Regarded as one of the most fearful of all secret societies, the Hashashin, the Assassins, seemed capable of penetrating any security, of striking down any victim regardless of the body of men who might guard him. They moved as if they were deadly shadows and struck with a fury that shattered the nerves and the resolve of their most stalwart foes. The very name of the secret society of killers has given the English language the words "assassin," one who kills for fanatical or monetary reasons; "assassinate," the act of killing suddenly and treacherously; and "assassination," the murder of a prominent person. The original appellation for the society, the Hashashin, is derived from the Arabic "hashish," a name for Indian hemp (cannabis sativa), and the accusation was made by European Crusaders and others that the Assassins made liberal use of the narcotic effects of hashish to achieve their fierce courage and to eliminate their fear of death.
The Hashashin, also spelled Hashashiyyin or Hashshashin, were a radical sect within the Nizari Ismaili branch of Shi'i Islam. They formed during the 11th century and lasted until the 13th century. The group came to be known as something of an assassin's cult, a reputation they earned by their habit of covertly gaining access to high-profile political targets before murdering them in broad daylight. As a result, some believe that the word assassin originated from the word Hashashin, a connection that's not difficult to make in light of their legendary brutality. The order was headquartered in Alamut, located in the Alborz Mountains of Persian Iran. From this strategic center, they spread their operations out over various regions in Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Syria.
The Fortress of Alamut
Alamut (Aluh Amat) was a fortress located on top of a steep mountain about 1,800 meters altitude. He was very near the Caspian Sea, and it was very difficult to access, giving him a privileged position to defend the place.
Hassan al-Sabbah was a charismatic leader, a brilliant mathematician, a devoted religious scholar, an awesomely diabolical mastermind, and the founder and first Grand Master of one of history's deadliest and most lethal mystery cults - the Hashashin, the secret Order of Assassins. From the darkest recesses of the thousand year-old impenetrable mountain fortress of Alamut (meaning either "Eagle Peak" or "Death Mountain"), The Lord of the Mountain directed a covert brotherhood of fearless insane warriors completely dedicated to his cause, willing to carry out his every order and, if necessary, die for him willingly and without hesitation.
The Fortress of Alamut
Toward the end of the 11th century, Ismaili leader Hassan al-Sabah formed his assassin's group, primarily as a counter-movement to al-Musta'li, the new caliph of the Egyptian Fatimid Empire. The empire had undergone a political coup, through which the ailing Caliph's younger son, al-Musta'li, was appointed the new ruler. The rightful heir apparent, al-Musta'li's older brother Niz?r, was subsequently killed in an attempt to wrest back control of the empire. Hassan had been a supporter of Niz?r. This episode is the reason why the Hashashin have also been called the Nizari.
Most of the early members of the secret society were followers of the Nizari branch of the Isma Iliyya sect of Shiite Muslims and were located primarily in Syria and Persia. In 1090, Hasan ibn Sabbah (1034-1124) seized the mountain citadel of Alamaut in northern Persia and made it his "Eagles' Nest," a center where he, as grand master, could live in relative safety and direct his forces throughout Asia. Hasan became known as the "old man of the mountains," and he set about creating a fanatical organization.
Hasan frequently bought boys from poverty-stricken parents and reared them in the camps where he had gathered young men to be trained as suicide commandos, leading them step by step to higher levels of combat proficiency. At the same time that he was shaping his men into fierce warriors, he also indoctrinated them spiritually, convincing them that as they advanced under his tutelage they would come closer to the sacred and ultimate mystery that only he could reveal. Hasan told them confidentially that the conventional teachings of Islam had misled them. Paradise could not be attained by following the preachings of Muhammad (c. 570-632), but only by complete obedience to Hasan Ibn Sabah, who was the true Incarnation of God on Earth.
Very little is known about what went on behind the impregnable walls of Death Mountain, but several medieval sources describe the initiation process thusly: Recruits came to Alamut to study the mysterious ways of the Isma'ili, and Hassan housed them in small, modest, windowless apartments deep beneath the mountain. They stayed there for a while, studying and learning, until one day a servant arrive with a magical potion for the initiate to drink. The initiate would chug this potion (the key ingredients of which were hashish, LSD, and dirty bong water) and pass out. When the initiate awoke he found himself stoned off his mind in the most beautiful garden this side of Babylon - a glorious place full of wine, honey, fountains, palm trees, daiquiris, and super mega hot topless bellydancing virgins fucking gyrating around like crazy all over the place. The initiate basked in this Earthly Paradise for several hours, at the end of which Hassan appeared to him and said something to the effect of, "This is what I have to offer you. Follow my teaching and submit to my will and I shall show you the way to Heaven." Then the initiate was drugged again and thrown back into his shitty studio apartment. When he awoke, Hassan appeared to him again, this time asking if the initiate was willing to obey him. They usually agreed, for obvious reasons.
That inspired teller of travellers' tales, Marco Polo, fuses together these two explanations to form one: he ventured into a region which he calls Mulehet, south of the Caspian sea, in which the Assassin stronghold of Alamut stands. On his return home, he claimed:
Mulehet, the name given to heretical Saracens, is also the name of the famous place where the Old Man of the Mountain used to live. This is the story of the Old Man just as it was told to Marco Polo by many people.
According to legend, the Old Man was called Alaodin. He had made, in a valley between two mountains, the biggest and most beautiful garden imaginable. Every kind of wonderful fruit grew there. There were glorious houses and palaces decorated with gold and paintings of the most magnificent things in the world. Fresh water, wine, milk and honey flowed in streams. The loveliest girls versed in the arts of caressing and flattering men played every musical instrument, danced and sang better than any other women. The Old Man had persuaded his men that this was Paradise. The Prophet Mohammed had taught that those who went to Paradise would find as many beautiful women as they wanted, rivers of wine, milk, honey and fresh water. So the Old Man of the Mountain had his garden built like Mohammed's Paradise and the Saracens really believed it was Paradise.
From this point on, Hassan commanded their absolute fucking obedience, as they truly believed that heheld the key to Heaven. His acolytes were so fanatically loyal that more than one account exists where Hassan ordered one of his men to take a swan dive off of the parapet of Alamut. These guys were elite warriors trained in all the badass ninja techniques required to wreak havoc on the most powerful men in the Middle East, and they were awesome at it. They studied martial arts, poison, disguise, infiltration, espionage and fucking hardcore knife-fighting, and could speak several languages fluently. When a death writ was issued for some poor bastard, the medieval hitman was given a specialized dagger to complete his mission. In true badass fashion, the Order of Assassins opted to do their dirty work up close and personal, preferably in public places in front of hundreds of people in order to maximize the shock value and intimidation factor.
Whether or not Hasan ibn Sabbah's cruelty and ruthlessness has been exaggerated by time, one persistent illustration survives to depict the lengths to which he would go to gain dominance over his men. According to the account, on one occasion when Hasan sought to impress a group of young men to become his obedient fedayeen, he dug a hole in front of his throne deep enough to allow only a man's head to remain visible. Next, he commanded a fedayeen to lower himself into the hole and to place a tray with an opening in it around his neck. Once the hole was covered with a colorful rug and the loose dirt brushed aside, it appeared as though Hasan had decapitated a man and placed his head upon a tray. To make the illusion all the more convincing, he poured fresh blood around the supposed detached head of his assistant.
When an aide brought the potential recruits before his throne, Hasan informed them sternly that as God on Earth he had many fearful and wondrous powers. He would cause the decapitated head on the tray before them to speak to them of the glories in paradise that awaited those warriors who died in battle.
At this point, the loyal fedayeen with his head on the tray opened his eyes and testified to the marvels that his soul had witnessed in the hereafter. After the new men had been duly impressed and had sworn their allegiance to Hasan, they walked away speaking in hushed tones of the glory of serving God on Earth. And once the illusion had accomplished its desired end, Hasan had the fedayeen who had so ably assisted him decapitated and his head stuck on a pole so that all could see that he was truly quite dead.
Although the Hashashin came to be feared by Christian Crusaders, kings, princes, sheikhs, and sultans, their membership probably never numbered more than 2,000 fedayeen at any one time. Because Hasan had indoctrinated his warriors to the belief that death in the pursuit of orders guaranteed an immediate transference to paradise, they fought with a fury untouched by the normal fear of dying in combat. Masters of disguise and of many languages and dialects, the Assassins might one day appear as simple peasants working around a castle wall and the next emerge as highly capable warriors springing on their victims from the shadows. The Assassins inveigled themselves into the services of all the surrounding rulers, posing as loyal soldiers or servants, but always awaiting the bidding of their grand master to strike if ordered to do so. A powerful sultan who defied the orders of Hasan might suddenly find himself attacked by Assassins who for many years had been regarded as trusted servants but had only been hiding in his service until such time as the grand master ordered his assassination. As the power of Hasan's secret society became known throughout the East, a monarch never knew which of his seemingly faithful retinue was really an Assassin only awaiting orders to murder him.
Hassan's lethal and mysterious Order exerted its power across the Middle East, and continued its fearsome dominance long after the death of its founder and Grand Master. By the 13th century, the group was fighting for its survival. At one point, it even reached out to Christian crusaders, offering to convert to Christianity in exchange for an alliance that would help ensure their safety. The deal ultimately failed. Weakened in 1257 by a Mongol attack that destroyed their fortress at Alamut, the assassins cult was wiped out by Mamluk Sultan Baibars about a decade later.
This is a great video below by William Bill Cooper that explains 'The Assassins' more in details.
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 centre 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 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.
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 Kazvin 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 exesses, 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 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.