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Gönderen Konu: Order of the Knights of Malta (Video)  (Okunma sayısı 12081 defa)

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Ekim 31, 2006, 09:55:49 ös
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Order of the Knights of Malta

The Knights Of Malta
Introduction To The Order Of Malta

The Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (to give their full name) were formed long before their reign on Malta. The Order was originally established in 1085 as a community of monks responsible for looking after the sick at the Hospital of St. John in Jerusalem. They later became a military order, defending crusader territory in the Holy Lands and safeguarding the perilous routes taken by medieval pilgrims. The Knights were drawn exclusively from noble families and the Order acquired vast wealth from those it recruited and later from the ill-gotten gains of their privateering.

The Order of the Hospital was not only the first military-religious order of chivalry, but indeed the first order of knighthood of any kind. Previously, knights did not serve in corporate bodies other than the armies of particular sovereigns. The Order of the Temple, the Teutonic Order and the Order of Saint Lazarus were founded soon after the Order of the Hospital. Each of these orders had its own purposes, of which military defence was but one. Until this time, most knights had been minor feudatories obliged, as part of the feudal system, to undertake military service for a prescribed number of days each year; some were full time soldiers who served in garrisons.

The Order was ruled by a Grand Master who was answerable only to the Pope. Knights were chosen from the aristocratic families of France, Italy, Spain, England and Portugal. On acceptance into the Order they were sworn to celibacy, poverty and obedience. Few lived up to these ideals; many were very wealthy and the Knights' standoffish attitude towards the locals does not always seem to have applied when it came to temptations of the flesh.

In 1343, the Order conquered Smyrna, which it held for six decades. The knights of Malta took part in battles in Egypt and Syria, and supported the Armenians' in their valiant defence against the Muslims.

Though the Order was becoming an important naval power in the eastern Mediterranean, the knights were expected to perform hospitaller tasks in addition to their military and naval duties. It is this role that has survived to the present. However, not everybody associated with the Order was a knight. There were chaplains, surgeons and serving brothers, as well as soldiers and sailors, men-at-arms who were not invested as knights but known as sergeants-at-arms.

As the Islamic movement gained momentum, the Order started retreating from the Holy Land and eventually moved their headquarters to Cyprus. Their stay in Cyprus was not to last. Once again, retreating form the advancing Islamic powers, the Order moved to Rhodes, where they enjoyed territorial sovereignty for the first time. However, on this island there were few, if any, pilgrims to protect, and from this period on the Order became more militaristic. Another transformation took place; although the Knights were trained and experienced in land battles, in Rhodes the deciding factor became sea battles. In addition, with its isolation, the island and the Grand Master of the Order gained much independent power, equal to that of a small principality.

   At Rhodes, the Order was attacked by Muslim forces that it successfully repelled in 1440, 1444, 1469, and during a particularly fierce battle in 1480.
The Middle Ages were nearly at an end, and the discovery of a new continent beckoned, but the Mediterranean was still the focus of maritime commerce for Europe, western Asia and northern Africa.

It was the battle of 1522 at Rhodes that proved decisive to the Order. Suleiman the Magnificent launched an attack with 400 ships and, according to the best estimates, some two hundred thousand soldiers. Following a courageous defence for six months by a few thousand knights and other troops, the Order surrendered on Christmas Eve and the knights were allowed to depart on 1 January 1523. Suleiman the Magnificent respecting their bravery, decided to spare their lives, and even made ships available to carry the remaining Knights to Europe.

The Knights had nowhere to go so they moved with what little they could carry to Civitavecchia in Italy. From there they moved to Viterbo and then to Niece. This period of wandering lasted seven years. Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, gave them the choice of Malta or Tripoli as a new base. Neither was to their liking, but nothing, they thought, could be worse than Tripoli.

In March of 1530, under pressure from Pope Clement VIII, Grand Master Philippe Villiers de l'Isle-Adam accepted the islands of Malta in perpetual fief for the annual rent of a Falcon.

Grand Master Phillipe Villiers de L'Isle Adam taking the silver key to the city from the Captain of the Rod in Malta, October 26, 1530

From this period, the knights wore the famous Maltese Cross. It is an eight-pointed cross, the eight points representing the eight obligations and aspirations which are:


      Live In truth

      Have Faith

      Repent Of Sin

      Give proof of humility

      Love Justice

      Be Merciful

      Be Sincere

      Endure persecution

Thus, the Order become known as the "Order of Malta." In deference to its origins in the Holy City, it was known as the Hierosolymitan Order of Malta well into the twentieth century. Adopting a new appellation was simple enough; developing this harsh land would be more difficult. Despite its obvious strategic importance, Malta was, for the most part, a hilly and deforested island having few natural resources other than olive groves, wheat fields and good fishing waters. It was, and is, similar to Pantelleria, Lampedusa and some parts of Sicily. The knights set about developing the islands they had been granted.

The Knights were not impressed with their new home. They found it too barren. But they had no choice but to make the best of it. It was not until 1533 that the Order allowed Maltese Chaplains into the Order.

Not surprisingly, hospitals were among the first projects to be undertaken on Malta, where French soon supplanted Italian as the official language (though the native inhabitants continued to speak Maltese, a language related to Sicilian). The knights also constructed fortresses, watch towers and, naturally, churches. Its acquisition of Malta signalled the beginning of the Order's renewed naval activity. Maritime trade greatly developed; indeed it became a primary means of economic support.

Because such trade was increasingly hindered by the Barbary Corsairs (The Barbarossa Brothers, Dragut Reis), the knights were to become better known for bringing the sea crusade to the western Mediterranean. In this they were supported by sympathetic sovereigns and new orders of chivalry, most notably the Piedmontese Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus and, in 1561, the Tuscan Order of Saint Stephen. Since Malta occupied a strategic position between the Christian and Muslim worlds, the Order of Malta emerged as the most important obstacle to Islam's encroachment into the heart of Christendom. It must be said, however, that the initial goals of the grand masters and the Italian princes were more commercial than ideological, as the pirates' activities seriously threatened trade.

Their peace did not last long however, as once more Islamic forces followed the Order to Malta in a bid to expand their empire.


On May 18, 1565, Suleiman, regretting his previous mercy, attacked Malta with, it is said, 38,000 troops and 138 galleys for four months against 500 knights and 5,000 soldiers which were dispersed in two strongholds. Under the Command of Dragut Reis, the Turks first destroyed the old city, then focused their attention to St. Elmo, a fort in which some knights were holding out. It is said over 6,000 cannonballs were fired into the fort and the fort capitulated on June 23rd after losing half its force. The survivors, 100 knights and 500 soldiers, were all executed, their bodies floated in the harbor on wooden crosses to intimidate the remaining knights holding out.

The Grand Master de la Valette strengthened the defenses of the cities of Birgu and Senglea across the harbour with the remaining 300 knights during the attack on Fort Saint Elmo. The fortifications at Medina were also strengthened. Sixty days after Fort Saint Elmo fell to the Turks, a small force of six hundred men and forty-four knights arrived from Italy to assist the embattled defenders at Birgu and Senglea. Once Fort Saint Elmo was fully secured , the Turks turned their sights on Birgu and Senglea across the harbour. The attack was furious by all accounts. However, the knights and the Maltese people staunchly defended the fortifications and the Turks lost 2,500 men in a single assault upon Birgu in July. An attempt to subdue Medina also failed.

Desperate pleas to Spain were finally answered, when Don Garcia set sail from Syracuse with his men and two hundred fifty knights and on September 7th, landed at Mellieha Bay. The next day the Turks raised the siege of Malta and by September 12th, they had all left the island. September 8th, the feast of the birth of the Virgin and Our Lady of Victories holds a special place in the hearts of the Maltese people.

More than nine thousand men were lost during the siege, of whom two hundred and nineteen were knights. The island's fortifications were in ruins. This spurred de la Valette to build the City of Valletta and its now historic bastions and palaces. Valletta has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. Standing on top of the bastions still gives one the feelings of the great battles fought by the knights and the Maltese people during the Great Siege.

The Siege of Malta was, in the first instance, a defensive battle, and certainly a bloody one. The knights would encounter Muslim forces again at the Battle of Lepanto, in 1571.

Ironically, it was the two great victories of the Knights which spelt the death-knell of the Order. The knights eventually lost sight of their vows of poverty although generally speaking, they fought hard to live by their code - the eight aspirations symbolized by the eight-pointed cross. The Great Siege of 1565, followed by the crucial Battle of Lepanto in 1571, were so successful in checking the Ottoman advance into the western Mediterranean, that there was no longer an Infidel to fight. As time went on, the Order was becoming redundant as a fighting force. The Order gradually grew complacent and corrupt, with little to do but scour the seas for any booty that could be seized from Muslim ships.

When the French Revolution broke out, the French knights were deeply divided about were their loyalties stood. In 1791, a decree deprived the French knights of their nationality and in September of 1792 the Order's estates and holdings in France were confiscated.

Having chosen Malta, the Knights stayed for 268 years, transforming what they called 'merely a rock of soft sandstone' into a flourishing island with mighty defences and a capital city coveted by the great powers of Europe.
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