Knights Templar: Miravet and Tortosa, the Early Glory of the Aragonese Templars

It is important to emphasise that the Templars did not initially consider holy war in the Iberian Peninsula. At least, not in the way they felt about the kingdom of heaven. The holy land on which they began by dying and on which they were willing to continue to do so. For these knights it was a priority that their activities in Jerusalem and the surrounding lands should continue; as well as the protection they offered to pilgrims on their way there. Everything else was born and died from this dogma. Even its presence in the Kingdom of Aragón with the influence of kings such as Ramon Berenguer IV.

When Alfonso I bequeathed his lands to the Knights Templar and other religious orders, the Templars saw it as an opportunity to settle in a rich territory from which they could obtain profits that would continue to finance the warlike activities they carried out… Far from the lands that had been bequeathed to them. Ramon Berenguer IV immediately understood the boost in strength that the incorporation of the Templars into his armies would bring, but he did not soon convince them of their involvement in the battles. It would be years before the Knights Templar were fully and definitively integrated into the struggle for Christianity on the Iberian Peninsula.

Although it was between 1129 and 1130 that they settled in the territories of the Kingdom of Aragón, it was not until 1148 that they took part in battle for the first time. Five years had passed since the Count of Barcelona’s concessions to the Order; since the Agreement of Girona in which they renounced Alfonso I’s impossible will. The conquest of Tortosa was their first victory together. Many more were to come, with or without Ramon Berenguer IV. The Knights Templar came to understand that this holy war could and should be fought, as the pontiffs themselves had pointed out, wherever it was necessary.

The great conquest of Tortosa

Ramon Berenguer IV had been king of Aragón since 1137. Officially he was only the fiancé of Princess Petronila, daughter of Ramiro II, but with the latter devoted to the monastic life he had always desired, the full weight of the crown fell on him. And the latter, Count of Barcelona, wished to unite his beautiful county with the kingdom that had ended up in his hands. In order to do so, it was essential for him to conquer certain strategic enclaves that still existed as taifas. Among them was Tortosa, Turtusha, a small town crossed by the river Ebro; where the desired Castle of La Suda stood out. If Christianity wanted to advance, then Tortosa had to be theirs.

The moment could not have been more favourable for the Christian kingdoms. In 1145, the war in al-Andalus had been incorporated by Pope Eugene III into his conception of the Second Crusade. The situation in the Iberian Peninsula thus took on an international character, and this allowed hundreds of men to arrive from other countries ready to fight for their faith. When Ramon Berenguer IV set out to conquer Tortosa, he found Aragonese, Catalans, Genoese, Normans, English and Flemish supporting his venture, as well as religious orders.

The Genoese, with whom he was to divide the city, carried out a naval blockade that is still admired today. The Normans went into battle boasting the most advanced technology of the time. And the Templars, respected and admired, excelled in the fighting. They fought, in short, from the most intense feeling of faith; which meant that thrust of strength that Ramon Berenguer IV had dreamed of.

Tortosa was conquered in 1148. It is the most famous victory of the Count of Barcelona; who from this battle onwards was regarded as a great political and military leader. The Templars were also victorious. To the part of Tortosa that corresponded to them for their participation in the battle, they had to add the fifth Templar: the donation that the Count of Barcelona had agreed with the order in the Agreement of Girona. The Genoese, some time later, also granted them their share of the lands. They came to control more than half of the territory; making it one of the most important Templar fiefdoms on the Iberian Peninsula.

Vista de Tortosa desde el Castillo de Suda, uno de los grandes feudos templarios.

View of Tortosa from Suda Castle. | Shutterstock

Miravet, the consolidation of the Templars

Miravet was one of the last territories to be conquered north of the Ebro River, but it too eventually fell. The town was conquered on 24 August 1153 by Ramon Berenguer IV and his army; and ceded some time later to Pere de Rovira, Master of the Temple in Provence and one of the protagonists of the Agreement of Girona. A decade had passed since then and Ramon Berenguer IV, son of the Templar Ramon Berenguer III, had learned to get on with the order. He made them a fundamental part of his offensives and also of subsequent peacekeeping. It was not only necessary to conquer certain places: they had to be preserved and cared for.

It is interesting to point out, when it comes to Miravet, the value it has as an example of what the Templars did in everyday life. Having become a political and administrative centre, from Miravet these knights controlled an extensive and not always easy territory. Many men and women belonging to the Taifa kingdoms continued to live in the lands they had worked for years. Various studies suggest that the Knights Templar allowed this. Of course, this did not guarantee the stability of coexistence.

The Order endeavoured to repopulate abandoned or partially populated lands; where there were no Christians or where they were feared because of their difficult location. They encouraged the improvement of infrastructures; a detail that can be seen in the construction of the Miravet castle itself, built on the base of the old Muslim castle. This fortress is still imposing today. In the 12th century, conquering this area was another great victory for the Kingdom of Aragón, commanded by Ramon Berenguer IV and led to glory by the Knights Templar.

Pueblos Medievales de Cataluña

Miravet, one of the 12th century Templar fiefdoms

The last years of the 12th century

Ramon Berenguer IV died in 1162, taking some of the glory with him. Two years later, his wife Petronila ceded the Kingdom of Aragón to their first-born son; who became Alfonso II of Aragón. Alfonso II reigned in Aragón and Barcelona from 1164 to 1196, consolidating the so-called Crown of Aragón and continuing the expansionist, conquering and religious character that had been part of his family for centuries. He also strengthened his relationship with the Knights Templar. These were years of large donations from the crown; in 1182, for example, the territory of Tortosa, which belonged to the Crown of Aragón, was donated in its entirety to the Knights Templar. Other castles, such as Alfambra and Castellote, passed into their possession.

Alfonso II not only respected the agreement that his father, Ramon Berenguer IV, signed with the order. He also saw the importance of the Order and the need to grant it privileges and to finance its activities; which were so valuable to the kingdom. By the time the 12th century came to an end, the Knights Templar were more than consolidated in the Crown of Aragón. A few years later, they would be the educators of the king himself.

 


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