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"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
Muhammad III

The Hajal as seen on a Nizari Ismaili coin

The Hashashin, also known as the Assassins, was a medieval organization of assassins located in the Middle East. Other names include, Nizaris, Nizari Ismailis, Batinis "people of the esoteric teachings" or Ta’limiyyah "people of the secret teachings".

They held the medieval Islamic world in their clutches for more than 130 years before almost being destroyed by the Mongols, yet even then, scattered across Syria, the remnants of the mystical society of the Assassins waited patiently, biding their time until their Imam called them once more. In their time they held their enemies and opponents in a constant state of paranoia by threat of public assassination. They would assassinate their victims in broad daylight in very public places, such as mosques, to increase the political impact of their actions.

The Assassin Order killed sultans, kings, viziers, advisers, caliphs, judges, patriarchs, counts, and anyone else who threatened their way of life.

The hajal was often used as a symbol of the Assassin's Order.

Founder and Foundation

"their numbers are not to be counted; for they dwell in the kingdoms of Jerusalem, Egypt, and throughout all the lands of the Saracens and infidels". - French chronicler Joinville
The origins of the Assassins can be traced back to around 1090. There has been great difficulty finding out much information about the origins of the Hashashin because most early sources are written by enemies of the order, are based on legends, or both. Most sources dealing with the order's inner workings were destroyed with the capture of Alamut, the Assassins' headquarters, by the Mongols in 1256. However, it is possible to trace the beginnings of the order back to its first Grand MasterHassan-i Sabbah (1050s–1124).
Alamut now

Alamut Castle

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 the Hashashin Order. 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. Because of the unrest in the Holy Land caused by the Crusades, Hassan-i Sabbah found himself not only fighting for power with other Muslims, but also with the invading Christian forces. After creating the cult, Hassan searched for a location that would be fit for a sturdy headquarters and decided on the fortress at Alamut in northwestern Persia. It is still disputed whether Hassan built the fortress himself or if it was already built at the time of his arrival. In either case, Hassan adapted the fortress to suit his needs not only for defense from hostile forces, but also for indoctrination of his followers. After laying claim to the fortress at Alamut, Hassan began expanding his influence outwards to nearby towns and districts, using his agents to gain political favor and to intimidate the local populations.
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The ruins of Alamut

Spending most of his days at Alamut producing works and developing doctrines for his Order, Hassan would allegedly never leave his fortress again in his lifetime. He had established a cult of deadly assassins, which was built on a hierarchical structure. Below Hassan, the Grand Master of the Order, were those known as the "Propagandists", the Rafiqs ("Companions"), and the Lasiqs ("Adherents"). It was the Lasiqs who were trained to become some of the most feared assassins, or as they were called, "Fida'i" (self-sacrificing agent), in the known world. It is, however, unknown how Hassan-i Sabbah was able to get his "Fida'in" to perform with such unquestioning loyalty. One theory, possibly the best known but also the most criticized, comes from the reports of Marco Polo during his travels to the Middle East. He recounts a story he heard, of the "Old Man of the Mountain" (possibly Hassan or Muhammad III) who would drug his young followers with hashish, lead them to a "paradise", and then claim that only he had the means to allow for their return. Perceiving that Hassan was either a prophet or magician, his disciples, believing that only he could return them to "paradise", were fully committed to his cause and willing to carry out his every request. However, this story is disputed.
MarcoPoloAlamout

Hassan-i Sabbah according to a copy of Marco Polo's Travels

With his new "weapons", Hassan began to order assassinations, ranging from politicians to great generals. Assassins would rarely attack ordinary citizens though, and tended not to be hostile towards them.

Much time and many resources were put into training the Fida'yin. The Assassins were generally young in age, giving them the physical strength and endurance which would be required to carry out these murders. However, physical prowess was not the only trait that was required to be a "Fida'i". To get to their targets, the Assassins had to be calm, cold-blooded, and cunning. They were generally intelligent and well-read because they were required to possess not only knowledge about their enemy, but his or her culture and their native language. They were trained by their masters to disguise themselves and sneak into enemy territory to perform the assassinations, instead of simply attacking their target outright in most cases.

Etymology

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.
Cannabissativadior
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:
Paradise-ismaili
"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 travellers, that seemed similar to 'hashish'."

Appearance

"The victim having been pointed out, the faithful, clothed in a white tunic with a red sash, the colors of innocence and blood, went on their mission without being deterred by distance or danger. Having found the person they sought, they awaited the favorable moment for slaying him, and their daggers seldom missed their aim.”

Assassination of Nizam al-Mulk

The Assassination of Nizam Al-Mulk

The Hashashin almost always used disguises when assassinating. Such as the guise of a Sufi, when they assassinated Il-Buruqi of Mosul or a monk, when they assassinated Conrad of Montferrat. The Assassins are said to have wore white with a red sash around their waist when they have no need of a disguise or are safely in Hashashin territory.

The Imams allegedly wore white with a white turban.

Techniques

"Many kings and barons paid tribute to the Old Man and cultivated his friendship for fear of being murdered. The Old Man was aided in this by the fact that the kings were always quarreling among themselves and were not united under one power." - Marco Polo
Curved Syrian Jambiya Dagger

A small, easy to conceal, Syrian dagger

The Assassins usually used physiological warfare, threats and intimidation to keep their enemies at bay. These threats normally arrived in the form of a dagger and a note. This was a plain hint to the targeted individual that he was safe nowhere, that maybe even his inner group of servants had been infiltrated by the cult, and that whatever course of action had brought him into conflict with them would have to be stopped if he wanted to live. If the adversary didn't heed the Hashashin's warning, he would soon be dead.

The group transformed the act of murder into a system directed largely against Seljuk Muslim rulers who had been persecuting their sects. They were meticulous in killing the targeted individual, seeking to do so without any additional casualties and innocent loss of life, although they were careful to cultivate their terrifying reputation by slaying their victims in public, often in mosques. Typically, they approached using a disguise. Their weapon of choice being a dagger or a small blade, they rejected poison, bows and other weapons that allowed the attacker to escape.  

Unlike the Shinobi, or Ninja, they would never commit suicide if they were caught. They preferred to be killed by their captors or they may even attempt to escape.

Depictions

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