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Spiritual Salvation and Knightly Honour:
The Identity of the Teutonic Knights through the Prism of their Symbolic Acts

Projektleiter: Nicholas W. Youmans

The project aims to shed further light on the dual socio-cultural inclusion of the military religious orders by means of their symbolic acts. With a relatively broad chronological scope (13th-15th centuries), the project lends chief focus to the instance of the Teutonic Knights. The study’s guiding premise purports that an institutional field of tension emerged from their simultaneous membership in two states in society that each comprised distinct functions and guiding principles. Precisely this field of tension constitutes the thematic core of the investigation. The undertaking shall assist in clarifying the question of these hybrid orders and their identity within the spectrum of medieval forms of community.

On account of their statal duality, the life of the knight brothers appears to have presented a paradox. Insofar as their form of life was religious, they lived in community together with priests and servants under the leadership of a master. Given that fighting including killing and any sort of identification with that task was usually forbidden to a member of the spiritual state, a problem that the knight brothers faced was thus to maintain their chivalrous state, while at once not overstepping the salvific guidelines of monasticism. The project seeks to examine the extent to which the life models, self-images, and respective modes of conduct from the cultural circles of the monastic and the courtly-noble spheres underwent a symbiosis in the military-religious orders. It is a central claim of the project that this symbiosis was forged and made organic by way of symbolic acts.

An appraisal of the source material has revealed that not only do prominent symbolic acts of the military orders relate either to noble knighthood or monasticism, but they also concern both identity models at once. As such, the rituals (repeated, formulaic acts) and performative acts (singular events) of the military orders refer to overarching ideals of both the religious and noble-knightly states. The project aims to gain a better understanding of the peculiarity of the military religious orders by an examination of these various embodied references based upon a threefold scheme (monastic – noble-knightly – mixed). The investigation thus analyses the extent to which monastic and noble-courtly conceptions of life, self-images, and modes of conduct coalesced in the military orders as well as the manners in which ritual conduct and performative acts contributed – as instances of symbolisation – to the construction and establishment of a specific collective identity.

A prominent feature of the study, certain functional modes of action regarding symbolic acts are delineated. Among others, the following types are considered:

- Self-affirmative effect

- Sense of common identity

- Identity-forming embodiment of a pre-established pattern of legitimation

- Embodied construction of an order-specific pattern of legitimatio

- Rendering of internal services of integration and stabilization

- Creation of delimitation from and (de-)legitimation of the other

- Representative interaction with the outside world.


Nicholas W. Youmans, Dr.:
    Tel: +49 (0) 351 4793 4186
    Email: nicholas.youmans(at)

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Gert Melville

Academic Manager and Research Coordinator:
Priv.-Doz. Dr. Cristina Andenna

Technische Universität
D - 01062 Dresden
Email: fovog-dresden(at)

Tel: +49 (0) 351 4793 4180
Fax: +49 (0) 351 4793 4189

The FOVOG is a centrally incorporated institute of the Technical University of Dresden

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