographical debates through independent assessment of the evidence under contention
  • understand key paradigms through which modern scholarship approaches the medieval past (e.g. centre v. periphery; mediality; identity; mechanics of power)

Practical skills

  • analyze challenging primary evidence from a range of textual types and non-textual sources (e.g. art; material culture; architecture), providing students with the confidence to tackle unfamiliar bodies of material
  • formulate and communicate independent conclusions effectively in writing, at the level required for the graduate-entry employment market
  • marshal arguments and supporting evidence under pressure, developing flexibility of thought
  • present and explain issues cogently and concisely in oral presentation, and be able to lead and steer discussion independently

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • work in teams in small-group discussion, and present their ideas to each other and to the full workshop group
  • express complex ideas and intellectually challenging issues with concision and fluency in writing, having full command of their chosen subject of inquiry
  • analyze raw evidence, assess competing interpretations, and evaluate the usefulness of different frameworks in which to locate the issues under consideration
  • think critically at the highest level, suitable for progress to postgraduate study or to upper-level graduate-entry employment in cognate fields (e.g. law, consultancy, management)
  • engage in debate through constructive discussion not hampered by antagonistic or simplistically dismissive assertion

Employability skills

This course will challenge students to encounter the unfamiliar, engage in independent research to grasp it on its own terms, and secure the confidence to offer their own interpretations based on their understanding of the evidence and modern research and scholarship. It will push students to expand their cultural and intellectual horizons, and consistently to use and to augment their powers of critical thought and judgement. It will enable students to become good analysts, and to operate in written and spoken English at the level of professionalism expected for graduate-entry employment.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative

Weighting within unit (if summative)

Source Analysis in pairs, with peer-review



Source Analysis, individual



Source-based Essay, individual



Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Oral feedback on student-led seminars


Written feedback on source analysis, essay and examination


One-to-one feedback on written work in office hours


Recommended reading

Malcolm Barber, The Crusader States (London, 2012).

Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood. A History of the Order of the Temple (Cambridge, 1994).

Adrian Boas, Archaeology of the Military Orders. A Survey of the Urban Centres, Rural Settlement and Castles of the Military Orders in the Latin East (c.1120-1291) (London, 2006).

Jochen Burgtorf et al., eds., The Debate on the Trial of the Templars (1307-1314) (Farnham, 2010).

Alain Demurger, The Last Templar. The Tragedy of Jacques de Molay, Last Grand Master of the Temple, trans. Antonia Nevill (London, 2004).

Robin Griffith-Jones and David Park, ed., The Temple Church in London. History, Architecture, Art (Woodbridge, 2010).

Helen Nicholson, The Knights Hospitaller (Woodbridge, 2001).

Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant, c. 1070-1309 (Basingstoke, 2012).

Jochen Schenk, Templar Families. Landowning Families and the Order of the Temple in France, c.1120-1307 (Cambridge, 2012).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Stephen Mossman Unit coordinator

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