Assassins (Arab. Hashashin, hashish smokers), a secret political society in Persia, Syria, and Arabia, in the middle ages, a branch of the Ismaelians, so called from the imam Ismael ben Jafar. It took its origin in Persia about A. D. 840 from Abdallah, son of Maimun Kadah, a believer in the ancient Magian worship, who undertook by the preaching of his dais or missionaries to reestablish the old religion, or at least to overthrow the power of the Abbas-side caliphs. His followers were sometimes called lbabie, "indifferents," and sometimes Ismaelians, because they favored the pretensions of the descendants of Mohammed ben Ismael, of the house of Ali. One of his disciples, Ahmed, called Karmath, raised the standard of revolt, and for a whole century the East was involved in wars. Another partisan of the sect, the dai Abdallah, who styled himself a descendant of Mohammed ben Ismael, escaped from prison, where he had been contined by the caliph Motadhad, and succeeded in seating himself on the throne of Africa under the name of Obeidallah Mahdi, A. D. 909. This person was the founder of the dynasty of the Egyptian caliphs, who, tracing their descent to Ismael ben Jafar Sadik, and from him to Fatima, the prophet's daughter, are known by the name of Fatimites or eastern Ismaelians. The secret policy of this sect was to overthrow the Abbasside caliphate.
In the reign of Hakem-biamr-illah a lodge was instituted at Cairo called Dar el-Hikmet, house of wisdom. Access to this lodge, and the use of the books and mathematical instruments kept in it, as well as instruction by the professors, who were paid by the government, were free to all. In this lodge were taught nine secret doctrines deduced from those of Abdallah ben Maimun Kadah. In the first degree the mind of the novice was purposely perplexed, and a hidden meaning of the text of the Koran was suggested. After an oath of unconditional obedience the pupil was initiated into the second degree, which inculcated the recognition of divinely appointed imams, who were the source of all knowledge. The third degree taught their number, which could not exceed seven; these were Ali, Hassan, Hossein, Ali Seinolabidin, Mohammed el-Bakir, Jafar es-Sadik, and Ismael his son. The fourth grade taught that since the beginning of the world there have been seven divine lawgivers, or speaking apostles of God, each of whom had by command of heaven altered the doctrine of his predecessor.
Each of these had seven coadjutors in succession, who, as they did not appear openly, were called mutes (samit). The first of the mutes was named Sus, and the seven speaking prophets were Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and Ismael ben Jafar. The fifth degree taught that each of the seven mute prophets had twelve apostles for the extension of the true faith, the number twelve being the most excellent after seven. After these five degrees the precepts of Islamism were examined, and it was shown that all positive religious legislation must be subordinate to the general and philosophical. The dogmas of Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras were adduced as proofs and laid down as axioms. In the seventh the student passed from philosophy to mysticism. In the eighth the pupil was perfectly enlightened as to the superfluity of all prophets and apostles, the non-existence of heaven and hell, the indifference of all actions, for which there is neither punishment nor reward either in this world or the next; and thus was he matured for the ninth and last degree, in which he became the blind instrument of his superior.
This lodge was closed by the general of the caliph Amer Biakim-illah, but was soon reopened. - One of the initiated dais was Hassan ben Sabah, who became the founder of the eastern branch of Ismaelians, the Assassins. Banished from Egypt, he went to Aleppo, Bagdad, and Persia, preaching his doctrine and making proselytes. Partly by stratagem and partly by force, he got possession of the almost impregnable castle of Alamut (eagle's nest) in the Persian province of Ghilan, strengthened it, and made it the seat of the central power of the Assassins. The basis of his political and religious system was: "Nothing is true, and everything is lawful.1' The knowledge of all the degrees was to be imparted only to a chosen few. The bulk of his followers were only initiated far enough to confuse their minds and leave them dependent upon their leaders, and the observance of all the precepts of Islamism was most strictly enjoined. At Alamut, and when their power was extended in other places also, the Assassins had splendid walled gardens with flower beds and fruit trees of every description, limpid streams, luxurious halls, and porcelain kiosks, adorned with Persian carpets and Grecian stuffs, drinking vessels of gold and silver and crystal, and charming maidens and handsome boys.
A youth who was deemed worthy by his strength and resolution to be initiated, was invited to the table and conversation of the grand master; he was then intoxicated with hashish and carried into the garden, which on awakening he believed to be paradise. Sleeping again, he was carried back to the side of the master; and when the effect of the drug had passed away he believed that he had actually had a foretaste of the bliss of paradise, and henceforth blindly devoted himself to the will of his master, eagerly seeking an opportunity to sacrifice himself in order to attain eternal life. Later, when one of the grand masters allowed the enjoyment of every pleasure to all, the sect frequently intoxicated themselvos with hashish, whence their name Hashashin, corrupted by the crusaders into Assassins, which, in view of their bloody deeds, came to signify men who practise secret murder in general. Jelal ed-Din Malek, sultan of the Seljuks, having sent an ambassador to the grand master to require his obedience and fealty, Hassan ben Sabah called into his presence several of his followers. Beckoning to one of them, he said, "Kill thyself," and he instantly stabbed himself; to another, "Throw thyself from the rampart," and the next moment he lay a mutilated corpse in the moat.
Then turning to the envoy, the grand master said, "Go tell thy lord, in this way I am obeyed by 70,000 faithful subjects." The grand master was called seyed, the lord, or more commonly sheikh el-jebel, chief of the mountain region (incorrectly translated old man of the mountain), because the order always maintained itself in castles among the mountains in Persia, Irak, and Syria. He never assumed the title of sultan or emir, and preached not in his own name, but in that of the invisible imam who was to appear at a future period. Immediately under the grand master were the duah el-kibar, grand recruiters or priors, his lieutenants in the three provinces to which his order extended. Under these were the duah or dais, the religious nuncios and political emissaries, the initiated masters. Then followed the refiks, fellows, who were advancing to the mastership through the several grades of initiation into the secret doctrine. Next came the sedavi, the guards of the order, the warriors, and devoted murderers; then the sassik (aspirants), the novices; and finally the profane or the people.
Hassan laid down for his dais seven rules of conduct: 1. The ash-inai-risk (knowledge of the calling) comprised the maxims for the judgment of character necessary in selecting subjects. 2. The teen is (gaining confidence) taught them to gain over candidates by flattering their inclinations and passions. 3. As soon as they were won, it was necessary to involve them by doubts and questions on the religious commands and absurdities of the Koran. 4. The ahd, or oath, bound the aspirant in the most solemn manner to inviolable silence and submission. 5. The candidates were taught how their doctrines agreed with those of the greatest men in church and state. 6. The tessis (confirmation) recapitulated all that preceded. 7. The teevil (allegorical instruction), in opposition to the tensil or literal sense of the divine word, was the principal essence of the secret doctrine, reserved only to a few of the initiated. - Hassan ben Sabah was speedily attacked by the sultan Malek, but he sustained himself, and even gained new strongholds. The practice of assassination by which he became the terror of eastern monarchs was first tried upon his early friend the grand vizier Nizam ul-Mulk. The death of the sultan, apparently by poison, soon followed, and then ensued a fearful series of murders and reprisals.
Fakhr ul-Mulk Abul-Mosaffar, who had succeeded his father Nizam ul-Mulk as grand vizier, and another of the royal family, were assassinated. One of Sultan Sanjar's slaves, who had been won over to the Assassins, stuck a dagger into the ground near his master's head while the latter was asleep. Some days after the sultan received a letter from Alamut, saying, "Had we not been well disposed toward the sultan, we might have plunged the dagger into his heart instead of the ground." Peace was then concluded between the parties, and many privileges were granted to the Assassins. Hassan ben Sabah survived all his nearest relations and most faithful disciples. He slew two of his sons without any apparent cause. He died in 1124, at the age of 90 years, and was succeeded by his general and chief dai, Kia Busurg-Omid, in whose time hostilities were renewed by Sultan Sanjar, and great numbers of the Assassins were put to death. The vizier of Damascus gave them the castle at Banias, near the source of the Jordan, which became the centre of their power in Syria. In 1118 Abul-Wefa, the prior there, entered into a treaty with Baldwin II., king of Jerusalem, by which he bound himself to put the city of Damascus into his power in return for the city of Tyre; but the plot was discovered by the sultan, and the greater part of the Assassins and the crusaders were attacked and cut to pieces.
At Cairo the Fatimite caliph Abu Ali Mansour fell by the dagger of an Assassin, and shortly after (1135) the Abbasside caliph was assassinated at Bagdad. The Assassins now spread all over the western part of Asia, from the confines of Khorasan to the mountains of Syria, from the Caspian to the southern shores of the Mediterranean. In 1171 the last of the Fatimite dynasty died, and the lodge at Cairo was overthrown. Saladin, who became sultan of Egypt, proved a formidable enemy to the Assassins. In the month of Ramazan, 1163, Hassan II., the fourth grand master, summoned the inhabitants of the province to Alamut, where he addressed the multitude, announced the day of resurrection or revelation of the imam, and commanded them to break the fast and give themselves up to all kinds of pleasure. A similar proclamation was made throughout the country, and was received by a majority of the people with joy. In 1175 the Assassins made two futile attempts on Saladin's life, and he in return ravaged their territory, and only desisted from completely annihilating their power on condition of his being in the future safe from their daggers.
About 1191 Conrad, lord of Tyre and marquis of Montfort, a near relation of Leopold, duke of Austria, was murdered by two Assassins, said to have been hired for that purpose by Richard I. of England; and it seems that the imprisonment of the latter by Leopold was in reprisal for the death of his kinsman. Hassan III. prohibited everything that his grandfather and father had allowed, and again enforced the observance of the precepts of Islamism; and no assassinations were committed in his reign. By this prudent conduct he acquired the good will of the Moslem princes, and received from the caliph of Bagdad the title of sovereign prince, a favor never granted to any of his predecessors. Under his successor, Ala-din Mohammed, the use of the dagger was resumed. About 1252 Hulaku, monarch of the Mongols, captured Roknedin, the last of the grand masters, in his castle of Maimundis. Roknedin and his whole race were condemned to massacre; 12,000 captives were assembled and slaughtered at once; troops went through the provinces to execute the sentence, and many of the castles were demolished. In 1270 Sultan Bibars overthrew their authority in Syria. For about a century longer the Ismaelians were numerous in Persia, but with diminished power.
Assassins are said to remain still in some parts of the Lebanon and Persia, but only as a heretical sect of Islamism, and they seem to have lost all remembrance of their former power and murderous tactics. Some of their doctrines and practices are also traced in those of the Druses. The Persian Ismaelians consider their grand master as an incarnation of the Deity. A few years since the fact of the existence of the order in India, widely diffused, was disclosed through a suit brought in the English courts for the possession of its records by a person claiming to be grand master.