In the early 14th century, with the acquisition of Rhodes, the Order of St. John took on the features of a State. Governed by the Grand Master, the Order minted its own money and maintained diplomatic relations with other States. New knights came to Rhodes from all over Europe and it was natural for them to associate with those who spoke their language.

In 1319, the Order resolved to group the Hospitallers according to homogenous language systems, the so-called “Langues” or Tongues. The Langues did not follow the pattern of national states but rather the national-linguistic identities of western Europe.

There were initially seven Langues: Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon, England and Germany. In 1492, Castille and Portugal split off from the Langue of Aragon and constituted the eighth Langue. Each Langue, first on Rhodes and then on Malta, possessed an “Auberge” or inn, used for accommodation, meals and meetings. The loss of Malta in 1798 ended the ancient division into Langues. The following diagram shows the banners of each Langue: