Templar Nutrition in their Eastern and Western Preceptories

Towards the end of 1200, during their expansion into the East, the Templar Order  possessed about 18 large fortresses in those territories, each with specific functional garrisons. The huge sums that came from the West to overseas made it possible to maintain the functionality of castles and structures, all very inaccessible, over time. They were used to protect the surrounding territories from the attacks of the infidels and were obviously located in some strategic places, such as the inland valleys, so that they could also effectively control the roads leading to the rich cities. In order to be able to exercise a capillary control over the territory, starting from these main structures, the knights easily dominated a series of minor structures and fortifications, equipped with farmhouses, mills, vineyards, olive groves and lands subjected to arboriculture with extensive cedar plantations. 

In his Conquête de la Syrie et de la Palestine par Saladin (al-Fatḥ al-qussî fî l-fatḥ al-Qudsî), the Persian historian, scholar, and rhetorician Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani describes the majesty of the fortress of Al-Fulah (Tell ʿAfula) in the Northern District of Israel, often known as the “Capital of the Valley” due to its strategic location in the Jezreel Valley:

Al-Fulah was the most beautiful and strongest citadel, richer in men and in supplies. That fortified castle belonged to the Templars. It was an impregnable place, a solid foundation. There was an inaccessible spring, rich pastures, a farm as a foothold, a well-prepared ground. They spent the winter and summer there, received with a sumptuous hospitality, kept horses that made a great show of themselves.

Remains of Crusader fortress in ʿAfula. Note the spolia; Roman sarcophagi as the top layer.

The diet of the warrior monks in the East was quite different from that of the Western brothers. This obviously depended on the raw materials available in those latitudes. Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre from 1216 to 1228, tells us, in his Histoire des croisades, of the astonishment of the Templars who arrived in overseas and found themselves faced with “multicoloured populations, mysterious fruits and strange animals.”

Seal of Jacques de Vitry as bishop of Acre.

In his Exempla Jacques de Vitry recounted the tale of a monk-knight of an unspecified Order who during combat, weakened by too much fasting, “At the first stroke of a lance he fell from his horse. One of his brothers immediately raised him up, risking his life. And again he found himself on the ground, knocked down by another blow. Then that brother of his, after he had raised him up for a second time saving his life, said to him, reproaching him for his excessive fasting: ‘Mr. Bread and Water, be careful because if you fall again I will certainly not get back on the saddle.’ He called him that because, often remaining only on bread and water to fast, he had weakened his body far too much that he had rendered himself useless for battle.”

The alimentation of knights was a balancing act for the brother Cellarer: a monk who was in charge of a bake house and the brew house and the brother kitchener (Cook) who had to navigate between the ordinary fasting demands on monks, and the fact that these knights lived active, military lives, on top of that they had to adapt their supplies dependent on their location. You may have heard the term of phrase “an army marches on its stomach” because a soldier cannot be effective on an empty stomach. Three days a week, a knight was permitted to eat meat. On a Sunday, meat consumption was permitted for everyone, with officers being allowed to eat both lunch and dinner of roast meat. Historical records tell us that they often ate beef, ham, or bacon. In many cases these meats would have been preserved in salt or brine, allowing it to last longer.

“During the week, if the Nativity of the Lord, or Easter, or the feast of St. Mary, or all Saints does not fall, it is enough for you to eat meat three times: the habitual eating of meat must be understood as a serious corruption of the body. If fasting falls on the day of Mars, during which the use of meat is prohibited, the next day is given to you more abundantly. On the day of the Lord it appears without doubt, appropriate to give two courses to all professed soldiers and chaplains in honour of the Holy Resurrection. The others, on the other hand, that is, the armigers and the aggregates, remain happy with one, thanking them.”

“On the other days, that is, in the second and fourth feria as well as on Saturdays, we believe that two or three courses of legumes or other foods are sufficient for everyone, or that we say cooked compote: and so we command that people behave, so that those who cannot eat from one is refreshed by the other.” 

“In the sixth feria we consider it laudable to be content with taking only a single Lenten food out of reverence for the passion, taking into account the weakness of the sick, starting from the feast of the saints until Easter, unless it happens the Christmas of the Lord or the feast of St. Mary or the Apostles. In other times, if a general fast does not happen, they should refresh themselves twice.” 

“When the sun leaves the eastern region and descends in sleep, having heard the signal, as is the custom of that region, it is necessary for all of you to go to Compline, but first we want you to have a general banquet. We place this banquet in the disposition and discretion of the master, so that when he wants it to be composed of water; when he kindly commands him, of wine properly diluted. This need not lead to great satiety or luxury, but (?); in fact we see even the wise apostatised.” 

The Templars were soldiers! How therefore, should they eat when busy on the battlefield and not quietly sitting in the refectory in religious silence? “It is generally appropriate that (the soldiers) eat two by two, so that one promptly provides for the other, so that the hardness of life, or a furtive abstinence, does not mix in every meal. This we rightly judge, that each soldier or brother has for himself only an equal and equivalent measure of wine.” 

“After lunch and dinner, always in the church, if it is nearby, or, if it is not, in the same place, as is appropriate, we command that with a humiliated heart they immediately give thanks to our chief procurator: who is Christ: set aside in whole loaves, it is ordered to distribute the remains as due out of fraternal charity to the servants or the poor.” 

Rationing and portions were identical and controlled: following a fast day, extra would be given the following days to maintain their strength. One source goes a far as to tell us that cooks heaped enough meat onto their plates “to feed two poor men with the leftovers” although this might possibly be the scribes wishful thinking or an over-exaggeration on his part.

Everyone had the same measure of drink, which was almost always diluted (except for the infirmary), the templar rule advised that alcohol should “not be taken to excess, but in moderation. For Solomon said … wine encourages recklessness and strong drink leads to brawls; anyone who allows them to seduce him is not wise” Proverbs 20:1 Those who drink too much wine or hard liquor become scoffers and brawlers (see Hos 7:5). Drunkenness leads to poverty (Prov 23:20-21), strife and brawling (Prov 23:29-30), and perversion of justice (Prov 31:4-5).

During the crusades in the Holy Land, the Templars created a drink of palm wine, Aloe vera pulp and hemp (cannabis), which they named “Elixir of Jerusalem,” which perhaps helped accelerate the healing process from their combat injuries whilst they believed that the drink granted them extra longevity. Did it work? Perhaps it did. Aloe vera has notable antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities and can be used to treat infection and help heal wounds. Consuming large amounts of it may have helped the knights stave off some of the effects of infections.

What exactly did the Knights Templar’s eat within the preceptories of the East? They enjoyed fish when permitted, alongside legumes, vegetables, fruits, olives, numerous root vegetables, grains and bread. There is no mention of diary or eggs in their ‘Primitive Rule,’ therefore they probably ate very little if any. Their diet was essentially that of Medieval peasants, supplemented with the foods, spices and herbs of the East as they journeyed across into the Holy Lands.

Pork was very rarely consumed, learning from Jewish and Islamic religions that pork was decidedly unsuitable in that climate and spoilt very fast even when preserved. They nurtured and cultivated olive groves and vineyards on their lands in the East, in order to be as self-sufficient as possible, they used sugar cane and honey to sweeten. While rye and other grains were king in the West, Palestine’s extensive wheat crops catered to the needs of the monks, guaranteeing the production of large quantities of bread.  

They used legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, Doric beans and peas. The word shallot  (Allium cepa) comes from the ancient Canaanite City of Ashkelon, and was central to the diet of the region, while the gardens abounded with various types of onions, artichokes, aubergines, asparagus, cucumbers and spinach. Some fruits, consumed in the daily diet, were still little known in Europe: we remember bitter oranges, lemons, bananas and cedars. Dates, apricots and figs were used fresh or dried and used in a kind of focaccia.


Art. 23 How They Should Eat

Templar Rule

“In the palace, or what should rather be called the refectory, they should eat together. But if you are in need of anything because you are not accustomed to the signs used by other men of religion, quietly and privately you should ask for what you need at table, with all humility and submission. For the apostle said: Manduca panem tuum cum silentio. That is to say: ‘Eat your bread in silence.’ And the psalmist: Posui ori meo custodiam. That is to say: ‘I held my tongue.’ That is, ‘I thought my tongue would fail me.’ That is, ‘I held my tongue so that I should speak no ill.”

Art. 24 On the Reading of the Lesson

Always, at the convent’s dinner and supper, let the Holy Scripture be read, if possible. If we love God and all His holy words and His holy commandments, we should desire to listen attentively; the reader of the lesson will tell you to keep silent before he begins to read.

Art. 25 On Bowls and Drinking Vessels

Because of the shortage of bowls, the brothers will eat in pairs, so that one may study the other more closely, and so that neither austerity nor secret abstinence is introduced into the communal meal. And it seems just to us that each brother should have the same ration of wine in his cup.

Art. 26 On the Eating of Meat

It should be sufficient for you to eat meat three times a week, except at Christmas, All Saints, the Assumption and the feast of the twelve apostles. For it is understood that the custom of eating flesh corrupts the body. But if a fast when meat must be forgone falls on a Tuesday, the next day let it be given to the brothers in plenty. And on Sundays all the brothers of the Temple, the chaplains and the clerks shall be given two meat meals in honour of the holy resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the rest of the household, that is to say the squires and sergeants, shall be content with one meal and shall be thankful to God for it.

Art. 27 On Weekday Meals

On the other days of the week, that is Mondays, Wednesdays and even Saturdays, the brothers shall have two or three meals of vegetables or other dishes eaten with bread; and we intend that this should be sufficient and command that it should be adhered to. For he who does not eat one meal shall eat the other.

Art. 28 On Friday Meals

On Fridays, let lenten meat be given communally to the whole congregation, out of reverence for the passion of Jesus Christ; and you will fast from All Saints until Easter, except for Christmas Day, the Assumption and the feast of the twelve apostles. But weak and sick brothers shall not be kept to this. From Easter to All Saints they may eat twice, as long as there is no general fast.

Art. 29 On Saying Grace

Always after every dinner and supper all the brothers should give thanks to God in silence, if the church is near to the palace where they eat, and if it is not nearby, in the place itself. With a humble heart they should give thanks to Jesus Christ who is the Lord Provider. Let the remains of the broken bread be given to the poor and whole loaves be kept. Although the reward of the poor, which is the kingdom of heaven, should be given to the poor without hesitation, and the Christian faith doubtless recognises you among them, we ordain that a tenth part of the bread be given to your Almoner.

Art. 30 On Taking Collation

When daylight fades and night falls listen to the signal of the bell or the call to prayers, according to the customs of the country, and all go to compline. But we command you first to take collation; although we place this light meal under the arbitration and discretion of the Master. When he wants water and when he orders, out of mercy, diluted wine, let it be given sensibly. Truly, it should not be taken to excess, but in moderation. For Solomon said: Quia vinum facit apostatare sapientes. That is to say that wine corrupts the wise.

The “alimentary” Rule mentioned above “due to the lack of knowledge of the signs, it is appropriate to ask quietly and privately.”  This is no mystery, not a particular rule linked to the Templars but a simple practice existing during the medieval period, typical of all monastic orders even today and typical of non-verbal communication which the monks had a duty to keep whilst they ate their meal.

Even the place where they would consume the meals was subject to certain rules which provided for the refectories, clean tablecloths and personal hygiene. It is not surprising that the Templars washed their hands before eating, a practice that has existed since time immemorial. Just think of the banquets of ancient Rome where in some cases the washing of the feet was also provided.

Among the various “advice” given in the Rule there is also that of “Do not love serving at the table too much.” Let the brothers serve each other. No one is to be dispensed food directly from the kitchen, except the sick and those who have positions of greater usefulness to the monastery. This mutual service, in fact, is a source of great merit and an increase in charity. Some helpers are to be found for the weak, so that they do not exercise their service with sadness; but all have help in proportion to the number of brothers and according to local conditions. If the community is large, the cellarer and those who, as we have said above, are employed in more useful work should also be exempted from the kitchen service. All the others serve each other in a spirit of charity”.


Harissa (Arabic: هريسة harīsa, from Maghrebi Arabic) is a Tunisian hot chili pepper paste.

Ingredients: Chicken — herbs — rice — oil — cinnamon — salt.

Boil a chicken with aromatic herbs and salt. Filter the broth obtained and cook some rice in it. Bone the meat, cut it into small pieces and put it back in the pot with the rice, simmer for a long time until you get a sort of gruel. Remove from heat, add olive oil and flavor with cinnamon.


Itriyya (عطرية) is the Arab word used in the 9th century by Syrian physician Jesu Bar Ali to refer to vermicelli.

Holy Land Lamb Itriyya

Ingredients: Flour — water — diced lamb — oil — coriander — cinnamon — ginger — butter — salt — pepper.

Prepare a pastry with water and flour, make fettuccine and roll them with your hands in order to obtain a sort of vermicelli. Make a lamb or sheep stew, brown the meat in olive oil with salt, pepper and coriander. Cook over a moderate flame until a very tender meat is obtained in about an hour and a half; you have to help yourself with hot water. Remove the stew from the pan and add some butter and plenty of water to the cooking juices. As soon as everything simmers, immerse the pasta and let it cook until the liquid is completely absorbed. Arrange the meat on a serving dish together with the itriyya, sprinkle with cinnamon and ginger.


T’faya is a Moroccan cooking style strongly associated with a sweet and spicy confit of onions and raisins. However, other dishes also fall under the t’faya umbrella


Ingredients: Sea bream — cinnamon — ginger — coriander — onion — eggs — bread — almonds — walnuts — pine nuts — oil — salt — pepper.

Clean the fish and cook it in water with pepper, cinnamon, ginger, coriander seeds, salt and onion. Remove from the heat, fillet and finely chop; add the egg, a little wet breadcrumbs, create meatballs. Separately, chop the almonds, walnuts and pine nuts, dissolving them in water. Dip the meatballs in the flour and then place them in a pan with plenty of olive oil and the dried fruit sauce. Bake the dish in the oven until the liquid has thickened.


Mutton Stew

Ingredients: lean minced lamb —  onions — carrots — wine — wine vinegar — salt — Saffron — ground pepper — cinnamon

Dice onions and carrots finely, put all the ingredients in a pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 14 minutes, stirring from time to time. Serve.

Other medieval foods the templars might have eaten