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What Is the Hashashin?

Amanda Holland
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Hashashin was a sect of assassins that operated from the late 11th century to the late 13th century CE in the region of Persia and Syria. The group was part of the Nizari Isma’ili branch of Shia Islam. Alternate spellings of the name are “Hashashiyyin” and “Hashshāshīn.” The group is also known as the Order of Assassins, popularized in modern video games, including Assassin’s Creed.

Hassan-i Sabbāh (Farsi: حسن صباح‎), a Persian Nizari Isma’ili missionary, founded the Hashashin in the year 1090 CE. He was the order’s first Grand Master, and many scholars credit him with developing the sect’s doctrine.

Hassan and his followers captured Alamut Castle, located in the mountains of modern-day Iran, in 1090 CE, where the Order maintained its headquarters for nearly two centuries. Along with Lambsar castle, Alamut served as a base for the Hashashin’s operations in Persia and Syria.

Did You Know

  • In the West, Hassan i-Sabbāh is often known as Old Man (or Elder) of the Mountain, possibly based on the chronicles of William of Tyre and/or references in Marco Polo’s records of his travels.
  • The Hashshāshīn Order in the Assassin’s Creed franchise is a fictionalized version of the Hashashin.
  • Most sources list Nizam al-Mulk as the Hashashin’s first victim. He was killed in 1092 CE. One account of his death claims he was being carried in a litter when he was stabbed by Hashashin member Bu-Tahir impersonating a Sufi holy man.
  • The last known victim of the Order of Assassins was Philip of Montfort, Lord of Tyre, who was killed in 1270 CE.

What Does Hashashin Mean?

It’s commonly thought that assassin has its roots in the word hashāshīn (Arabic: حشاشين transliterated: ḥashāshīn), which means “users of hashish.” However, the etymology is unclear, and the evolution of the word assassin may be due to mispronunciations of several similar Arabic words.

Some sources indicate that the link between Hashashin and hashish (cannabis) is due to the Order using the drug to brainwash and/or control recruits. This story is based on Marco Polo’s account of young men being drugged and waking up surrounded by women in a lush garden. However, many historians view the claim as nothing more than a myth, perhaps perpetuated by enemies of the Assassins who sought to paint them as disreputable drug users.

Who Did the Hashashin Kill?

The group was widely known as a cult of assassins that killed political and religious enemies, as well as financial rivals – often in broad daylight. Targets included Sunni Muslims, Christians, and political figures. According to some sources, the Order also accepted assassination-for-hire contracts from individuals and organizations outside their own. There is even an unsubstantiated claim alleging that Richard the Lionheart hired the assassin who killed Conrad of Montferrat in 1192 CE.

What Weapons Did the Hashashin Use?

When you think about a medieval assassin, chances are you picture someone using knives, daggers, and perhaps poison. This popular view of ancient assassination methods is based on the Hashashin. Most Hashashin assassinations were performed with a dagger or knife. Some accounts state that blades were poisoned, but other sources dispute this claim.

In many cases, Assassins used covert tactics, such as disguises, in their operations. Agents sometimes spent time assimilating into a region, acquiring political power and influence. The group gained a fierce reputation through its brutal public killings, and some agents were able to accomplish their goals through intimidation and threats.

Does the Hashashin Still Exist Today?

The Hashashin was a notable and feared organization for two centuries, but it doesn’t exist anymore. The group’s decline began in the early 13th century, likely due to several factors, including internal disagreements about Islamic orthodoxy, political allegiances with outsiders, and the Crusades.

In 1256 CE, the Mongol ruler Hulago seized the main Hashashin fortress of Alamut. Its evidence of the Hashashin’s weakened state that the assassins surrendered to the Mongol army without a fight. Historians believe the group’s library was destroyed when Alamut was taken.

In the 1260s CE, the Order of Assassins sought an alliance with Mamluk Sultan Baibars in order to oppose the Mongol forces. Though Baibars seemed willing to help the Hashashin at first, he eventually started to view the group as a threat and captured its remaining Syrian castles in the early 1270s CE. There aren’t any documented cases of official Hashashin activity after the 13th century; the Order of Assassins lives on only in legends, myth, and video games.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Amanda Holland
By Amanda Holland
With career experiences that have used both math and grammar, Amanda Holland is a freelance writer and Historical Index contributor. She spent several years as a signals analyst for the Defense Department, creating and editing reports for the intelligence community. After having two children, Amanda transitioned to freelance writing, allowing her to balance her passion for crafting content with her family life. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and playing video games.
Discussion Comments
By anon1005303 — On Jul 31, 2021

The word Hashashin is an Arabic word, used by Iranians (Hashashin group). The Assassins carried out targeted killings in order to defend their land and regional policies and to suppress the oppressors.

Instead of heavy fighting and the deaths of thousands, a total assassination changed the politics of the world at that time. The Assassins had certain principles and their aim was not to be hostile to a particular religious sect such as the Sunni Muslims. So they were assassins but not terrorists.

Unfortunately, today sects from the Sunni Muslim branch, such as the Takfiris and the Wahhabis, are in favor of the genocide of the Shiite Muslims, and they consider the Iranians to be followers of Judaism and say that they should be killed. These groups have tarnished the image of Islam.

By anon999217 — On Nov 17, 2017

Salahuddin was one of few greatest heroes the world has ever known. Please don't glorify Hashashin. Salahuddin would have killed all Hashahin. He was a merciful king.

By anon997305 — On Dec 12, 2016

Hashashins were Persian not Arabs, and hashish was used first for medical purposes in Persia. The word assassin did, in fact, originate from hashashins. europeans would tell stories about hashashins but ended up pronouncing it as assassins.

By anon995673 — On May 19, 2016

anon230388: Way to label people as good and bad! Don't forget that Shias were the minority then and they had no other way to defend themselves against the cruel majority which did not stand other beliefs other than their own. Come to Alamut and see the greatness and wisdom in Hasan Sabah's headquarters architecture and try to think objectively. This was way before America was discovered and when many people still lived in tents!

By anon991063 — On May 23, 2015

During that time, Shia people were minorities under pressure of cruel Sunni governments. They had no choice but using guerrilla warfare and assassination against their enemies.

By anon930770 — On Feb 05, 2014

To other commenters: cannabis and opium had medical uses back then (and still do today). They called them hashashin because they grew cannabis (and khashkhash) and made hashish from it and sold it to fund their operation, Not because they were using hashish. If someone is called a florist, it doesn’t mean he/she eats flowers!

I live two hours from "alamut" and have been there many times and studied about them. Trust me. Opium and cannabis addicts are not capable of killing kings and sultans in front of their bodyguards.

By anon930769 — On Feb 05, 2014

What Marco Polo said about hashashin is questionable and probably not true. Obviously, they were not fans of sharing their secret ways with passing strangers.

Back then "hashashin" meant pharmacist. Their specialty was making drugs. Opium and hashish were drugs back then. For example, opium is an antidote to many poisonous bites in small quantities. Even today, alamut is full of herbs that they bring there.

Hashashin was a military branch of "Ismaili". They have seven imam instead of 12 like other Shiias. This seventh imam is different from the seventh of other Shiias and his name is Ismail.

Some say there were nationalists and anti-Islamic ideas behined there act of terror, at least at the beginning. I read some of their few remaining books. It seems that their goal was to destroy Sunni dominance in Persia, starting with destroying Sunni Islam and replacing it with Shiia, and after that, replacing Shiia with some Zoroastrianism-like religion. There are many similarities between them and another ancient and pre-Islamic Persian group. And I'm Persian.

By anon357157 — On Dec 02, 2013

@anon345041: The term "assassins" was applied to the hashashins later. At the time they were referred to as "hashishiyya" by Muslims, metaphorically meaning "irreligious outcasts" because of their use of hashish. However, this is rooted in ignorance.

By anon345041 — On Aug 15, 2013

Hashashin is an Arabic word translated into English (Hashish (grass) users). It does not mean assassins. Ask any Arabic speaking person.

By anon342362 — On Jul 19, 2013

I'm still confused. Is there a modern day organization like this? Or does this group have any trace of present existence?

By anon276430 — On Jun 24, 2012

Hashashins were not terrorist or assassins. They were into cannabis or hashish sales. Hashish in arabic is a drug and drug sales is hashash. So hashashin is the plural form of hashash from the arabic and hashashin and assassin aren't the same.

By anon265930 — On May 03, 2012

You've forgotten to mention one thing: we still exist.

By anon260250 — On Apr 10, 2012

I was under the impression that the Hashashin were a radical sect of shia, not a purely fundamentalist group. Could you elaborate more?

By anon230388 — On Nov 19, 2011

I'm an arab and I will explain something about Hashashin (Assassin ). They are a group of muslim shia who want to kill any king sunni, for example, Salah al-Din. If you don't know anything about Islam, there are two parts: Shia and Sunni.

For centuries, the Shia wanted to kill all the Sunnis until now, so the Assassins are groups of Shia (bad people) and just kill the kings or the leader. They don't kill the armies or guards. It's exactly like the Game Assassin's Creed, but they making Salaat al-Din tp be just a businessman, but history shows Salah al-Din is a hero.

By anon227992 — On Nov 07, 2011

thanks for the answers to my GCSE history essay.

By aaaCookie — On May 18, 2011

There have always been radical groups of different religious groups, of which the Hashashin, assassins and others, are just one. It's important to remember this, since these days only a few extreme groups get any significant attention.

By anon172202 — On May 03, 2011

There is also a Hashashin clan in Gothic 3 is that the same one?

Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland
With career experiences that have used both math and grammar, Amanda Holland is a freelance writer and Historical Index...
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