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.