Arabic: hashshāshīn, plural of hashshāsh
The Masyaf fortress in Nusayriyya Mountains (modern Syria), the stronghold of ”The Old Man of Mountain”.
Western representation of Hassan-e Sabbah.
Western representation of Hassan-e Sabbah.
Alamut valley, an area hard to pass. Near Qazvin, Iran.
Sect inside Shi’i Islam, more specifically the Nizari Isma’ilis, in the period from the 11th to the 13th century. Most significantly, the Assassins are famous for their fearless murders especially during the times of the Crusades.
There are many legends connected with the Assassins, and many are of dubious origin, more a result of medieval European story tellers’ fantasy than facts (among these story tellers is Marco Polo).
The main theme is that the Assassins performed their deeds under strong intoxication from hashish, resulting in their own deaths, but with the promise of immediate entry to Paradise — a paradise that had been staged for them during their training at the Alamut, a paradise of sweet food and wine and beautiful and willing women.
These stories have never been confirmed by any investigations of contemporary Isma’ili sources, and there is good reason to believe that such a shortcoming is a clear indication that such stories are fabrications.
From the original sources, we learn that the Assassins changed the original Isma’ili doctrine so that terrorism became a religious duty. Growing out from their center in Kazvin, the Assassins built a number of strongholds all over Iran and Iraq.
The idea of a paradise constructed around Alamut was probably based upon the sayings of imam al-Kahir, where he talks about a Paradise that man has already entered. However, al-Kahir’s paradise was meant as a spiritual one.
They had a system of terrorists as well as secret agents positioned in enemy camps and cities. The Assassins often worked closely with certain leaders of Muslim states, as their services were attractive: no one else was better able to kill important persons in enemy states. They were for long periods allied with the Christian crusaders, not because the Christians sympathized with them, but because they had common enemies.
One of the most important Muslim allies of the Assassins was the Seljuq ruler of Aleppo, Ridwan. Through this cooperation, they were able to establish themselves in the Syrian mountains, where several fortresses were erected. Without being recognized in the same way as other temporary states, the Assassins had in reality, their own state here. But the Assassins’s influence over Aleppo came to be immense, and they effectively ruled the politics and economy of the city and its surroundings for a couple of decades.
Even Saladin came to treat the Assassins as allies, although he intended initially to eliminate them. The reason for this alliance was that Saladin, following two assassination attempts, feared for his own life, and had more imminent enemies.
The Assassins were ranked according to intelligence, courage, and trustworthiness. They underwent intense education as well as physical training.
When the Assassins were out on a mission, they generally worked alone. Rarely did two or more of them work together. They dressed up as tradesmen or ascetic religious men, and spent a good deal of time in a city, in order to get well-acquainted with the houses and streets, as well as the daily routines of the future victim.
The actual murder was performed with a dagger and in public, often inside the mosque on a Friday. By doing it all in public, the information about the deed was soon well known, and people were frightened. In general, the Assassin murderer himself was killed immediately thereafter by guards of the victim.
1071: Hassan-e Sabbah moves to Fatimid Egypt, as the Shi’i orientation in Islam is no longer tolerated in his native Persia.
1070’s: A movement in opposition to the weak Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir is headed by the caliph’s son, Nizar. Hassan joins the organization and becomes central in planning how the caliphate shall be rejuvenated with Nizar as caliph.
1090’s: Hassan captures the hill fortress Alamut near Qazvin in Iran, whereupon he forms the organization soon to be known as Assassins.
1092: The famous Seljuq vizier Nizam al-Mulk is murdered by an Assassin in Baghdad. He becomes their first victim.
1094: Al-Mustansir dies, and Hassan does not recognize the new caliph, al-Mustali. He and his followers transferred their allegiance to his brother Nizar. The followers of Hassan came to be at odds with the caliph in Baghdad too.
1113: Following the death of Aleppo’s ruler, Ridwan, the Assassins are driven out of the city by the troops of Ibn al-Khashab.
1110’s: The Assassins in Syria change their strategy, and start undercover to build cells in all cities around the region.
1123: Ibn al-Khashab is killed by an Assassin killer.
1124: Hassan dies in Alamut, but the organization lives on stronger than ever.
— The leading qadi Abu Saad al-Harawi is killed by an Assassin killer.
1126 November 26: Emir Porsuki of Aleppo and Mosul is killed by an Assassin killer.
1131 May: Buri, the atabeg of Damascus, is seriously wounded by two Assassins. He dies 13 months later.
12th century: The Assassins extend their activities into Syria, where they received much support from the local Shi’i minority as the Seljuq sultanate had captured this territory.
— The Assassins capture a group of castles in the Nusayriyya Mountains (modern Syria). The most important of these castles is the Masyaf, from where the “The Old Man of Mountain”, Rashideddin Sinan, would come to rule practically independent from the main leaders of the Assassins.
1164: Hassan, the Assassin leader, declares that a new millennium had started and that his followers were freed from the Sharia, thereby also Islam. He allowed all excesses, and had his followers turn their backs on Mecca while praying.
1173: The Assassins of Syria enter negotiations with the king of Jerusalem, with the aim of their converting to Christianity. But as the Assassins by now were numerous and often worked as peasants, paying high taxes to local Christian landlords, taxes that Christian peasants were exempted from, their conversion was strongly opposed. In this year the Assassin negotiators were murdered by Christian knights, resulting in at the end of talks of conversion.
1175: Rashideddin’s men make two attempts on the life of Saladin, the leader of the Ayyubids. The second time, the Assassin came so close that wounds were inflicted upon Saladin.
Early 13th century: The new Assassin leader, Jalal ad-Din retracts the expression of independence of Hassan, bringing the Assassins officially back to the fold of Muslims.
Å1256: Alamut fortress falls to the Mongols under the leadership of Hülegü. Before this happened, several other fortresses had been captured, and finally, Alamut becomes weak and with little support.
1257: The Mongol warlord Hülegü attacks and destroys the fortress at Alamut. The Assassin library is completely destroyed, hence eradicating what would have been a crucial source of information about the Assassins.
Around 1260: Assassins seek support from the Christian Crusaders, offering to convert to Christianity, but this is refused by the Knights Templar.
Around 1265: The Assassin strongholds in Syria fall to the Mumluk sultan Baybars 1.