The Military Order of Maria Theresa (German: Militär-Maria-Theresien-Orden) was the highest military honour of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
It was founded in 1757, after the second war with Prussia had broken out. During the War of Austrian Succession (1740–48), Austria had lost the territory of Silesia and, aspiring to re-conquer it, Maria Theresa, in 1756, led her country into another conflict with Prussia that evolved into a part of the massive global Seven Years’ War (1756–63), fought by nearly all European great powers.
To reward her officers, Maria Theresa established an order already on May 13, 1757. However, on June 18, the Austrian army achieved an important victory over the Prussians in the Battle of Kolín and, to celebrate that triumph, the latter date is considered to be the true date of the founding of the Order. The Military Order of Maria Theresa was specifically conferred for acts of essential impact to a campaign that were undertaken on an officer's own initiative. This gave rise to a popular myth that it was awarded for (successfully) acting against an explicit order of a higher commanding officer.
Recipients of the Military Order of Maria Theresa were automatically ennobled with the title of Ritter (Knight) in the Austrian nobility for life. Upon further petition, they could also claim the hereditary title of Baron (Freiherr). They were entitled to a pension, and widows of the Order's recipients were entitled to half of their spouse's pension. Membership in the Order was awarded a total of 1241 times.