The world is currently fixated on the international credit crisis and the role banking has played in this debacle. We take it for granted that commerce flows quickly and accurately across borders and frontiers. A resident of Maine can purchase a tank of gas at home, or in Italy with the same credit card. The purchase will be accurately debited to their account, their credit limit will be adjusted and the merchant will receive an electronic transfer of the charge into their account almost simultaneously. This type of commerce happens many millions of times each day and we take its simplicity for granted.

The history of the rise of organized banking is a bit more plodding and evolves from a most unlikely source. Today our knowledge of the Knights Templar is garnered mostly from popular culture such as the Indiana Jones movies. The history of this iconic fighting force, and their evolution into the first international commercial group of the middle ages is as amazing a tale as can be told in any fictional movie or novel.

The Knights Templar was formed after the initial Christian victory in the First Crusade to take Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099. Pilgrims from all over the Christian world wanted to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. However, travel at that time was exceedingly dangerous. The Knights Templar was first organized as a monastic order to protect the pilgrims as they traveled. They took a strict vow of poverty.

Over the next 200 years the order flourished and developed into a renowned fighting force. With their sturdy mounts, white hooded tunics displaying the Red Cross, and shiny armor, they lead the way into numerous battles against the enemies of Christendom. The vow of poverty was strictly enforced, but many royal and noble families delivered their sons to the Knights Templar to curry favor with the Papacy of the Catholic Church.

The Knights Templar enjoyed favored status with popes and archbishops from all over Europe and North Africa, for their reverence, gallantry and honesty. They were often rewarded with alms, farms, lands and livestock. Their power grew as the public recognized the special relationship they enjoyed with the clerical hierarchy of the Church.

Many pilgrimage makers came to depend on the Knights Templar to hold their valuables in safekeeping as they made the difficult journey. The order created secure safe storage facilities at strategic locations along the most used routes. They developed a type of written chit that verified that they held certain monies and valuables owned by the bearer. Upon arrival in the Holy Land, the bearer could visit a Knights Templar outpost, present their receipt and receive monies, bullion or goods in kind, the equivalent of that left behind in the order’s care.

This was the first form of bank cheque and was probably the earliest form of organized international banking. The system evolved as the Knights Templar gained vast new riches, even though they were still vowing to live a life of poverty. Previous to their development of rudimentary banking products most trade was accomplished by crude barter. They became the richest entity in the world at that time and began to suffer the increased scrutiny of their historic protectors in the Catholic Church.

By the 14th century, the church moved to disband the Knights Templar and martyred many that were captured. The order became a secretive underground society and rumors of their activities and continued existence are legend to this day. The locations of the lost gold, silver, jewels, art and religious artifacts that the Knights Templar acquired and hoarded in their many adventures is also the stuff of fables and lore. The lost Holy Grail, and all of the fabulous tales attached to this famed relic from the Last Supper, is often connected to the Knights Templar.

The commercial activity that the simple, novel creation of a system for verifying bank guarantees is actually the Knights Templar’s greatest contribution to mankind. This simple transactional device has proven far more valuable historically than their military conquests and reputation for living pious lives. It is certainly not what they are best known for. But it is an invention that has positively effected commerce and productivity to this very day.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.