Back in AD 312, it was Constantine The Great who declared Christianity legal. Right after the Christian religion was declared legal, the Roman empire soon became empowered by the new religion and it spread rapidly through the entire empire. Even the pilgrims were finding their way to Jerusalem to find any way they could to worship at the Christian shrines. No one knows for sure exactly when the Order of the Knights of St. John came to be or what their exact purpose was. Historians have debated for years exactly where they came from and what year they originated.
Some researchers have noted that their origins may date back to 600 AD and it was actually the order of Pope Gregory the Great. Also, some notable figures who may have been involved were Harun Al Rashid Ca and Charlemagne. However, there’s no real evidence or signifying answer as to exactly where they came from. The most accepted answer is that the order came after the aftermath of the very first crusade.
Back in 1099, Jerusalem was one of the first victims to fall to the first armed crusades. Once the crusaders had claimed victory, they were met with a man named Brother Gerard who was a rather resourceful and energetic fellow. This man was the superior of another hospice named St. John the Baptist. The origin and history of this goes way back to the streets of Italy and a city named Amalfi.
The problem with the Knights though is that after the crusades, they didn’t really have a lot to return to, especially after they had fulfilled their crusade. They joined up with a group unknown to them lead by Brother Gerard which would later become known as an order in the year 1113. This is the suspected origin and trace of when the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem was birthed. While a lot of details are fuzzy or questionable, a lot of the basic structure and principles have remained the same.
A lot of places have tried to portray these knights as realistically as possible but the main problem is, not a lot is known about them that can be proven by history or evidence. A lot of what we know about the Knights of St. John is based on earlier history or assumptions. We do know that they were initially a military unit that was assigned to escorting pilgrims that were travelling through some hostile territory. After that, their responsibilities were expanded to defending castle walls and dishing out discipline.
The problem of having this island that the Knights became a master of, they had one huge flaw. They didn’t have any kind of naval defense force and they were highly susceptible to naval attacks. One of the main issues they had is they had no real way to protect any kind of attack on a trade with Turkey as they had no naval defense what so ever. The Knights in origination were a religious militant group. While the galleys were flying the flag of the Hospital, it wasn’t uncommon for them to spy and prey on some shipping lanes.
This decision was made because of a ban on trade by certain Moslem powers which was later justified by a papal. When this was going on, the Knights of Rhodes were the ones who were seeing the most profit and prospering from the situation. In 1402, the Ottoman Turks were gaining power and while they could’ve threatened the overall progress of the Order, they instead took a relatively serious blow from the Tamerlane army. The war between the Turks and the Tamerlane lasted a little over eleven years.
Once this news reached Rhodes in 1453, a lot of people had fears over security and wondered if they were safe. However, some leaders didn’t exactly have their head in the right place as the leader known as Mehmet the Conqueror wasn’t letting any news of battle or defeat get to him. It wasn’t until 1480 that he commanded his forces to besiege the city. The sultan died in 1481 that would leave Prince Jem to be in charge of the Order.
It was during this proceeding time that the Knights of Rhodes brought a lot of shame among their people by engaging in acts of misconduct that made a lot of people question their motives. It was in 1571 that the Ottomans would feel another devastating blow when Christian naval ships destroyed them. Some of these forces included the Knights of Malta. This was a huge blow to the Turkish forces as they were defeated in the hellish battle of Lepanto.
After this battle, the Ottoman Turks were no longer a threat to the Maltese Knights and weren’t treated as one. Once the battle was over, the Maltese Knights then became devoted not to victory but to harassing the Ottoman and their possessions. During the conflicts of 1798, the Order was to be dissolved by Napoleon Bonaparte after several different European conflicts.
While the Order of Malta was eventually revived, it was no longer a fighting force. It still exists to this day but it serves primarily as a charitable force for medical and hospital reasons rather than violence and destruction.