The Warrior-Monks who Gave You Banking Freedom
In the year 1185, in the city of Lunden, one of the world’s first banks was created.
At this point in history, money lenders and houses of coin had already existed for thousands of years. It was in these places that citizens of empires like Egypt, Babylon, and Sumer could go to acquire credit, investment capital, or loan their excess coins to others in dire need of gold or silver.
However, these weren’t anything like the banks we know today.
Ancient banks were always tied to something physical — a coin, a chunk of metal, some grain, or physical property. You couldn’t attain credit, or make a deposit, unless you could show something of value to tie your credit against.
And when money was transferred between banks, it was always done with physical coins, or other currency.
That is, until the Knights Templar came along.
Founded in the year 1113 in Jerusalem, the Knights Templar was a religious military order of warrior monks. Dedicated to carrying out holy war, and defending Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem, they were heavily armed, heavily armoured, and sanctioned to execute their duties by the Pope himself in Rome.
They were paladins who fought in the name of God. But eventually, they became much more than that.
During that dark time in history, knights were generally recruited from noble families. Families who held lands, titles, and usually, also possessed great wealth.
With recruits coming from all over western Europe, though primarily France, the numbers of the Templars swelled. And due to their noble members, so did donations to their order.
They acquired considerable property, lands, and of course, gold and silver. Not only from the families that were sending members to fight for the order’s holy cause, but from others who wanted to support the Templars further in doing the work of their God. This provided the Templars with a constant stream of cash and resources to carry out their crusade.
But the way that they would change banking forever, was inspired by a much less obvious source.
During this age of the Great Crusades, thousands upon thousands of Christian pilgrims journeyed from Europe, to the holy land in Jerusalem. They did this in order to pray, meditate, and feel themselves closer to the company of their deity.
However, their journey to Jerusalem was fraught with peril, and risk.
Pilgrims would have to carry enough coin with them to fund a journey of months — or even years — to travel to Jerusalem and back home again. And this meant that they inevitably became the target of highway robbers who wished to strip them of their coin.
The Templars initially only sought to defend religious pilgrims from these dangers of the road, and ensure they would get to their destination unharmed. Though soon, the Templars would figure out another brilliant solution to the problems pilgrims faced.
Due to their growing wealth, the Templars were able to set up strongholds and fortresses in many locations along the route to Jerusalem.
These fortress-monasteries were where local Templars lived, as well as where they kept their resources, equipment, and coin.
And eventually, the Templars would use these money-laden “churches” to aid pilgrims on their travels.
A pilgrim living in England could travel to the Templar-owned Temple Church in Lunden— a city we obviously know today as London — and deposit most of the funds they needed for the long pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In exchange for their gold and silver, a pilgrim would receive a promissory note from the Templars that verified their deposits.
By means of a simple exchange, a pilgrim could present this promissory note at any Templar stronghold on the way to Jerusalem, which the Templars in that stronghold would honour by allowing them to withdraw their funds at this new location.
It’s a simple system that we all recognise today at modern banks. But almost 900 years ago, this was revolutionary.
Pilgrims no longer needed to carry vast sums of coin with them. And gradually, they became less desirable targets for bandits.
This resulted in the Templars — just like the bankers of our modern age — becoming the guardians of even larger sums of capital, which they used to further increase their power and influence.
Eventually, the Knights Templar became so financially mighty, that they became money lenders to the kings and queens who ruled over Europe. And being able to hold power over a monarch in the form of debt meant that the Templars could influence the very nature of commerce and politics in the region.
They were very much independent. But also impressively influential.
However, the Templar’s power wasn’t destined to last.
King Philip IV of France owed a considerable sum of money to the Templars. A debt which after asking for it to be forgiven, was refused by the paladins. And it seems that King Philip — like almost anyone with unlimited power — was offended at the Templar’s reluctance to bow down to him.
So in 1307, King Philip had his soldiers raid the Paris Temple, and arrested the Templars who resided there. He seized their coin, tortured the knights, and forced them to confess to sins they hadn’t committed.
Throughout Europe, under Philip’s orders, templar strongholds were stormed, plundered, and shut down. And via petitions to the Pope in Rome, the Templars were disbanded, shamed, and branded as heretics.
Finally, in 1314 the last grandmaster of the order, a man by the name of Jaques de Molay, was burned at the stake in Paris. Apparently, ending the Templars forever.
Temple Church still stands today in London, as an ancient symbol of how our modern banking system was created. And the Temple stop on today’s Paris Metro marks the location where the Templars made their home in France.
But what’s most interesting, is that we’re again seeing echoes of the Templar’s treatment at the hands of the powerful, with modern examples of the elite’s desire for suppression when they don’t have complete economic control.
King Philip IV lashed out at the Templars and destroyed the order completely, simply because they held financial power over him. And similarly today, many governments are trying to ban the use of cryptocurrency, because its power lies in the hands of the people.
Vietnam, Nigeria, and China have either completely banned the use of cryptocurrency, or have imposed serious restrictions on its use. The European Central Bank is creating policies designed to fight the spread of digital coins, that they say could destabilise central banking around the world. And the United States is proposing Fedcoin; a digital dollar controlled by the nation’s central bank, that will be their weapon in fighting against digital currencies they can’t control.
The narrative they’re all pushing is one of “safety” and “security”.
That if left unchecked, they say crypto is a negative force that could ruin the economic stability of markets around the world. And that it’s a tool being used by criminals to fund illegal activities, and as a safe haven for people to launder money around the world.
Of course, that’s the narrative.
But in reality, it’s all about the powers-that-be losing their grip on absolute control of the way we choose to hold, grow, and use our money.
Now, I’m not a religious person by any means. But when you consider the actions of the Templars in context to what’s happening today, it’s hard not to be inspired by their mission, their actions, and what they created.
The Templars were the world’s first bankers. At least, they were in the sense of the way we operate banking today. But they were also some of the first financial upstarts. A group that held power over a system that couldn’t control them.
A system that eventually destroyed them, because of that power.
Due to its decentralised nature, digital currency will be much harder to destroy than the Templar order. However, nothing is completely invulnerable to collapse, or destruction.
But the more of us that use, hold, and transact with crypto, the harder it will be to burn down our modern-day temple of free trade.
The power — at least for now — is in our hands.
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