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Saturday, December 2, 2023

The Hashashins (Assassins) According to Marco Polo

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Of the old man of the Mountain and His Palace and Gardens

We shall now tell of the old man of the mountain. The district in which his residence lay obtained the name Mulehet (Alamut, in northern Persia, signifying, in the language of the Saracens, the palace of heretics, and his people that of Mulehetites, or holders of heretical tenets; as we apply the term of Patharini to certain heretics amongst Christians. The following account of this chief Marco Polo testifies to having heard from sundry persons. His name was Alaodin, and his religion was that of Muhammad. In a beautiful valley enclosed between two lofty mountains he had built a luxurious garden, stored with every delicious fruit and fragrant shrub that could be procured. Palaces of various sizes and forms were erected in different parts of the grounds, ornamented with works in gold, with paintings, and with furnishings of rich silks. By means of small conduits in these buildings, streams wine, milk, honey, and some of pure water, were seen to flow in every direction.

The Inhabitants of these Palaces and Gardens

The inhabitants of these palaces were dainty and beautiful damsels, accomplished in the arts of singing, playing upon all sorts of musical instruments, dancing, and especially amorous dalliance. Clothed in rich dresses, they were seen continually sporting and amusing themselves in the garden and pavilions, their female guardians being confined within doors and never allowed to appear. The subject which the chief had in view in forming a garden of this fascinating kind as this: that Muhammad having promised to those who should obey his will the enjoyments of Paradise, where every species of sensual gratification should be found, in the society of beautiful nymphs, he wanted it understood by his followers that he also was a prophet and the compeer of Muhammad, and had the power of admitting to Paradise such as he should choose to favor.

Protecting the delicious valley and the use of Opium

In order that no one might find his way into this delicious valley without his permission, ha caused a strong and impregnable castle to be erected at the opening to it, through which the entry was by a secret passage. At his court, moreover, this chief entertained a number of youths, from the age of twelve to twenty years, selected from the inhabitants of the surrounding mountains, who showed a warlike disposition and appeared to posses the quality of daring courage. To them he was in the daily practice of holding forth on the subject of the paradise announced by the prophet, and of his own power of granting admission to it. At certain times he caused opium to be administered to ten or a dozen of the youths; and when they were unconscious he had them conveyed to the several apartments of th palaces in the garden.

Is this story Marco Polo told true or false ?

Although it seems entirely fantastic, and Marco’s account is second-hand, this story is based on fact. The old Man of the Mountain was Hasan-ben-Sabah, who was chief of a secret order of fanatics in northern Persia. They became knows as the Assassins because of their addiction to the drug hashish, which induces an excitement amounting to fury. The modern application of the word from the Assassins’ use of murder in carrying out their chief’s orders.

How the Old Man Trained His Assassins

Upon awakening from the state of stupor, their senses were struck with all the delightful objects that have been described. Each saw himself surrounded by lovely damsels, singing, playing, and captivating him with the most delightful caresses, serving him also with delicate foods and exquisite wines until, intoxicated with excess of enjoyment amid rivulets of milk and wine, he believed himself assuredly in paradise, and unwilling to relinquish its delights. When four or five days had thus been passed, they were thrown once more into a drugged state and carried out of the garden. Upon their being brought into his presence and questioned by him as to where they had been, their answer was, ”In paradise, through the favor of your highness”; and then before the whole court, who listened with curiosity and astonishment, they gave a circumstantial account of the scenes they had witnessed. The chief thereupon addressing them, said:

” we have the assurances of our prophet that he who defends his lord shall inherit Paradise, and if you show yourselves devoted to  obeying my orders, that happy lot awaits you.”

Aroused to enthusiasm by words of this nature, all deemed themselves happy to receive the commands of their master and were ready to die in his service. The consequence of this system was that when any of the neighboring princes, or others, offended this chief, they were put to death by these his disciplined assassins, none of whom felt terror at the risk of losing their own lives, which they held in little esteem, provided they could execute their master’s will. On this account his turanny became a matter of dread in all the surrounding countries.

Two Deputies

He had also constituted two deputies or representatives of himself, one of whom had his residence in the vicinity of Damascus and the other in Kurdistan; and these pursued the plan he had established for training their young dependents. Thus there was no person, however powerful, who, having been exposed to the enmity of the Old Man of the Mountain, could escape assassination.

How the Old Man came to his End

His territory being within the dominions of Hulaku, the brother of the Great Khan  Mangu, that prince learned of his atrocious practices as well as of his employing people to rob travelers as they passed through his country, and in 1252 sent one of his armies to besiege this chief in his castle. It Proved, however, so capable of defense, that for three years no impression could made upon it, until at length he was forced to surrender from want of provisions, and being made prisoner was put to death. His castle was dismantled and his Garden of Paradise destroyed. And from that time there has been no Old man of the Mountains.

Are there any remnants of the Hashashin today ?

Actually a remnant of the sect, styled Ismaili, has survived into modern times, Its Leader today is Aga Khan IV.

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