Who was the first knight?

Answered by Michael Wilson

The first knight in history is a subject of debate among historians, as the concept of knighthood evolved over time and varied between different cultures and regions. However, one significant figure often credited as the first knight is Charles the Great, also known as Charlemagne.

During the Carolingian Age in the 8th century, Charlemagne, the King of the Franks, played a crucial role in the development of knighthood. As his reign progressed, the Franks embarked on numerous military campaigns, expanding their territories and influence across Europe. These conquests required a strong and organized military force, and Charlemagne relied on an increasing number of warriors to ride alongside him in battle.

These warriors, who fought on horseback and were skilled in combat, gradually evolved into a distinct class of elite warriors known as knights. The emergence of knights can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, the availability of horses and the development of better equestrian techniques allowed warriors to fight more effectively on horseback. This advantage in mobility and striking power made them invaluable assets on the battlefield.

Furthermore, the feudal system, which was also taking shape during this time, played a significant role in the rise of knighthood. Charlemagne rewarded his loyal warriors with land grants and titles, creating a system of vassalage and feudal obligations. In return for their service and loyalty, these warriors became vassals of the king and were granted the use of land, known as fiefs.

The concept of chivalry, which became synonymous with knighthood, also emerged during the Carolingian Age. Chivalry encompassed a code of conduct that knights were expected to follow, emphasizing virtues such as courage, honor, loyalty, and service to the Church and the weak. These ideals were later expanded upon during the High Middle Ages, but their roots can be traced back to the time of Charlemagne.

While Charlemagne and the Franks played a pivotal role in the development of knighthood, it is important to note that similar warrior classes existed in other cultures and regions. For example, in the Byzantine Empire, the cataphracts were heavily armored cavalry units that resembled knights in many ways. Similarly, the Muslim world had its own version of knights known as ghazis, who were renowned for their military prowess and devotion to Islam.

While the title of the first knight is difficult to assign to a specific individual, it is widely acknowledged that the concept of knighthood began to take shape during the reign of Charlemagne in the 8th century. The Franks’ expansionist campaigns, the availability of horses, the feudal system, and the emergence of chivalry all contributed to the development of knights as a distinct class of warriors. Their influence and legacy would continue to grow throughout the Middle Ages, leaving a lasting impact on European history.