“When the Christian Crusaders in the East fell upon that invincible order of Assassins, the order of free spirits par excellence, the lowest rank of whom lived a life of obedience the like of which no monastic order has ever achieved, somehow or other they received an inkling of that symbol and watchword that was reserved for the highest ranks alone as their secretum: ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’, certainly that was freedom of the mind [des Geistes], with that the termination of the belief in truth was announced”
– Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche
The order of Hashashin, or also known as the middle eastern Assassins, were a medieval terror spreading gang that excelled in the professional killing of important people.
Other names they were recognized by were Nizaris, Nizari Ismailis, Batini’s “people of the esoteric teachings” or Ta’limiyyah “people of the secret teachings”. They controlled the medieval Islamic world for more than 130 years. Their leader was called Hassan al-Sabbah.
Hassan al-Sabbah (1050s–1124) was an incredibly charismatic leader, a brilliant mathematician, a devoted religious scholar, and an incredible diabolic mastermind.
He was a passionate devotee of Isma’ili beliefs, Hassan-i Sabbah was well-liked throughout Cairo, Syria and most of the Middle East by other Isma’ilis, which led to a number of people becoming his followers.
Using his esteem and popularity, Hassan founded and became The Grand Master of one of the history’s deadliest and most lethal mystery cults. While his motives for founding this order are ultimately unknown, it was said to be all for his own political and personal gain and to also exact vengeance on his enemies “The Crusaders”.
Hassan was looking for a certain type of fortress, and he certainly found it (We are unsure if he found it or built it because of the lack of sources). It was a thousand-year-old impenetrable mountain fortress of Alamut or also known as “The Death Mountain”.
The Lord of the Mountain commanded over covert brotherhood of fearless, vicious, and completely insane warriors completely dedicated to his cause.
They were willing to complete all of his requests even if that meant that they would die, they did it without hesitation for the cause of their master.
There is very little information on how he recruited his “Hashashins” but there are some medieval sources that say what was happening behind the impenetrable walls of the Death Mountain. Because of Hassan’s fame, recruits came to him with the intention of learning the mysterious ways of the Isma’ili. So Hassan placed them in windowless chambers deep beneath the mountain.
There the recruits were studying and learning, until one day one of Hassan’s servants arrived with a “magical” potion for the recruit to drink. The recruit would drink the potion without hesitation and pass out. When he awoke he found himself in one of the most beautiful and captivating places ever, the hanging gardens of Babylon.
The place looked like heaven, a glorious place full of wine, honey, fountains, palm trees, and incredibly beautiful and stunning topless women dancing and running all over the place.
The recruits enjoyed the Paradise-like environment for few hours and then Hassan would appear and say something in the lines of, ” This is what I am offering to you, follow my teaching and submit to my will and I shall show you the way to Heaven.”
Then they were given the potion again and thrown back into the smelly windowless chambers of the Death Mountain. Then when the recruit would come back to reality, Hassan appeared again and this time he asked if the initiate was willing to obey him and the creed of the Hashashin. They agreed almost every time, for obvious reasons.
So in a small amount of time, Hassan had already created a large army with unbelievable obedience, oftentimes he would order one of his men to perform a swan dive off the top of the fortress (this is the “Leap of Faith” a reference from the Assassin’s Creed games) and the Assassin with zero hesitation would smash in the concrete ground from more than thirty stories up.
The Assassins were religiously training every single minute of every day. They were mastering all kinds of techniques, martial arts, poison chemistry, espionage, infiltration and they were fluent in several languages, but the technique they excelled in the most was the art of subtlety.
Their signature weapon was a dagger because it was easily concealed and very effective in the short range. They did not wear plate armor, mail, or any kind of armor for protection. Their protection of choice was invisibility or in other words, before assassination, they would be dressed up as a civilian, a monk, royalty servant, usually any kind of mask that didn’t raise suspicion.
With this amount of power, Hassan could easily say the word and his loyal assassins would murder anyone he wants them to murder. Under the direction of their Grand Master and his successors, the Assassins killed Sultans, Viziers, Caliphs, Patriarchs, and Counts.
Before they had any chance to yell they were drowning in their own blood. To increase their notoriety they often killed their enemies in broad daylight in the peaceful streets with a ton of civilians, which would cause chaos and mayhem, and then they disappeared like they had some kind of invisibility superpowers.
Soon enough everyone would find out about the hashashin order, even the famous king Richard “The Lionheart” (there are some sources that say he had some collaboration with them).
What is more impressive than the boldness of the hashshashins is perhaps their efficient use of ‘psychological warfare’. By instilling fear into their enemy, they managed to gain their enemy’s submission without risking their own lives.
The great Muslim leader, Saladin, for instance, survived two hashshashin attempts on his life. Nevertheless, this placed him in a state of fear and paranoia, for fear of more assassination attempts. According to one story, one night during his conquest of Masyaf, in Syria, Saladin woke up to find a figure leaving his tent. Beside his bed were hot scones in the shape characteristic to the hashshashin, along with a note pinned by a poisoned dagger. According to the note, he would be killed if he did not withdraw. Needless to say, Saladin decided to settle a truce with the hashshashins.
Their most famous Victim was “Sir Conrad of Montferrat” he was the king of Jerusalem, here is a good description of how his death occurred:
“Sir Conrad of Montferrat confidently strode through the courtyard of the fortress city of Tyre, flanked by a heavily-armed entourage of mailed knights and dressed in the lavish garments and expensive silks indicative of his lofty status.
The King of Jerusalem was one of the most powerful men in the world – as commander of all Crusader forces in the Middle East, even the famous king Richard the Lion-Hearted was honor-bound to recognize Conrad’s authority. His anointing had been blessed by the Pope Himself, the armies of the Muslim infidel had been shattered by the might of his blade, and at his command, the Warriors of Christendom went forth to conquer all that lay before them.
From a small side alley two nondescript monks approached, their heads bowed low as they almost inaudibly chanted traditional Latin hymns, their fingers dexterously working their wooden prayer beads beneath their flowing brown robes.
They quietly walked towards the center of the courtyard, seemingly too absorbed in their prayers to notice Sir Conrad and his bodyguards. Then, suddenly, the monks doubled their pace. They closed quickly, sprinting the last few feet towards the Lord of Tyre. There was a flash of steel, the glint of the afternoon sun gently reflecting off of a well-polished dagger blade.
Within seconds the King of Jerusalem was silently lying crumpled on the road in a pool of his own blood. The most imposing, merciless, and untouchable man in the Holy Land was dead.”
Despite the hashshashins’ notoriety and skills, they were wiped out by the Mongols who were invading Khwarizm. In 1256, the hashashshin’s stronghold, once thought to be impregnable, fell to the Mongols.
Although the hashshashins succeeded in recapturing and holding Alamit for several months in 1275, they were ultimately crushed. From a historian’s perspective, the Mongol conquest of Alamut is a highly significant event, due to the fact that sources which would have been able to tell the story from the hashshashin’s point of view were completely destroyed.
As a result, we are left with a somewhat romanticised view of this order, perhaps best seen in video games, most famously in the Assassin’s Creed series.
The first known usage of the term hashishi has been traced back to 1122 when the Fatimid caliph al-Āmir employed it in derogatory reference to the Syrian Nizaris.
Used figuratively, the term hashishi connoted meanings such as outcasts or rabble.
Without actually accusing the group of using the hashish drug, the Caliph used the term in a derogatory 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 Ismailis 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.
The origins of the word forgotten, across Europe the term Assassin had taken the meaning of “professional murderer”.
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.
Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf claims that: “Their contemporaries in the Muslim world would call them hash-ishiyun, “hashish-smokers”; some orientalists thought that this was the origin of the word “assassin”, which in many European languages was more terrifying yet – the truth is different.
According to texts that have come down to us from Alamut, Hassan-i Sabbah liked to call his disciples Asasiyun, meaning people who are faithful to the Asās, meaning “foundation” of the faith. This is the word, misunderstood by foreign travelers, that seemed similar to ‘hashish’.”