The Order of the Knights of Saint John, also known as Order of Saint John, Order of Hospitallers, Knights Hospitaller, and the Hospitallers, were among the most famous of the Roman Catholic military orders during the Middle Ages. The Hospitallers arose as a group of individuals associated with an Amalfitan hospital in the Muristan district of Jerusalem, dedicated to John the Baptist and founded around 1023 by Gerard Thom to provide care for sick, poor or injured pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. Some scholars, however, consider that the Amalfitan order and hospital were different from Gerard Thom's order and its hospital. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, the organization became a religious and military order under its own Papal charter, charged with the care and defense of the Holy Land. Following the conquest of the Holy Land by Islamic forces, the knights operated from Rhodes, over which they were sovereign, and later from Malta, where they administered a vassal state under the Spanish viceroy of Sicily. The Hospitallers were the smallest group ever to colonize parts of the Americas; at one point in the mid-17th century, they acquired four Caribbean islands, which they turned over to the French and Dutch in the 1660s.
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