DBA Resources

Army Notes

Order of St. John
1291-1522 AD

(DBA IV/56ab)

"The Hospitallers ruled an island too narrow to monopolize their energies, but occupying a position of vast commercial and strategic importance" - Catholic Encyclopedia

The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitallers, regrouped at Kolossi in Cyprus after the fall of Acre, the last Crusader principality in Outremer in 1291 AD. There they lived under the generally benevolent sovereignty of the Lusignan Dynasty (see Lusignan Cypriot IV/26), whom they assisted military as late as 1426 AD.

In 1309 AD, the Order under Grand Master Foulques de Villaret conquered Rhodes at the instigation of a Genoan adventurer, and persuaded the Pope to grant the Order title to rule the island as an independent sovereign. Rhodes provided a strategically located base for naval operations in both the Mediterranean and the Aegean that lay directly astride the ocean route that brought iron, lumber and Ghulam slaves from the Black Sea to the Mamluk Egyptians.  The Knights of Rhodes used their island as a launching pad for raids on Muslim shipping and coastal towns. They prospered on loot. After a failed attempt at merger, and following the Papal ban on the Knights Templar, the Knights of St. John also received many of the Temple's estates in 1312 AD, along with many new recruits seeking refuge from the Pope's Templar inquisition.

Grand Master de Villaret's rule proved somewhat despotic, provoking a rebellion of the native Rhodians in 1317 AD, and prompting a Papal intervention. De Villaret resigned and was replaced by the new Grand Master Helion de Villeneuve. Taking advantage of the political vacuum caused by the declining Byzantine Empire and shielded from Turkish retribution by their naval superiority, the Order conquered Scarpanto for Venice, and were able to seize the Southern Sparades (1319 AD) and Lango (1337 AD) and establish a colony at Smyrna (1344 AD). In 1365 AD, Grand Master Raymond de Berenger captured Alexandria by sea, burning a Muslim "pirate" fleet anchored there.

With the emergence of the Timurids as a regional threat, the Order was put on its guard when Timur the Lame horsemen destroyed the Order's colony at Smyrna. But lacking a navy, Timur turned his attention to rolling back the Ottoman Turks, who were crushed at the battle of Ankara (1402 AD). A Mamluk fleet threatened Rhodes in 1440 AD, but was readily repulsed.

After Timur's death in 1405 AD, the Turks rebounded from their disaster at Ankara and turned their attentions to the Byzantine Empire, culminating in the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD. Even as he campaigned in eastern Europe, the Knights of Rhodes and their depredations on his shipping were increasingly a subject of concern to Sultan Mehmet the Conquerer. He mounted an unsuccessful siege of Rhodes in 1480 AD that was narrowly repelled by the Order under Grand Master Pierre d'Aubusson. Mehmet died in 1481 AD, with his son Beyazit becoming Sultan. Mehmet's second son, Prince Jem, fell into the clutches of the Knights, who held him as hostage, collecting an annual ransom while supporting his claim against Beyazit. After their deaths, Suleiman (the Magnificent) was proclaimed Sultan, and the days of Ottoman tolerance of the Knights on Rhodes were at an end.

In 1522 AD, Suleiman the Magnificent landed a huge army on Rhodes. Confident of his superiority, he launched a series of assaults on the strong fortifications, suffering heavy losses to the Knights of St. John under their Grand Master Philip Villiers de I'lse Adam. The heavy casualties and increasing demoralization of his army forced Suleiman to resort to more conventional siege warfare. After six months of heavy bombardment and steady attrition, and with no help forthcoming from the other Christian powers, Villiers negotiated a surrender. The Knights were allowed to depart Rhodes with those Rhodian citizens and colonists who preferred not to remain under Ottoman rule. This brings an end to the DBA list representing the Knights of Rhodes, but the order continued.

After seven years in limbo, Villiers obtained permission to locate the order in Malta from Emperor Charles V in exchange for the annual gift of a falcon and their obligation to defend Tripoli (in Libya) from the Muslims. Under Grand Master Pierre du Pont, they played a conspicuous role in Charles V's attacks on Goletta and Tunis in 1534 AD. They repelled an Ottoman naval attack in 1550 AD, and retained Malta despite the loss of Tripoli in 1551. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent sent an army under Mustafa Pasha to besiege the Knights on Malta. The fortifications proved impregnable, and the Ottomans were repelled by the Knights under their Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette. The victory of the combined Christian fleet over the Ottomans at Lepanto in 1571 AD ended the Turkish threat to the Order.


The Knights of St. John include the following element types:

1291-1450 AD 1451-1522 AD Description
1x 3Kn or 4Bd (Gen) 1x 3Kn or 4Bd (Gen) The Order's Grant Master
1x 3Kn or 4Bd 1x 3Kn or 4Bd Brother Knights, Sergeants and Turcopoles, organized into national groups.
NA 1x 4Bd Mercenary halberdiers.
2x 4Cb 2x 4Cb Cyriot/Rhodian Greek or Colonist crossbowmen
2x 4Sp 1x 4Sp Cypriot/Rhodian Greek and Colonist spearman.
1x 3Cb 2x 3Cb Cyriot/Rhodian Greek, Colonist and/or Mercenary archers.
4x 2Ps 5x 2Ps Cypriot or Rhodian Greek and Colonist archers. In the later list, Psiloi can include handgunners.

Enemies and Allies

The Order of St. John may cross swords with the Mamluk Egyptians (IV/45), Anatolian Turkmen (IV/49), and Ottoman Turks (IV/55b). Alliances are permitted with the Cilician Armenians (IV/2).


Historically, the Order of St. John on Rhodes did not fight large pitched battles in the open field. Most of their fighting was done defending the fortress walls of Rhodes and Malta during a siege, or from ship deck or disembarked on smaller raids. Classed as littoral, the Order is also low aggression, which will give them plenty of opportunities to employ their landing forces, especially against the Ottomans. The Order can deploy a strong force of dismountable knights backed by crossbow and spear. But with large contingents of Psiloi, the army will have to be handled carefully against the Mamluks, using terrain to shield the Psiloi from the Mamluk cavalry. They are less vulnerable to the Light Horse of their other opponents.


In 15mm, you will find Later Crusader ranges and early Medieval figures suitable from Donnington, Essex, Gallia, Gladiator, Irregular, Mirliton, Museum, Navigator, Old Glory and others.

In 25/28mm, there are also numerous options including Amazon, Griffin Miniatures, Naismith, Old Glory, Perry Miniatures, and Whitecross.

Painting and Heraldry

In Outremer, the Hospitallers were distinguished by their black cappa clausa, a long monastic cloak with slits at each side for their arms, and bearing the device of a white cross on the chest. Recognizing military convenience, Pope Innocent IV authorized use of the lighter surcoat in black with cross in 1248 AD. In 1259 AD, Pope Alexander IV fixed the habit as a black mantle in peace time, and a red surcoat with white cross in war. Some Knights supplemented the red surcoat with a black cloak (as at right). The basic design of the cross was the eight pointed Cross Pattee-Nowy, known as the Maltese cross after the Order's relocation to Malta

The standard of the Order was a white cross on a scarlet field. Each of the Masters of the Order also had their own personal arms, which can be depicted on a banner. While still in Outremer, the rapidly expanding Order was organized by nationality into seven "langues" (languages) comprising knights from Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Spain, England and Germany. Later the Spanish Langue split into the Langues of Castile-Portugal and Aragon. The langues became a prominent part of the Order's organization after the relocation to Rhodes, and several survive as national orders in the modern age.. Each langue had its own commander ("pillar") and its own inn or hostel ("auberge") within the fortress at Rhodes. Each langue was assigned responsibility for maintaining and defending a portion of the walls, which proved ill-advised in that the sectors controlled by the smaller and less affluent langues provided vulnerable. In any event, the langues offer the opportunity to personalize your army, since each langue purportedly used a different color cross to distinguish its members: English (white), French (red), Auvergne (green), Germans (black), Italians (yellow).

Other Resources

There are a number of useful Osprey reference titles, including:

The Order of St. John is still in existence, with various national branches and affiliated organizations.

The following historical titles are also available from the De Bellis Bookstore:

| Top of Page | Army Notes | DBA Resources |

Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page
can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Last Updated: Oct. 23, 2003