The Old Man Of The Mountain
The ruins of the fortress of Alamut in the mountain country of Iran.
The Abbasid And The Order Of The Assassins
In 1258 AD, the largest Mongol horde ever assembled, directed by Genghis Khan's grandson Mangu and personally led by his brother Hulagu, completely destroyed the jewel of the Middle East: Baghdad.
In 1258, Baghdad was the seat of the 500 year-old Sunni Islamic Abbasid Caliphate (750 AD – 1258 AD). Up to this point the powerful Caliphate's rule expanded across North Africa, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Afghanistan, Egypt and Lebanon (see map below).
As the Mongol horde tore through modern Iraq and Iran they burned colossal libraries and madrassas (schools) annihilating all who stood in their path. The armies of Inner Asia filled the ancient Mesopotamian irrigation canals with the rotting carcasses of the desert people, scattering the best and brightest of the Golden Age of Islam into the barren sands and effectively ending the Abbasid empire.
Less than 10 years later, in 1265 AD, the last of the most feared warriors of the Middle East would also be destroyed - besieged in their isolated mountain stronghold of Alamut. Today, these men are remembered as the Assassins.
The word "assassin" comes into being to describe the Hashshahsin a secretive military society from the Islamic sect of Shi'a (another large sect of Islam religion antagonistic to the Sunni sect) made up of Persians and Syrians. The word hash or hashish also comes from the Order whose induction methodology included drugging prospective members with hashish. Christian Crusaders first reported them in 1080 AD.
The Order of Assassins was founded by the dynamic Shi'a leader Hasan-i Sabbah. Sabbah and the Shi'a imams who followed him used the organization to secure military power within the Abbasid empire due to their indispensable and lethal abilities.
Sabbah himself began life as a wandering Persian missionary of the Ismali tradition learning and teaching mathematics, astronomy and history. When he was in school in Egypt at the age of 17 his teaching brought him to the attention of the highest of the local authorities - who promptly imprisoned him.
The Abbasid Caliphate (750 AD – 1258 AD) reached from northern Africa past modern Saudi Arabia. Alamut was located near the Tabaristan region. (Larger View)
Hasan was eventually deported from Egypt and continued his missionary work in northern Iran where he gathered many Shi'a and Ismali followers in the mountain fortress called Alamut. In Arabic Alamut means "Eagle's Teaching" or alternatively "Eagle's Nest".
It was here at Alamut, in the Elburz Mountains located 60 miles north of modern Tehran close to the Caspian Sea, that Hasan would become known as The Old Man Of The Mountain.
He was named after his reclusive habit of permanent entrenchment in the near impenetrable stronghold at the Alamut in the mountains. Hassan-i Sabbah lived here from 1094 to 1124 ordering his men to seek out political leaders, sheiks, and English crusaders of his day and executing them.
The structural system of Ismali Missionary service that Sabbah was trained in starts at the lowest position of "footsoldier" (Fida'i), followed by Rafik or "comrade", and finally the "Da'I" or "missionary". Sabbah modeled his own secret society of assassins much in the same way. Alamut's order started at the top with himself as "Grand Headmaster", then “Greater Propagandists”, followed by "Propagandists", then the "Companions" (also called Rafiks), and the "Adherents" ("Lasiqs" also known by the Ismali title "Fida'i").
It was these Lasiqs or Fida'i who were trained to become some of the most feared assassins- the newest and most zealous of the Assassins. The Lasiqs were often self-sacrificing agents or suicide bombers of their day - carrying poisoned daggers to court or into madrassas.There they would assassinate key figures despite without fear of any consequences afterward.
The Lasiqs were fully indoctrinated much like today's suicide bombers are. They were brainwashed with the fanatical belief that they would be rewarded with Paradise after their murderous mission as a martyr ended. Sabbah himself set up this indoctrination by drugging initiates in the cult, drugging them with hashish and then allowing them access to his personal gardens and harems which he described to them as Heaven itself. A heaven that would await them after their mission was complete.
Hasan-i Sabbah survived many intrigues in his mountain fortress before Alamut was eventually passed on to new Grand Masters and then to Shi'a imams before Hulagu besieged it in 1265 AD.
After Hulagu's Mongol guard murdered the current ruler of Alamut, Khudavand Khurshah who had surrendered after a long battle, he took possession of the vast libraries of Alamut - the last of the great repositories of knowledge in the ancient Middle Eastern world. Afterwards Alamut was demolished to it's very foundations.
National Geographic, Iran's Castle Of The Assassins
Hub Pages, Battle Of Baghdad
Disinfo, Hasan bin Sabbah
Encyclopedia Iranica, Ismaili History