Order of Assassins

  (Redirected from Hashshashin)

Assassins (Persian Ḥashashiyan, Arabic Ḥashīshiyya or Ḥashīshiyyīn, singular Ḥashīshī) were a sect of the Nizari Isma'ilis who lived in the mountains of Persia and Syria between 1090 and 1275. During that time, the sect spread terror throughout the Middle East through the covert murder of primarily Muslim leaders. The modern term assassination is based on the tactics used by the Assassins. Nizari Isma'ilism formed in the late 11th century after a succession crisis within the Fatimid caliphate, and was founded by Nizar ibn al-Mustansir, half-brother of Fatimid caliph al-Musta'li.

Rudkhan Castle in the Alborz mountain range, Iran
Formation1090 AD
Extinction1275 AD
TypeMilitary order
Official language
Parent organization
AffiliationsNizari Ismaili state

The Nizari Isma'ili State, to become known as the Assassins, was founded by Hassan-i Sabbah who called his disciples Asāsiyyūn (أساسيون, meaning "people who are faithful to the foundation [of the faith]"). The state was formed in 1090 after the capture of Alamut Castle in modern Iran, a site to be the headquarters of the Assassins. Alamut Castle was the foundation of a network of Ismaili fortresses throughout Persia and Syria that formed the backbone of Assassin power, and included Syrian strongholds at Masyaf, Abu Qubays, al-Qadmus and al-Kahf. The Nizari Isma'ili State was ruled by Hassan-i Sabbath until his death in 1124. The Western world was introduced to the Assassins by the works of Marco Polo[1] who had misunderstood the name as deriving from the term hashish.[2][3][4][5]

Map of the Crusader states, showing the area controlled by the Assassins around Masyaf, slightly above the center, in white.

The rulers of the Nizari Isma'ili State were religious leaders, at first da'i and later Imams. Prominent Assassin leaders operating in Syria included al-Hakim al-Munajjim, the physician-astrologer (d. 1103), Abu Tahir al Sa’igh, the goldsmith (d. 1113) and Rashid ad-Din Sinan, renown as the greatest Assassin chief (d. 1193).

Rashid ad-Din Sinan the Grand Master of the Assassins at Masyaf successfully kept Saladin off his territory.

While Assassins typically refers to the entire sect, only a group of disciples known as the fida'i actually engaged in conflict. Lacking their own army, the Nizari relied on these warriors to carry out espionage and assassinations of key enemy figures. The preferred method of killing was by dagger, never poison or arrows. The Assassins posed a strategic threat to Fatimid, Abbasid and Seljuq authority and over the course of 300 years, they killed hundreds, including three caliphs, and many viziers, sultans, and Christian and Mongol leaders.[6] The first instance of murder in the effort to establish a Nizari Isma'ili state in Persia was that of Nizam al-Mulk in 1092.[7] Other notable victims of the Assassins include Janah ad-Dawla, emir of Homs, (1103), Mawdud, atabeg of Damascus (1113), Fatimid vizier al-Afdal Shahanshan (1121), Seljuk atabeg Aqsunqur al-Bursuqi (1126), Fatimid caliph al-Amir bi-Ahkami’l-Lah (1130), atabeg of Damascus Taj al-Mulk Buri (1132), and Abbasid caliphs al-Mustarshid (1135) and ar-Rashid (1138). The first known Frank killed by the Assassins was Raymond II, Count of Tripoli, in 1152. The Assassins were acknowledged and feared by the Crusaders, losing the de facto King of Jerusalem, Conrad of Montserrat, to an Assassins blade in 1192.

During the rule of Imam Rukn-ud-Din Khurshah, the Nizari Isma'ili State declined internally, and was eventually destroyed as Khurshah surrendered the castles to the invading Mongols. The Mongols destroyed and eliminated their order.

Accounts of the Assassins were preserved within Western, Arabic, Syriac and Persian sources where they are depicted as trained killers, responsible for the systematic elimination of opposing figures. European orientalist historians in the 19th and 20th centuries also referred to the Isma'ili in their works and tended to write about them based on accounts by medieval Sunni Arab and Persian authors.


Artistic rendering of Hassan-i Sabbah.

Hassan-i Sabbah was an Arab born in Persia, ca. 1050, who did his religious studies in Cairo with the Fatimids. His support of Nizar ibn al-Mustansir in the succession crisis resulted in his imprisonment and deportation. He made his way to Persia where through subterfuge he and his followers captured Alamut Castle in 1090. This was the beginning of the Nizari Isma'ili State and the Assassins. Sabbah adapted the fortress to suit his needs not only for defense from hostile forces, but also for indoctrination of his followers. After laying claim to the fortress at Alamut, Sabbah began expanding his influence outwards to nearby towns and districts, using his agents to gain political favour and to intimidate the local populations. Spending most of his days at Alamut producing religious works and developing doctrines for his order, Sabbah would never again leave his fortress. Murder for religious purposes was not new to the region, as the strangler sects of southern Iraq dating to the eighth century have shown. The strangler sects were stopped by the Umayyads; the Assassins would not be by the later caliphates.[8]

Shortly after establishing their headquarters at Alamut Castle, the sect captured Lambsar Castle, to be the largest of the Isma'ili fortresses and confirming the Assassins' power in northern Persia. The castle was taken under the command of Kiya Buzurg Ummid, later Sabbah's successor, who remained commandant of the fortress for twenty years.

The Assassins were immediately threatened by the forces of Seljuk sultan Malik-Shah I. Their attack on Alamut Castle and surrounding areas was canceled upon the death of the sultan. The new sultan Barkiyaruq, son of Malik-Shah I, did not continue the direct attack on Alamut, concentrating on securing his position against rivals, including his half-brother Muhammad I Tapar, who eventually settled for a smaller role, becoming malik in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The first notable assassination was that of powerful Seljuk vizier Nizam al-Mulk in 1092 who had helped propel Barkiyaruq to lead the sultanate. Sabbah is reputed to have remarked "the killing of this devil is the beginning of bliss" on hearing to the death of Nizam. Of the 50 assassinations conducted during Sabbah's reign, more than half were Seljuk officials, many of whom supported Muhammad I Tapar.

The Assassins seized Persian castles of Rudkhan and Gerdhuh in 1096, before turning to Syria. There they occupied the fortress at Shaizar held by the Banu Munqidh, using it to spread terror to Isfahan, the heart of the Seljuk empire. A rebellion by the local population drove the Assassins out, but they continued to occupy a smaller fortress at Khalinjan.

By 1100, Barkiyaruq had consolidated his power, and the Assassins increase their presence, infiltrating the sultans court and army. Day-to-day functions of the court were frequently performed while armored and with weapons. The next year, he tasked his brother Ahmad Sanjar, then ruler of Khorasan, to attack Assassin strongholds in Quhistan. The siege at Tabas was at first successful, with the walls of the fortress breached, but then was lifted, possibly because the Seljuk commander had been bribed. The subsequent attack was devastating to the Assassins, but the terms granted were generous, and they were soon reestablished at Quhistan. In the years following, the Assassins continued their mission on religious and secular leaders. Given these successes, they began expanding their operations into Syria.

The first da'i Hassan dispatched to Syria was al-Hakim al-Munajjim, a Persian known as the physician-astrologer, establishing a cell in Aleppo in the early 12th century. Ridwan, the emir of Aleppo, was in search of allies and worked closely with al-Hakim leading to speculation the Ridwan was a Nizari. The alliance was first shown in the assassination in 1103 of Janah ad-Dawla, emir of Homs and a key opponent of Ridwan. He was murdered by three Assassins at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Homs. Al-Hakim died a few weeks later and was succeeded by Abu Tahir al Sa’igh, a Persian known as the goldsmith.

After the death of Barkiyaruq in 1105, his successor Muhammad I Tapar began his anti-Nizari campaign. While successful in cleaning the Assassins out of parts of Persia, they remained untouchable in their strongholds in the north. An eight-year war of attrition was initiated under the command of Ahmad ibn Nizam al-Mulk, the son of the first Assassin victim. The mission had some successes, but he was unable to take Alamut Castle and avenge the deaths of his father and brother Fakhr al-Mulk. During the siege of Alamut,[9] a famine resulted and Hassan had his wife and daughters sent to the fortress at Gerdkuh. After that time, Assassins never allowed their women to be at their fortresses during military campaigns, both for protection and secrecy. Some time later, Ahmad ibn Nizam al-Mulk was attacked by Assassins for revenge but survived.

In Syria, Abu Tahir al Sa’igh, Ridwan and Abu'l Fath of Sarmin conspired in 1106 to send a team of Assassins to murder Khalaf ibn Mula'ib, emir of Apamea. Some of Khalaf's sons and guards were also killed and, after the murder, Ridwan became overlord of Apamea, with Abu'l Fath as emir. A surviving son escaped and turned the city over to Tancred who captured the city for the Principality of Antioch. The town's residents overwhelmingly approved the Christians over the Assassins. Abu'l Fath was tortured to death, while Abu Tahir ransomed himself and returned to Aleppo.

The Assassins wrecked havoc on the Syrian rulers, with their first major kill being that of Mawdud, atabeg of Mosul, in 1113. Mawdud was felled by Assassins in Damascus while a guest of Toghtekin, atabeg of Damascus. He was replaced at Mosul by Aqsunqur al-Bursuqi, who himself would be a victim of the Assassins in 1126. Toghtekin's son, the great Taj al-Mulk Buri, founder of the Burid dynasty, would fall victim to the Assassins in 1131, dying a year later due to his injuries.[10]

Ridwan died in 1113 and was succeeded as ruler of Aleppo by his son Alp Arslan al-Akhras. Alp Arslan continued his father's conciliatory approach to the Assassins. A warning from Muhammad I Tapar and a prior attempt of the assassination of Abu Harb Isa ibn Zayd, a wealth Persian merchant, led to a wholescale expulsion of the Assassins from Aleppo in that same year. Led by militia commander Sāʿid ibn Badī, the attack resulted in the execution of Abu Tahir al Sa’igh and the brother of al-Hakim al-Munajjim, with 200 other Assassins killed or imprisoned, some thrown from the top of the citadel. Revenge was slow but sure, taken out on Sāʿid ibn Badī in 1119. The shiftless Arp Arslan had exiled Sāʿid to Qalʿat Jaʿbar, where he was murdered along with two of his sons by the Assassins.[11][12]

In 1118, Muhammad I Tapar died and his brother Ahmad Sanjar became Seljuk sultan, and Hassan sent ambassadors to seek peace. When Sanjar rebuffed these ambassadors, Hassan then sent his Assassins to the sultan. Sanjar woke up one morning with a dagger stuck in the ground beside his bed. Alarmed, he kept the matter a secret. A messenger from Hassan arrived and stated, "Did I not wish the sultan well that the dagger which was struck in the hard ground would have been planted on your soft breast". For the next several decades there ensued a ceasefire between the Isma'ilis and the Seljuks. Sanjar himself pensioned the Assassins on taxes collected from the lands they owned, gave them grants and licenses, and even allowed them to collect tolls from travelers.[13]

No one was more responsible for the succession crisis that caused the exile of Nizar ibn Mustarstir than the powerful Fatimid vizier al-Afdal Shahanshah. In 1121, al-Afdal was murdered by three Assassins from Aleppo, causing a seven-day celebration among the Isma'ilis and no great mourning among the court of Fatimid caliph al-Amir bi-Ahkam Allah who resented his growing boldness. Al-Afdal Shahanshah was replaced by vizier by al-Ma'mum al-Bata'ihi who was instructed to prepare a letter of rapprochement between Cairo and Alamut. Upon learning of a plot to kill both al-Amir and al-Ma'mum, such ideas were disbanded, and severe restrictions on dealing with the Assassins were instead put in place.

In 1124, Hassan-i Sabbah died, leaving a legacy that reverberated throughout the Middle East for centuries. He was succeeded at Alamut by Kiya Buzurg Ummid.

The appointment of a new da'i at Alamut may have led the Seljuks to believe the Assassins were in a weakened position, and Ahmad Sanjar launched an attack on them in 1126. Led by Sanjar's vizier Mu'in ad-Din Kashi, the Seljuks again struck at Quhistan and also Nishapur in the east, and at Rudbar to the north. In the east, the Seljuks had minor successes at a village near Sabzevar, where the population was destroyed, their leader leaping from the mosque's minaret, and at Turaythirth in Nishapur, where the attackers "killed many, took much booty, and then returned." At best, the results were not decisive, but superior to the routing the Seljuks received in the north, with one expedition driven back, losing their previous booty, and another having a Seljuk commander captured. In the end, the Ismai'li position was better than before the offensive. In the guise of a peace offering of two Arabian horses, Assassins gained the confidence of Mu'in ad-Din Kashi and killed him in 1127.[14]

The Ismai'li response to the Seljuk invasion was multi-faceted. In Rudbar, a new and powerful fortress was built at Maymundiz and new territories acquired. To the east, the Seljuk stronghold of Sistan was raided in 1129.[15] That same year, Mahmud II, son of Muhammad I Tapar, and sultan of Isfahan, decided to sue for peace with Alamut.[16] Unfortunately, the Ismai'li envoys to Mahmud were lynched by an angry mob following their audience with the sultan. The demand by Kiya Buzurg Ummid for punishment of the perpetrators was refused. That prompted an Assassin attack on Qazvin, resulting in the loss of 400 lives in addition to a Turkish emir. A counterattack on Alamut was inconclusive.[17]

Mahmud II died in 1131 and his brother Ghiyath ad-Din Mas'ud (Mas'ud) was recognized as successor by Abbasid caliph al-Mustarshid.[18] The succession was contested by Mahmud's son and other brothers, and al-Mustardid was draw into the conflict. The caliph al-Mustarshid was taken prisoner by Seljuk forces in 1135 near Hamadan and pardoned with the proviso that he abdicate. Left in his tent studying the Quran, he was murdered by a large group of Assassins. Some suspected Mas'ud and even Ahmad Sanjar with complicity, but the chronicles of contemporaneous Arab historians ibn al-Athir and ibn al-Jawzi do not bear that out. The Isma'ilis commemorated the caliph's death with seven days and nights of celebration.[19]

The reign of Buzurg Ummid ended with his death in 1138, showing a relatively small list of assassinations[20]. He was succeeded by his son Muhammad Buzurg Ummid, sometimes referred to as Kiya Muhammad.[21]

The Abbasids' celebration of the death of the Assassin leader Buzurg Ummid was short-lived. The son and successor of the last high profile victim of the Assassins, caliph al-Mustarshid, was his son ar-Rashid. Ar-Rashid was deposed by his uncle al-Muqtafi in 1136 and, while recovering from an illness in Isfahan, was murdered by Assassins. The addition of a second caliph to the Assassins' so-called "role of honor" of victims again resulted in a week of celebration at Alamut. Another significant success was the assassination of the son of Mahmud II, Da'ud, who ruled in Azerbaijan and Jibal. Da'ud was felled by four Assassins in Tabriz in 1143, rumored to have been dispatched by Zengi, atabeg of Mosul. Nevertheless, the fourteen known assassinations during the reign of Kiya Muhammad was a far cry from the tally of his predecessors, representing a significant decline in the power of the Isma'ilis. This was exemplified by the governors of Mazandaran and of Rayy who were said to have built towers out of Isma'ili skulls. That was to change with the ascension of Kiya Muhammad's son Ḥasan ʿAlā Zikrihi's Salām, known as Hassan II.[22][23]


The word "ASAS" in Arabic means principle. The "Asāsiyyūn" (plural, literary Arabic, official texts, proper form) were, as defined in Arabic, people of principle. The term "assassin" likely has roots in "hashshāshīn" (hashish smokers or users), a mispronunciation of the original Asāsiyyūn, but not a mispronunciation of "Assasiyeen" (pronounced "Asāsiyyeen", the plural of Asasi). Originally referring to the methods of political control exercised by the Assasiyuun, one can see how it became "assassin" in several languages to describe similar activities anywhere.

The Assassins were finally linked by the 19th-century orientalist scholar Silvestre de Sacy to the Arabic word hashish using their variant names assassin and assissini in the 19th century. Citing the example of one of the first written applications of the Arabic term hashish to the Ismailis by 13th-century historian Abu Shama, de Sacy demonstrated its connection to the name given to the Ismailis throughout Western scholarship.[24] The first known usage of the term hashishi has been traced back to 1122 when the Fatimid caliph al-Amir bi-Ahkami’l-Lah, himself later assassinated, employed it in derogatory reference to the Syrian Nizaris.[24] Used figuratively, the term hashishi connoted meanings such as outcasts or rabble.[24] Without actually accusing the group of using the hashish drug, the Caliph used the term in a pejorative manner. This label was quickly adopted by anti-Ismaili historians and applied to the Ismailis of Syria and Persia. The spread of the term was further facilitated through military encounters between the Nizaris and the Crusaders, whose chroniclers adopted the term and disseminated it across Europe.

During the medieval period, Western scholarship on the Isma'ilis contributed to the popular view of the community as a radical sect of assassins, believed to be trained for the precise murder of their adversaries. By the 14th century, European scholarship on the topic had not advanced much beyond the work and tales from the Crusaders.[24] The origins of the word forgotten, across Europe the term Assassin had taken the meaning of "professional murderer".[24] In 1603, the first Western publication on the topic of the Assassins was authored by a court official for King Henry IV of France and was mainly based on the narratives of Marco Polo from his visits to the Near East. While he assembled the accounts of many Western travellers, the author failed to explain the etymology of the term Assassin.[25]

According to the Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, based on texts from Alamut, Hassan-i Sabbah tended to call his disciples Asāsīyūn (أساسيون, meaning "people who are faithful to the foundation [of the faith]"), and derivation from the term hashish is a misunderstanding by foreign travelers.[26]

Another modern author, Edward Burman, states that:

Many scholars have argued, and demonstrated convincingly, that the attribution of the epithet "hashish eaters" or "hashish takers" is a misnomer derived from enemies of the Isma'ilis and was never used by Muslim chroniclers or sources. It was therefore used in a pejorative sense of "enemies" or "disreputable people". This sense of the term survived into modern times with the common Egyptian usage of the term Hashasheen in the 1930s to mean simply "noisy or riotous". It is unlikely that the austere Hassan-i Sabbah indulged personally in drug taking ... there is no mention of that drug hashish in connection with the Persian Assassins – especially in the library of Alamut ("the secret archives").[2]

The name "Assassin" is often said to derive from the Arabic word Hashishin or "users of hashish",[3] was originally applied to the Nizari Ismaelis by the rival Mustali Ismailis during the fall of the Ismaili Fatimid Empire and the separation of the two Ismaili streams,[4] there is little evidence hashish was used to motivate the assassins, contrary to the beliefs of their medieval enemies.[5] It is possible that the term hashishiyya or hashishi in Arabic sources was used metaphorically in its abusive sense relating to use of hashish, which due to its effects on the mind state, is outlawed in Islam. Modern versions of this word include Mahashish used in the same derogatory sense, albeit less offensive nowadays, as the use of the substance is more widespread.[citation needed]

Idries Shah, a sufi scholar using Arkon Daraul as a pen name, described them as 'druggers' that used hashish "in stupefying candidates for the ephemeral visit to paradise".[27]

The Sunni Muslims also used the term mulhid to refer to the Assassins, which is also recorded by the traveller and Franciscan William of Rubruck as mulidet.[28]

Military tacticsEdit

"They call him Shaykh-al-Hashishin. He is their Elder, and upon his command all of the men of the mountain come out or go in ... they are believers of the word of their elder and everyone everywhere fears them, because they even kill kings."

Benjamin of Tudela

Remains of the Alamut castle in Qazvin, Iran

In pursuit of their religious and political goals, the Ismailis adopted various military strategies popular in the Middle Ages. One such method was that of assassination, the selective elimination of prominent rival figures. The murders of political adversaries were usually carried out in public spaces, creating resounding intimidation for other possible enemies.[29] Throughout history, many groups have resorted to assassination as a means of achieving political ends. The assassinations were committed against those whose elimination would most greatly reduce aggression against the Ismailis and, in particular, against those who had perpetrated massacres against the community. A single assassination was usually employed in contrast with the widespread bloodshed which generally resulted from factional combat. Assassins are also said to be adept in furusiyya, or the Islamic warrior code, where they are trained in combat, disguises, and equestrianism.[citation needed] Codes of conduct are followed, and the hashashin are taught in the art of war, linguistics, and strategies. For about two centuries, the Assassins specialized in assassinating their religious and political enemies.[9]

While the Seljuqs and Crusaders both employed murder as a military means of disposing of factional enemies, during the Alamut period almost any murder of political significance in the Islamic lands was attributed to the Ismailis.[29] So inflated had this association grown that, in the work of orientalist scholars such as Bernard Lewis, the Ismailis were equated with the politically active fida'is and thus were regarded as a radical and heretical sect known as the Assassins.[30]

The military approach of the Nizari Ismaili state was largely a defensive one, with strategically chosen sites that appeared to avoid confrontation wherever possible without the loss of life.[31] But the defining characteristic of the Nizari Ismaili state was that it was scattered geographically throughout Persia and Syria. The Alamut castle therefore was only one of a nexus of strongholds throughout the regions where Ismailis could retreat to safety if necessary. West of Alamut in the Shahrud Valley, the major fortress of Lamasar served as just one example of such a retreat. In the context of their political uprising, the various spaces of Ismaili military presence took on the name dar al-hijra (دار الهجرة; land of migration, place of refuge). The notion of the dar al-hijra originates from the time of Muhammad, who migrated with his followers from persecution to a safe haven in Yathrib (Medina).[32] In this way, the Fatimids found their dar al-hijra in North Africa. From 1101 to 1118, attacks and sieges were made on the fortresses, conducted by combined forces of Seljuk, Berkyaruq, and Sanjar. Although with the cost of lives and the capture and execution of assassin dai Ahmad ibn Attash, the hashashin managed to hold their ground and repel the attacks until the Mongol invasion.[33] Likewise, during the revolt against the Seljuqs, several fortresses served as spaces of refuge for the Ismailis.

14th-century painting of the successful assassination of Nizam al-Mulk, vizier of the Seljuq Empire, by an Assassin. It is often considered their most significant assassination.

Downfall and aftermathEdit

View of Alamut besieged. The last Grand Master of the Assassins at Alamut Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah (1255–1256) was executed by Hulagu Khan after a devastating siege

The Assassins were eradicated by the Mongol Empire during the well-documented invasion of Khwarizm. They probably dispatched their assassins to kill Möngke Khan. Thus, a decree was handed over to the Mongol commander Kitbuqa who began to assault several Hashashin fortresses in 1253 before Hulagu's advance in 1256. The Mongols besieged Alamut on December 15, 1256. The Assassins recaptured and held Alamut for a few months in 1275, but they were crushed and their political power was lost forever.[citation needed]

The Syrian branch of the Assassins was taken over by the Mamluk Sultan Baibars in 1273. The Mamluks continued to use the services of the remaining Assassins: in the 14th century Ibn Battuta reported their fixed rate of pay per murder. In exchange, they were allowed to exist.

During the mid-12th century the Assassins captured or acquired several fortresses in the Nusayriyah Mountain Range in coastal Syria, including Masyaf, Rusafa, al-Kahf, al-Qadmus, Khawabi, Sarmin, Quliya, Ulayqa, Maniqa, Abu Qubays and Jabal al-Summaq. For the most part, the Assassins maintained full control over these fortresses until 1270–1273 when the Mamluk sultan Baibars annexed them. Most were dismantled afterwards, while those at Masyaf and Ulayqa were later rebuilt.[34] From then on, the Ismailis maintained limited autonomy over those former strongholds as loyal subjects of the Mamluks.[35]

Legends and folkloreEdit

The legends of the Assassins had much to do with the training and instruction of Nizari fida'is, famed for their public missions during which they often gave their lives to eliminate adversaries. Historians have contributed to the tales of fida'is being fed with hashish as part of their training.[36] Whether fida'is were actually trained or dispatched by Nizari leaders is unconfirmed, but scholars including Vladimir Ivanov purport that the assassinations of key figures including Saljuq vizier Nizam al-Mulk likely provided encouraging impetus to others in the community who sought to secure the Nizaris protection from political aggression.[36] Originally, a "local and popular term" first applied to the Ismailis of Syria, the label was orally transmitted to Western historians and thus found itself in their histories of the Nizaris.[32]

It is unknown how Hassan-i-Sabbah was able to get the Assassins to perform with such fervent loyalty. One theory, possibly the best known but also the most criticized, comes from the reports of Marco Polo during his travels to the Orient. He recounts a story he heard of a man who would drug his young followers with hashish, lead them to a "paradise", and then claim that only he had the means to allow for their return. Perceiving that Sabbah was either a prophet or magician, his disciples, believing that only he could return them to "paradise", were fully committed to his cause and willing to carry out his every request.[37] However, this story is disputed[by whom?] because Sabbah died in 1124 and Rashid ad-Din Sinan, who is frequently known as the "Old Man of the Mountain", died in 1192, whereas Marco Polo was not born until around 1254.[38][39]

The tales of the fida'is' training collected from anti-Ismaili historians and orientalist writers were compounded and compiled in Marco Polo's account, in which he described a "secret garden of paradise".[40] After being drugged, the Ismaili devotees were said to be taken to a paradise-like garden filled with attractive young maidens and beautiful plants in which these fida'is would awaken. Here, they were told by an "old" man that they were witnessing their place in Paradise and that should they wish to return to this garden permanently, they must serve the Nizari cause.[32] So went the tale of the "Old Man in the Mountain", assembled by Marco Polo and accepted by Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, an 18th-century Austrian orientalist writer responsible for much of the spread of this legend. Until the 1930s, von Hammer's retelling of the Assassin legends served as the standard account of the Nizaris across Europe.[40]

Another one of Hassan's recorded methods includes causing the hashashin to be vilified by their contemporaries. One story goes that Hassan al-Sabah set up a trick to make it appear as if he had decapitated one of his hashashin and the "dead" hashashin's head lay at the foot of his throne. It was actually one of his men buried up to his neck covered with blood. He invited his hashashin to speak to it. He said that he used special powers to allow it to communicate. The supposed talking head would tell the hashashin about paradise after death if they gave all their hearts to the cause. After the trick was played, Hassan had the man killed and his head placed on a stake in order to cement the deception.[41]

A well-known legend tells how Count Henry of Champagne, returning from Armenia, spoke with Grand Master Rashid ad-Din Sinan at al-Kahf. The count claimed to have the most powerful army and at any moment he claimed he could defeat the Hashshashin, because his army was 10 times larger. Rashid replied that his army was instead the most powerful, and to prove it he told one of his men to jump off from the top of the castle in which they were staying. The man did. Surprised, the count immediately recognized that Rashid's army was indeed the strongest, because it did everything at his command, and Rashid further gained the count's respect.[42]

Modern works on the Nizaris have elucidated their history and, in doing so, dispelled popular histories from the past as mere legends. In 1933, under the direction of the Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III, the Islamic Research Association was developed. Historian Vladimir Ivanov was central to both this institution and the 1946 Ismaili Society of Bombay. Cataloguing a number of Ismaili texts, Ivanov provided the ground for great strides in modern Ismaili scholarship.[41]

In recent years, Peter Willey has provided interesting evidence that goes against the Assassin folklore of earlier scholars. Drawing on its established esoteric doctrine, Willey asserts that the Ismaili understanding of Paradise is a deeply symbolic one. While the Qur'anic description of Heaven includes natural imagery, Willey argues that no Nizari fida'i would seriously believe that he was witnessing Paradise simply by awakening in a beauteous garden.[43] The Nizaris' symbolic interpretation of the Qur'anic description of Paradise serves as evidence against the possibility of such an exotic garden used as motivation for the devotees to carry out their armed missions. Furthermore, Willey points out that a courtier of Hulagu Khan, Juvayni, surveyed the Alamut castle just before the Mongol invasion. In his reports about the fortress, there are elaborate descriptions of sophisticated storage facilities and the famous Alamut library. However, even this anti-Ismaili historian makes no mention of the gardens on the Alamut grounds.[43] Having destroyed a number of texts in the library's collection, deemed by Juvayni to be heretical, it would be expected that he would pay significant attention to the Nizari gardens, particularly if they were the site of drug use and temptation. Having not once mentioned such gardens, Willey concludes that there is no sound evidence in favour of these legends.

According to the historian Yaqut al-Hamawi, the Böszörmény, (Izmaleita or Ismaili/Nizari) denomination of Muslims who lived in the Kingdom of Hungary from the 10th to the 13th centuries, were employed as mercenaries by the kings of Hungary. However, following the establishment of the Christian Kingdom of Hungary, their community was vanquished by the end of the 13th century due to the Inquisitions ordered by the Catholic Church during the reign of Coloman, King of Hungary. It is said that the Assassins are the ancestors of those given the surname Hajaly, derived from the word "hajal", a rare species of bird found in the mountains of Syria near Masyaf. The hajal (bird) was often used as a symbol of the Assassin's order.[citation needed]

In popular cultureEdit

The Hashashin were part of Medieval culture, and they were either demonized or romanticized. The Hashashin appeared frequently in the art and literature of the Middle Ages, sometimes illustrated as one of the knight's archenemies and as a quintessential villain during the crusades.[44]

The word Assassin, in variant forms, had already passed into European usage in this general sense as a term for a hired professional murderer. The Florentine chronicler Giovanni Villani, who died in 1348, tells how the lord of Lucca sent 'his assassins' (i suoi assassini) to Pisa to kill a troublesome enemy there. Even earlier, Dante, in a passing reference in the 19th canto of the Inferno, speaks of 'the treacherous assassin' (lo perfido assassin); his fourteenth-century commentator Francesco da Buti, explaining a term which for some readers at the time may still have been strange and obscure, remarks: 'Assassino è colui che uccide altrui per danari' (An assassin is one who kills others for money).[45]

The most widespread awareness of the Assassins in modern Europe, and their incorporation into the Romantic tradition, was created by Austrian historian and Orientalist Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall through his 1818 book, Die Geschichte der Assassinen aus morgenländischen Quellen[46] (translated into English in 1835 as The History of the Assassins[47]). This work was the standard one on the history of the Assassins in the West until the 1930s.

The Assassins appear in many role-playing games and video games, especially in massively multiplayer online games. The assassin character class is a common feature of many such games, usually specializing in single combat and stealth skills, often combined in order to defeat an opponent without exposing the assassin to counter-attack.

  • The Exile series of action role-playing games revolves around a time-traveling Syrian Assassin who assassinates various religious historical figures and modern world leaders.[48][49]
  • The Assassin's Creed video game series portrays a heavily fictionalized Ḥashshāshīn order, which has expanded beyond its Levantine confines and is depicted to have existed throughout recorded history (along with their nemesis, the Knights Templar).[50] Both orders are presented as fundamentally philosophical, rather than as religious, in nature, and are expressly said to predate the faiths that their real-life counterparts arose from, thus allowing for the expansion of their respective "histories" both before and after their factual time-frames. However, Assassin's Creed draws much of its content from historical facts, and even incorporates as the creed itself the purported last words from Hassan i Sabbah: "Nothing is true; everything is permitted" (though the sources for that quote are largely unreliable). The series has since developed into a franchise, comprising novels, comic books, and a film.
  • In the Sword of Islam DLC for Paradox Interactive's grand strategy game Crusader Kings II, the Hashashin are a holy order associated with Shi'a Islam. Once established, Shi'ite rulers may hire the Hashashin to fight against non-Shi'a realms, and can potentially vassalize them. The Monks and Mystics DLC expands their role, making the Assassins a unique secret society that Shi'a characters may join.
  • In the Netflix series Marco Polo, the emperor Kublai Khan is attacked by a group of assassins, which is said to be the work of the Hashshashin, who are led by the Old Man of the Mountain according to the Taoist monk Hundred Eyes, in the King's court. The Old Man of the Mountain is then pursued by Marco Polo and Byamba. The episode Hashshashin (2014) shows how the Old Man leads Marco Polo into a hallucinogenic state.[51]
  • Louis L'Amour, in his book The Walking Drum, used the assassins and the stronghold of Alamut as the location of his main character's enslaved father. Mathurin Kerbouchard, who initially seeks his father in the 12th century Moor-controlled Spain, then throughout Europe, must ultimately travel to the Stronghold of Alamut in order to rescue Jean Kerbouchard.[52]
  • The Faceless men, a guild of assassins in the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin and in the TV series Game of Thrones are inspired by the Order of Assassins[53]
  • The Fate franchise of visual novels features the sect quite prominently with Hassan-i-sabbah, also known as the "Old Man of the Mountain" (Japanese: 山の翁, Yama no Okina), being a pseudonym of 19 wraiths able to be summoned into the assassin class. Their Noble Phantasm is called Zabaniya (in Japanese: ザバニヤ), from Arabic (Az-zabānīya: الزبانية), named after the 19 Angels that guard Hell in the Islamic faith. In both Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night: Heaven's Feel, 'Assassin' is a character (servant of Kotomine Kirei and Matō Zouken respectively) that portrays a leader of Hashashins. Hassan-i Sabbah himself features in Fate/Grand Order.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Komroff, Manuel (2013-04-16). The Travels of Marco Polo. Read Books Ltd. ISBN 9781446545997.
  2. ^ a b Burman, Edward (1987). The Assassins – Holy Killers of Islam. Wellingborough: Crucible. p.70.
  3. ^ a b The Assassins: a Radical Sect of Islam, pgs. 59-61
  4. ^ a b Daftary, Farhad (1990). The Ismailis: Their history and doctrines. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Page 12.
  5. ^ a b Daftary, Farhad (1990). The Ismailis: Their history and doctrines. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Page 13. quote=[p.13]"the tale of how the Nizari chiefs secretly administered hashish to the fadaeen in order to control and motivate them has been accepted by many scholars since Arnold of Lueback. But the fact remains that neither the Isma'ili texts which have come to light in modern times nor any serious ..." [p.353] "However, contrary to the medieval legends fabricated by uninformed writers and the enemies of the sect, there is no evidence that hashish was used in any way for motivating the fidaeen who displayed an intensive groups sentiment and solidarity."
  6. ^ Acosta, Benjamin (2012). "Assassins". In Stanton, Andrea L.; Ramsamy, Edward (eds.). Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa: An Encyclopedia. Sage. p. 21. Retrieved October 13, 2015.
  7. ^ Willey, p. 29
  8. ^ A History of the Crusades: The First Hundred Years, pgs. 108-109
  9. ^ a b Wasserman, p. 102
  10. ^ A History of the Crusades: The First Hundred Years, pgs. 113-118
  11. ^ Richards, D. S., Editor (2002). The Annals of the Saljuq Turks: Selections from al-Kamil fi’l-Tarikh ibn al-Athir. Routledge Publishing. p. 164.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ A History of the Crusades: The First Hundred Years, pgs. 113-114
  13. ^ Wasserman, p. 105
  14. ^ The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, pgs. 64-65
  15. ^ The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, pg. 65
  16. ^ Baldwin, Marshall W., and Setton, Kenneth M (1969). A History of the Crusades: Volume One, The First Hundred Years. The University of Wisconsin Press. p. 175.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, pgs. 65-66
  18. ^ A History of the Crusades: The First Hundred Years, pg. 456
  19. ^ The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, pg. 66
  20. ^ A History of the Crusades: The First Hundred Years, pg. 108
  21. ^ The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, pgs. 67-68
  22. ^ The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, pgs. 67-70
  23. ^ A History of the Crusades: The First Hundred Years, pg. 458
  24. ^ a b c d e Daftary 1998, p. 14
  25. ^ Daftary 1998, p. 15
  26. ^ Maalouf, Amin (1998). Samarkand. New York: Interlink Publishing Group.
  27. ^ Daraul, Arkon (1961). A History of Secret Societies. Citadel Press. p. 13, p. 29.
  28. ^ Waterson, James (2008). The Ismaili Assassins: A History of Medieval Murder. Pen and Sword.
  29. ^ a b Daftary 1998, p. 129
  30. ^ Lewis, Bernard (2003). The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam. Phoenix. ISBN 978-1-84212-451-2. Retrieved September 15, 2010.
  31. ^ Willey, p. 58
  32. ^ a b c Hodgson, Marshall G. S. (2005). The Secret Order of Assassins: The Struggle of the Early Nizârî Ismâʻîlîs Against the Islamic World. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-1916-6. Retrieved September 15, 2010.
  33. ^ Wasserman, p. 104
  34. ^ Raphael, 2011, p. 106.
  35. ^ Daftary, 2007, p. 402.
  36. ^ a b Ivanov, Vladimir (1960). Alamut and Lamasar: two mediaeval Ismaili strongholds in Iran, an archaeological study. Tehran, Iran: Ismaili Society. p. 21. Retrieved September 15, 2010.
  37. ^ Frampton, John (1929). The Most Noble and Famous Travels of Marco Polo.
  38. ^ Italiani nel sistema solare di Michele T. Mazzucato
  39. ^ Many sources state "around 1254"; Britannica 2002, p. 571 states, "born in or around 1254".
  40. ^ a b Daftary 1998, p. 16
  41. ^ a b Daftary 1998, p. 17
  42. ^ The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, p. 25
  43. ^ a b Willey, p. 55
  44. ^ The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam p.18
  45. ^ The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam p.20
  46. ^ Stuttgart und Tübingen, 1818
  47. ^ London, 1835; translated by O.C. Wood
  48. ^ Szczepaniak, John (April 11, 2009). "Hardcore Gaming 101: Exile / XZR". Hardcore Gaming 101. Retrieved August 10, 2009.
  49. ^ Leo Chan, Sunsoft scores Telenet Japan franchises, Neoseeker, December 10, 2009
  50. ^ The History of Assassin's Creed by IGN
  51. ^ "Marco Polo" Hashshashin (TV Episode 2014) - Plot Summary - IMDb
  52. ^ L'Amour, Louis (1984). The walking drum. Toronto: Bantam Books. ISBN 9780553249231. OCLC 12268583.
  53. ^ Sokol, Tony (June 29, 2018). "The real history of game of thrones the faceless men".


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit