Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

All You Need to Know about "Hashshashin"

Thu 14 Mar 2024 | 04:53 PM
Ahmed Emam

The Hashshashin, also known as "Assassins", originated in Persia, Syria, and Turkey. They eventually spread throughout the rest of the Middle East, targeting political and financial rivals before their organization fell in the mid-1200s.

Today, the word "assassin" still refers to a mysterious figure in the shadows, who is focused on political murder rather than killing for love or money. It is interesting to note that this usage hasn't changed much since the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries when the Assassins of Persia created fear and danger for the region's political and religious leaders.

The Origin of the Word "Hashshashin" is unclear. While some argue that the word comes from the Arabic hashishi meaning "hashish users," chroniclers such as Marco Polo claim that the followers of Sabbah committed their political murders while under the influence of drugs.

However, it is unlikely that this is the case as Hasan-i Sabbah strictly interpreted the Koran's injunction against intoxicants. Another theory suggests that the word hashasheen, which means "noisy people" or "troublemakers" in Egyptian Arabic, is a more convincing explanation.

We know that the Assassins were a branch of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam, and the founder of the Assassins was a Nizari Ismaili missionary called Hasan-i Sabbah. In 1090, he infiltrated the castle at Alamut with his followers and ousted the resident king of Daylam without bloodshed. Sabbah and his followers established a network of strongholds, challenging the ruling Seljuk Turks, Sunni Muslims who controlled Persia at the time. Sabbah's group became known as the Hashshashin or "Assassins" in English.

The Assassins would carefully study the languages and cultures of their targets to get rid of anti-Nizari rulers, clerics, and officials. An operative would then infiltrate the court or inner circle of the intended victim, sometimes serving for years as an advisor or servant. At an opportune moment, the Assassin would stab the sultan, vizier, or mullah with a dagger in a surprise attack. They were promised a place in Paradise following their martyrdom, which generally took place shortly after the attack.

Officials throughout the Middle East were terrified of these surprise attacks, and many took to wearing armor or chain-mail shirts under their clothes. For the most part, the Assassins' victims were Seljuk Turks or their allies. The first and one of the best-known was Nizam al-Mulk, a Persian who served as the vizier to the Seljuk court. He was killed in October of 1092 by an Assassin disguised as a Sufi mystic, and a Sunni caliph named Mustarshid fell to Assassin daggers in 1131 during a succession dispute.

In 1219, the ruler of Khwarezm made a huge mistake by having a group of Mongol traders murdered in his city. Genghis Khan was furious at this affront and led his army into Central Asia to punish Khwarezm. The leader of the Assassins pledged loyalty to the Mongols at that time, and by 1237, the Mongols had conquered most of Central Asia. All of Persia had fallen except for the strongholds of the Assassins, which numbered as many as 100 mountain fortresses.

In 1256, the Mongols launched an attack on Alamut with all their military might and promised mercy if the Assassin leader surrendered. And on November 19th of the same year, the Assassin leader did surrender. Hulagu, the Mongol leader, paraded the captured leader in front of all the remaining strongholds and they all surrendered one by one. The Mongols then destroyed the castles at Alamut and other locations so that the Assassins could not use them for refuge.

The following year, the former Assassin leader requested permission to visit Karakoram, the Mongol capital, to offer his submission to Mongke Khan in person. After a challenging journey, he arrived, but he was not granted an audience. Instead, he and his followers were taken out into the surrounding mountains and killed. This marked the end of the Assassins.