Today, an assassin is anybody that carries out a specific killing for political or religious purposes. But everything has an origin, and the Assassins are no exception. They trace their origin all the way back to the 1100s, when a religious zealot looked for sanctuary to immerse himself in the teachings of his faith. From him, the Persian Assassins were born.
The Assassins spent 300 years as the authority in the shadows, operating from mountain fortresses like Alamut in Iran. Stationed throughout modern-day Persia and Syria, the Assassins had a foundation in the Islamic faith, but they became most renowned for their liberal use of hashish, which led to their pejorative dubbing as "hashishans," or hashish eaters, as well as their adept ability at avoiding full-scale war through well-timed tactical assassinations.
While the Assassins were ultimately scattered by the Mongols, they did outlive the majority of their closest rivals, including the Fatmids and the Seljuks. Through it all, they earned their reputation as one of the most fearsome forces to have ever existed.
They Were Founded By A Missionary
Hassan-I Sabbah, the godfather of the Assassins, wasn't exactly who you might imagine from what became of the word 'assassin.' He was simply a zealous, Nizari Ismaili missionary whose sole purpose was his devotion to the teachings of his faith. He wandered for years throughout Persia, Syria, and the surrounding areas, recruiting followers and searching for somewhere to call home. Through his mentor, he learned how to attract followers to his faith, and before long, the only thing Hassan-I needed was a place to call home – he had found an eager and willing group of neophytes to call his own.
They Preferred Psychological Warfare To Killing
For a group that became renowned for its ability to kill just about anyone, it must be said that the Assassins themselves used non-mortal intimidation tactics frequently to achieve their desired effect, and these worked more times than not. Much of the success in their heyday came from them avoiding killing and instead brokering deals through intimidation.
For example, in the case of the Sultan Sanjar, the Sultan refused to accept peace with the Assassins, but that attitude didn't last. One morning, Sanjar woke up with a dagger stuck into the floor beside his bed and word from a messenger sent from Hassan-I Sabbah that proclaimed: "Did I not wish the sultan well that the dagger which was struck in the hard ground would have been planted on your soft breast," which pretty much translates to: If we wanted you dead, you'd be dead.
Sanjar decided it best to live in harmony with the Assassins.
They Were Undetectable And Present Everywhere
The Assassins established such an intricate network of power and subterfuge that it was nearly impossible to tell who was an Assassin. They branched out to numerous courts and kingdoms across the globe, establishing themselves as servants and attendees of dignitaries both religious and political. There, they sat and waited for orders. If they were ordered to kill, they would execute immediately, stabbing their target in the heart if and when the time came. If not, they would sit by and monitor. Some Assassins waited in their covert positions for years before finding the perfect opportunity to do away with their target.
This made it almost impossible to tell how many were in the ranks of the Assassins.
They Lived In Impenetrable Mountain Fortresses
After settling at Alamut Castle, the Assassins continued to spread to numerous mountain fortresses in the Syrian and Persian region. What made these fortresses so odd is that they had very little connectivity. They were completely surrounded by hostile territory, yet they remained standing for the better part of two centuries.
Given the nature of the Assassins, plenty of enemies came looking to put down the Nizari zealots, but not even Saladin and his massive armies could topple the "Eagles Nest" of Hassan-I. And when the Assassins were finally defeated by the Mongols, some fortresses held out for another decade.