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Armament and equipment of the Teutonic Knights
(2 voti)
Écrit par Francesco Giovagnorio   

The problem of the sources: Contrarily to what it could be thought, given the relative vicinity of the period, reconstructing the real aspect of the Teutonic Knights is anything but easy. The surviving objects are remarkably few and limited to manufacts of iron and steel; the images are insufficient and deteriorated, being frescoes largely corroded, executed from artists of insufficient talent, without direct experience and influenced by the traditional iconography, which saw all Christian knights invariably dressed in the same way; the written reports never face the problem of the armament or they describe it superficially, often with terms that once had no need of explanation but that today appear often obscure. Therefore we are forced to carry out intercrossed controls between contemporary figurative representations and reports, extrapolating the missing parts from similar contemporary situations (other monastic orders, other European knights). Fortunately numerous official documents survived, like books of treasurers of the Order, lists of expenses, relations of inspections to Armories of the Order, invoices of purchases, repair and decoration of arms and armaments, that, having to mention the objects with detail, constitute the more reliable and precious sources; unfortunately they do not cover the period antecedent to the XV century, which is fundamental for the history of the Order.

Teutonic knights, Serjeants and Confrères

The reconstruction of the armament of the Teutonic Knights must also consider the differences between the main elements of the Teutonic army. We begin with excluding the various mercenary troops and troops enrolled from the submitted people that fought under the standards of the Order because they were too heterogenous and ill-documented. The Teutonic Knights, members of greatest level of the Order, having made the three vows (poverty, chastity and obedience) had to follow all the rules, particularly those that, referring to humility and equality of monastic life, expressly forbade any attempt of distinction of the Knights by means of coats of arms or decorations of gold and silver. On the other hand the Knights, members of noble and rich families, would have liked to equip with all the symbols of their status, like the other European knights; the official documents testify that, during all the life of the Order, the trial of strength between these two opposite tendencies was constant, with a series of compromises that, as years were passing, shifted more and more towards the distinction of the Knight, mostly after the outbreak in the West of the heraldry: in XV the century it was considered normal that every Knight carried his own symbols and standards. That this one was a battle lost from the start was understandable from the fact that the Great Master, who had to make people observe the rules, was the first one to spend the money of the Order for silver and gold decorations...


Great Master by Italeri


Knight by Italeri

The Serjeants were members of inferior level, that were neve consacred as Knights and therefore only had support functions, fighting always on foot and with a qualitatively inferior armament. For these reasons they never raised the individualistic issues of the Knights.


Serjeant by Italeri

The Confrères, or Hosts, were knights who came to fight for the Order in the periods of greater necessity, that is during military campaigns of particular complexity. In fact, since the Pope had conformed any campaign against the enemies of the faith to a crusade, many knights preferred to fight with the Teutonic Order rather than in the Holy Land, mostly for economic reasons. The Confrères were obviously spared from the respect of humility, poverty and equality and could equip as they preferred, using obviously their own heraldry.


Confrère by Italeri

Armor:

Not having sources documenting the first period of life of the Order, correspondent to centuries XII-XIV, we have reason to think that the apparel characterizing them was practically identical to that of the other monastic orders, like the Templars and the Ospitaliers, on whose rule, on the other hand, was modeled that of the Teutonics. The Knights had therefore to wear a long shirt of linen or of wool, tightened to the flanks with a rope, and two long stockings of the same material, long up to the groin and with small ropes which had to be fastened to the the rope running around the flanks. Subsequently a jacket without sleeves of normal or quilted leather was worn, that had to supply an additional protection avoiding that the rings of the chain mail penetrated under the skin, in case of a strong blow. The successive layer was the chain mail, with long sleeves and extended until the knee, integrated with the colf, gloves and stockings of the same material: this type of protection was already ubiquitary around 1240 (as we can see in some drawings) and had to be diffused at least until to the half of XIV the century. Evidences exist of a spread of an armor of oriental origin, made from flakes of metal sewn on one tunica of leather or felt, in alternative to the iron mesh, from the beginning of XIV the century or perhaps before. From the end of the XIII century important modifications began to diffuse: the jacket of leather without sleeves passed over the chain mail and was enriched with riveted slabs of metal, beginnig with the chest, then also to the back and on the flanks; also sagomate steel slabs on the knees, legs and forearms began to appear; gloves of leather with small steel slabs were worn, to cover the back of the hand and the fingers. From the half of the XIV century the jacket of leather with slabs of steel was going to be substituted with the full breast plate, while the sagomate steel slabs increased in number and also covered the shoulders and the groins, beginning to be articulated, until reaching the complete armor that did not appear before the end of XV the century; in the same period, the chain mail is being dismissed, replaced from bracelets and greaves of felt, quilted linen and leather.

Surcoat

It deserves a separate part because it is a fundamental element of the classic iconography of the Teutonic Knight. The fact hat the white surcoat with a black cross was the main element of the Teutonic Knight's apparel also emerges from direct testimonies: in a process of 1339 against the Order, accused of pillage and violences, a witness asserts of being sure to have seen Teutonic Knights because habebant super armas et vestem superiorem albam nigram crucem. In fact, around 1150 the Pope established that the Templar Order had to wear a white vest with a pointed hood and a cape similar to that of the Cistercenses, but afterwards, on the basis of the experience maturated on the field, allowed the Knights to wear a version more apt to combat, without pointed hood, cape and sleeves, much similar therefore to the surcoat worn in the same period by the european knights. The surcoat of the serjeants had to be gray. From approximately 1190 on, on the surcoat a Latin cross appeared, without specification about where and how much large it had to be. The Teutonic Order, been born in 1199 on the example of the Templars, had not lived the first phase of the equipment and therefore, with all probability, received directly the simplified equipment, on which to wear the cross that, for the Teutonics, had to be black. The serjeants and, probably, also the Confrères carried a truncated cross resembling a greek tau. The surcoat resisted until the end of the XV century, when the diffusion of the breast plate determined its dismission; it was not however rare to see Knights with the breast plate and the surcoat. It can be assumed that, in particular climatic conditions, the Knights have worn, over all, the ample cape with pointed hood that was part of the conventual clothing.


Helm

The period in which the Teutonics arrived in Prussia (XIII century) is characterized from the use of the helm that was more popular in Europe, that is the conical helm with nasal protection of norman type; numerous sources document the enormous popularity of this model, that was quite used by the Teutonics until the beginnig of the XV century. The great helm, one the characteristic elements of the iconography of the Teutonic Knights, began its diffusion towards the end of the XIII century, as it was happening in Europe, when it constituted a typical symbol of chivalry. It was of cylindrical shape, with a flat top, constructed with more riveted slabs and eventually with reinforced joints, one or two fissures in correspondence of the eyes and with holes for the areation. As for the European knights, the Teutonic helms were surmounted by a crest, which was a sheet of circular shape with the black cross, or with small lateral devices also bringing a black cross. Other additions are not documented, like horns, wings, bird heads, while silver and gold decorations were frequent, alyhough expressly prohibited.



Norman helmet XII cent. - Helm XII cent. - Great Helm XIII cent. - Great Helm XIV cent. - Kettle-hat XIII cent.
By Medieval Reproduction - Canada



During the already cited process, which took place in the first half of the XIV century, the usual eyewitness, interrogated about the faces of the attacking soldiers, answers "multos quos non potuit bene cognoscere quia erant galeati", testifying the spread of closed helms in that period. The same individual informs us that many Knights "habebant crucem nigram super caput in galeis", confirming the spread of ornamental crosses on the helms. The age of the great helm was intense but short: it probably disappeared towards the end of the XIV century because of its constructive defects, such as the weakness of the slabs which were often separated by a well arranged blow, the difficulty in respiration and vision, the enormous weight that fatigued the cervical column and the muscles of the neck. A type of helm that had a remarkable success, being the only one uninterruptedly worn from the XII century until the beginnig of the XVI, is the one commonly called kettle-hat: to give an idea of the diffusion, the inventory of a Teutonic armory, written in 1404, lists 250 kettle-hats, approximately 50% of the helms present. It was essentially one metal cap, with one stiff, more or less wide, circular metal plate. Some lists of expenses which have survived, in which painting expenses of the kettle-hats are documented, let us conclude that they were painted, probably in black and white and with the black cross. In the XIV century the basnet began its diffusion also among the Teutonics, and it became the predominant helm at the beginning of the XV century. Two types of face protection were joined to the helm, a convex one and another pointed one, commonly called "pig-face".
A particular helm, not worn in Europe, was the helm called pekilhube, of clear oriental derivation, which can be described like a norman helm that, instead of the conical cap, had a pointed one; it was worn with a fan of iron mesh to protect the neck.


Pekilhube

Already mentioned in the XIV century and probably copied from the Prussians, recently conquered by the Teutonic Order, it was worn until the beginning of the XVI century. But this type of helm had to constitute one of the many inheritances left from the Teutonics to Prussia: some centuries after, modified in the shape and the name (pikelhaube), it was destined to return in order to constitute the symbol of the prussian soldier.

Shield

The sources document a reduced variety of shapes, probably because the craftsmen who worked for the Order were rather few. The triangular shield with rounded margins, which is commonly represented with the Teutonic Knight, was in facts the model by far more diffused, from the origin of the Order until the XV century. Successive models that, as it was happening in Europe, were smaller as the individual protection of the knight was increasing, were adopted in the XV and XVI centuries; they had often the characteristic notch on a side in order to support the lance. A characteristic of Order and a rather popular model, along with the triangular shield, is the so-called scutum pruthenicum, that, as can be guessed from the name, must have been copied from the Prussians: it was rectangular with rounded edges and it was used by many Knights until the XV century.


Scutum Pruthenicum and shield with Imperial Eagle

The shields were invariably painted white and on them a black cross was painted, as all the sources document. Around 1230 the Emperor concessed to the Great Master of the Order the privilege to add the imperial eagle to the black cross: the more characteristic standard of the Teutonic Order was therefore born, and all the subsequent Great Masters painted them on their shields and on their personal standards for all the successive history of the Order. The usual lists of expenses let us see that the eagle and the added overlapping cross were painted in gold. We do not have evidences that such a standard was painted on the shields of other Knights, but this cannot be excluded, even if it is difficult that it could have taken place before the XIV century. With the spread of the heraldry from the XIV century on, it is probable that the shield paintings became more and more personalized, with solutions of compromise as the contemporary presence of the personal heraldry and the black cross of the Order.

Arms

In the sources substantial differences between the armament of the Teutonic Knights and the one of the other contemporary European knights are not found. The sword was obviously part of the equipment, beyond possessing an obvious symbolic value: it was constructed in the typical shape of the period, every Knight could have more of them and, also in this case, the decoration with precious materials and the excessive personalisation were forbidden; as the usual exception, we have a list of expenses according to which Ulrich von Jungingen, as soon as be became Great Master, made the Order spend a considerable amount in order to decorate his sword with approximately 250 grams of silver. Lances were ubiquitary and integrating part of the armament. It seems they were approximately 2.5 meters long and decorated with spiral stripes, probably in the colors of the Order (black and white). Nearly always they were adorned with a pennon, of variable dimensions. Surely axes and maces were also employed, but the references are too insufficient to imagine how much they were popular.

Equipment of the horses

One of the typical elements of the iconography, the white housing with black crosses who should have covered the horses of the Teutonics, on the contrary does not seem having been much used. It seems in fact that only a few Knights have adopted it and not before the half of the XIV century; for sure is very rarely represented in the paintings and drawings that have survived. Perhaps more or less in the same period the horse armor began its spreading, but only some Teutonics (only Great Masters) adopted and not before the end of the XV century. It could be made from quilted tissue, chain mail or articulated steel slabs.

SOURCES

A. Nowakowski, Arms And Armour In The Medieval Teutonic Order's State In Prussia. Oficyna Naucowa, Lodz 1994.

T. Wise, R. Scollins, The knights of Christ, Men-At-Arms Series 155, Osprey 1984

D. Nicolle, Knight Ospitaller 1: 1100-1306, Warrior 33, Osprey 2001

H. Nicholson, Knight Templar 1: 1120-1312, Warrior 91, Osprey 2003

D. Nicolle, Lake Peipus 1242 Battle of the Ice, Campaign 46, Osprey 2001

S. Turnbull, Tannenberg 1410 Disaster for the Teutonic Knights, Campaign 122, Osprey 2003

 


Knight and Great Master XIII cent. by Pegaso Models


Knight and Great Master XIV cent. by Pegaso Models

 


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