secret hassan doctrines society principles initiated caliph people persia
ASSASSINS, a secret military and religious sect formed in Persia and Syria during the 11th century A.D. To understand clearly its nature and tenets, it is necessary to refer to the doctrines of the Ismaelites, of whom it was a branch, and who were themselves an offshoot from the great body of the Shiites. The Shiites, one of the two sects into which the Mahometans had separated, held in opposition to the Sunnites, or orthodox, that the true and only legitimate successor of the Prophet was his son-in-law, Ali. They did not succeed in establishing by force the claims of this family; and, under the dynasties of the Ommiade and Abbaside caliphs, they were compelled to keep their opinions secret. The large body of Shiites was further divided into several distinct parties, differing principally with regard to the recognised line of •succession from All ; of these the most powerful was that of the Ismaelites, so called because they held that the Imamat descended in an unbroken line from Ali to Ismael, his seventh successor. The adherents of this sect were most widely spread in Persia, and naturally the special object of their opposition was the Abbaside caliphate of Baghdad, but no active steps were taken by them, until under one of the Persian magi, Abdallah-ibnMaimun Kadah, they had been organised into a secret society, with definite political objects and peculiar religious or philosophical views. Abdallah, like many of his countrymen, was a free-thinker, and he succeeded in establishing among the Ismaelites a faith, or rather a philosophy, wholly opposed to the doctrines of Islam. The fundamental principles of his creed appear to have been - (1.) The rejection of all fixed rules either of religion or morality ; all actions were therefore indifferent, only the internal disposition was of any value ; (2.) The belief that the Imams of the line of Ismael were at present invisible, and that, consequently, it was the duty of true believers to yield implicit obedience to the vicegerents on earth of these secret rulers ; (3.) The allegorical interpretation of the Koran, whereby any doctrine might be either defended or rejected. He also established a regular system of grades or a hierarchy of ranks among the members of the society ; only a few members were fully initiated into the philosophy of indifference, the others were kept in a state of profound ignorance, for the rulers knew how necessary this was in order to secure their obedience.
The first open attempt to put their principles into practice was made by one Ahmed, surnamed Karmath, whence his followers were called Karmathites. After a sanguinary struggle with the caliphs, lasting during many years, this revolt was quelled. But about the same timo an adherent of the sect, named Abdallah, a lineal descendant of Ismael, escaped from prison, into which he had been thrown, and, making his way to Egypt, succeeded in placing himself upon the throne of that country. Under the name of Obeid-Allah-Mandi, he founded the dynasty of the Fatimites, who took their title from their ancestress, the daughter of Mahomet. Ismaelism thus secured a firm footing in the west, and its doctrines were propagated there with great success. At Cairo a grand lodge was formed in which their philosophical principles were perfected, and the process of initiation carried on in its several grades. While this lodge was at the height of its prosperity there arrived in Egypt a learned dai or missionary of the Eastern Ismaelites, called Hassan Ben Sabbah. The father of this man, a native of Khorassan, and an adherent of the Shiites, had been frequently compelled to profess Sunnite orthodoxy, and from prudential motives had sent his son to study under an orthodox doctor at Nishapur. Here Ilassau made the acquaintance of Nizam-el-Mulk, afterwards vizier of the Sultan Malik-Shah. During the reign of Alp-Arslan he remained in obscurity, and then appeared at the court of Malik-Shah, where he was at first kindly received by his old friend the vizier. Hassan, who was a man of great ability, tried to supplant him in the favour of the sultan, but was outwitted and compelled to take his departure from -Persia. He went to Egypt, and, on account of his high reputation, was received with great honour by the lodge at Cairo. He soon stood so high in the Caliph Mostansar's favour as to excite against him the jealousy of the chief general, and a cause of open enmity soon arose. The caliph had nominated first one and then another of his sons as his successor, and in consequence a party division took place among the leading men. Hassan, who adopted the cause of Nezar, the eldest son, found his enemies too strong for him, and was forced to leave Egypt. After many adventures he reached Aleppo and Damascus, and after a sojourn there, settled near Kuhistan. He gradually spread his peculiar modification of Ismaelite doctrine, and having collected a considerable number of followers, formed them into a secret society. In 1000 he obtained, it is said by stratagem, the strong mountain fortress of Alamut in Persia, and removing there with his followers, settled as chief of the famous society afterwards called the Assassins.
The speculative principles of this body were identical with those of the Ismaelites, but their external policy was marked by one peculiar and distinctive feature - the employment of secret assassination against all enemies. This practice was introduced by Hassan, and formed the essential characteristic of the sect. In organisation they closely resembled the western lodge at Cairo. At the head was the supreme ruler, the Sheikk-al-Jebal, i.e., Chief, or, as it is commonly translated, Old Man of the Mountains. Under him were three Dai-al-Ki•bal, or, as they may be called, grand priors, who ruled the three provinces over which the sheikh's power extended. Next came the body of Dais, or priors, who were fully initiated into all the secret doctrines, and were the emissaries of the faith. Fourth were the Refiks, associates or fellows, who were in process of initiation, and who ultimately advanced to the dignity of dais. Fifth came the most distinctive class, the l'edavies, or Fedctis (i.e., the devoted ones), who were the guards or assassins proper. These were all young men, and from their ranks were selected the agents for any deed of blood. They were kept uninitiated, and the blindest obedience was exacted from and yielded by them. When the sheikh required the services of any of them, the selected fedais were intoxicated with the hashish, an opiate made from the juice of hemp leaves, and from which the name Assassin is derived. When in this state they were introduced into the splendid gardens of the sheikh, and surrounded with every sensual pleasure. Such a foretaste of Paradise, only to be granted by their supreme ruler, made them eager to obey his slightest command; their lives they counted as nothing, and would resign them at a word from him. Finally, the sixth and seventh orders were the Lasiks, or novices, and the common people. Hassan well knew the efficacy of established law and custom in securing the obedience of a mass of people ; accordingly, upon all but the initiated, the observances of Islamism were rigidly enforced. As for the initiated, they knew the worthlessness of positive religion and morality ; they believed in nothing, and scoffed at the practices of the faithful. The Assassins soon began to make their power felt. One of their first victims was Hassan's former friend, Nizam-elMulk, whose son also died under the dagger of a secret murderer. The death by poison of the Sultan Malik-Shah was likewise ascribed to this dreaded society, and contributed to increase their evil fame. Sultan Sanjar, his successor, made war upon them, but he was soon glad to come to terms with enemies whose operations were invisible, and against whom no precaution seemed available. After a long and prosperous rule Hassan died at an advanced age in 1124. Ile had previously slain both his sons, one on suspicion of having been concerned in the murder of a dai at Kuhistan, the other for drinking wine, and he was therefore compelled to name as his successor his chief dai, Kia-Busurg-Omid.
During the fourteen years' reign of this second leader, the Assassins were frequently unfortunate in the open field, and their castles were taken and plundered ; but they acquired a stronghold in Syria, while their numerous murders made them an object of dread to the neighbouring princes, and spread abroad their evil renown. A long series of distinguished men perished under the daggers of the fedais; even the most sacred dignity was not spared. The Caliph Mostarschen-ali-Mansur was assassinated in his tent, and not long after, the Caliph Rashid suffered a similar fate. Busurg-Omid was succeeded by his son Mahomet I., who, during the long period of 25 years, ruthlessly carried out his predecessor's principles. In his time Massiat became the chief seat of the Syrian branch of the society. Mahoinet's abilities were not great, and the affections of the people were drawn towards his son Hassan, a youth of great learning, skilled in all the wisdom of the initiated, and popularly believed to be the promised Imam become visible on earth. The old sheikh prevented any attempt at insurrection by slaying 250 of Hassan's adherents, and the son was glad to make submission. When, however, he attained the throne, he began to put his views into effect, On the 17th of tho month Ramadan, he assembled the people and disclosed to them the secret doctrines of the initiated; he announced that the doctrines of Islam were now abolished, that the people might give themselves up to feasting and joy, for he was the promised Imam, the Caliph of God upon earth. To substantiate these claims he gave out that he was not the son of Mahomet., but was descended from Nezar, son of the Egyptian Caliph Mostansar, and a lineal descendant of Ismael. After a short reign of four years Hassan was assassinated by his brother-in-law, and his son Mahomet II. succeeded. One of his first acts was to slay his father's murderer, with all his family and relatives ; and his long rule, extending over a period of 46 years, was marked by many similar deeds of cruelty. He had to contend with many powerful enemies, especially with the great Atabeg Sultan Noureddin, and his more celebrated successor, Jusuf Salaheddin, or Saladin, who had gained possession of Egypt after the death of the last Fatimite caliph, and against whom even secret assassination seemed powerless. During his reign, also, the Syrian branch of the society, under their dui, Sinan, made themselves independent, and remained so ever afterwards. It was with this Syrian branch that the Crusaders made acquaintance ; and it appears to have been their emissaries who slew Count Raymond of Tripoli and Conrad of Montserrat.
Mahomet III. died from the effects of poison, administered, it is believed, by his son, Jelaleddin Hassan who succeeded. He restored the old form of doctrine, - secret principles for the initiated, and Islamism for the people, - and his general piety and orthodoxy procured for him the name of the new Mussulman. During his reign of 12 years no assassinations occurred, and he obtained a high reputation among the neighbouring princes. Like his father, he was removed by poison, and his son, Alaeddin Mahomet III., a child of nine years of age, weak In mind and body, was placed on the throne. Under his rule the mild principles of his father were deserted, and a fresh course of assassination entered on. In 1255, after a reign of 30 years, Alaeddin was slain, with the connivance of his son, Rokneddin, the last ruler of the Assassins. In the following year Hulaku, brother of the Tatar, Mangu Khan, invaded the hill country of Persia, took Alamut and many other castles, and captured Rokneddin. He treated him kindly, and, at his own request, sent him under escort to Mangu. On the way, Rokneddin treacherously incited the inhabitants of Kirdkuh to resist the Tartars. This breach of good faith was severely punished by the khan, who ordered Rokneddin to be put to death, and sent a messenger to Hulaku commanding him to slay all his captives. About 12,000 of the Assassins were massacred, and their power in Persia was completely broken. The Syrian branch flourished for sonic years longer, till Bibars, the Mameluke sultan of Egypt, ravaged their country and nearly extirpated them. Small bodies of them lingered about the mountains of Syria, and are believed still to exist there. Doctrines somewhat similar to theirs are to be met with among the Druses, and particularly among the Ansarii or Nosarii, a small Syrian people, dwelling not far from Latakia. Some writers have thought that these Ansarii are the remnants of the Assassins, but this does not seem possible, for the two sects are at enmity, and in 1809 the stronghold of Massiat, then in possession of some Ismaelites, was attacked and pillaged by the A nsarii.
See Von Hammer, Geschiehie der Assassinen, 1818; De Sacy, Memoires de l'In,stitut, iv., 1818, who discusses the etymology fully ; Calcutta Review, vols. lv. lvi.; A. Jourdain in Michaud's llistoire des Croisades, ii. pp. 465-484, and translation of the Persian historian Mirkhond in Notices et Extraits des Manuscrits, xiii. p. 143, sq. On the Ansarii, see Michaud et Poujoulat, Correspandance Orient, vi. p. 458,sq.; and F. Walpole, The An.sayrii, or Assassins, 3 vols., 1851.