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In 1099, the city of Jerusalem, a possession of the Islamic Caliphate for over four-hundred years, fell to an army of European knights intent on restoring the Cross to the Holy Lands. From the ranks of these holy warriors emerged an order of monks trained in both scripture and the military arts, an order that would protect and administer Christendom's prized conquest for almost a century: the Knights of the Temple of Solomon, or the Templars. In this articulate and engaging history, Piers Paul Read explores the rise, the catastrophic fall, and the far-reaching legacy of these knights who took, and briefly held, the most bitterly contested citadel in the monotheistic West. Drawing on the most recent scholarship, and writing with authority and candor, Read chronicles the history of the blood-splattered monks who still infiltrate modernity in literature, as the inspiration for secret societies, and in the backyard fantasies of any child with access to a stick and a garbage can lid. More than armed holy men, the Templars also represented the first uniformed standing army in the Western world. Sustaining their military order required vast sums of money, and, to that end, a powerful multinational corporation formed. The prosperity that European financiers enjoyed, from the efficient management of Levantine possessions and from pioneering developments in the field of international banking, would help jump-start Europe's long-slumbering Dark Age economy. In 1307, the French king, Philip IV, expropriated Templar lands, unleashing a wave of repression that would crest five years later. After Templar leaders broke down and confessed, under torture, to blasphemy, heresy, and sodomy, Pope Clement V suppressed the Order in 1312. Was it guilty as charged? And what relevance has the story to our own times? In this remarkable history, Piers Paul Read explores the Crusades and the individual biographies of the many colorful characters that fought them.