Hashishims – Assassins

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Could it be that this is what the acolytes of The Old Man saw?

As a boy, I was fascinated by the history of Genghiz Khan and his descendants. One of them, Hulagu Khan, knocked off the Old Man of the Mountain, Hassan-i Sabbah, who had terrorized his neighbors for decades. From him, so the legend goes, the word assassin is derived. Or rather, from his fanatical cult of followers, whom he drugged with hashish or opium, transported to a beautiful garden in the mountains while they were out, and left them there for a few days to taste the “delights of paradise.” By the time they were getting used to it, he drugged them again and brought them back down to earth. Upon waking, they were told that they had glimpsed the heaven to which they would go if they died in his service. Naturally, they were willing to do anything, and they made a handy cadre of murderers who would dispatch any of his enemies anywhere. One of the earliest recorded instances of suicide terrorists?

How true is all of this? The man did exist, but beyond that, we know that the story came to Europe from Marco Polo in his travelogue about China. He’s a writer that some scholars claim never even existed! Well, that’s an extreme position, but there is doubt about whether he ever visited China at all. Nevertheless, nobody seems to doubt that he did travel through the Old Man’s territory shortly after his downfall at the hands of Hulagu.

Here’s the text from Marco:

CHAPTER XXIII: CONCERNING THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN.

Mulehet is a country in which the Old Man of the Mountain dwelt in former days; and the name means ” Place of the Aram .” I will tell you his whole history as related by Messer Marco Polo, who heard it from several natives of that region.

The Old Man was called in their language ALOADIN. He had caused a certain valley between two mountains to be enclosed, and had turned it into a garden, the largest and most beautiful that ever was seen, filled with every variety of fruit. In it were erected pavilions and palaces the most elegant that can be imagined, all covered with gilding and exquisite painting. And there were runnels too, flowing freely with wine and milk and honey and water; and numbers of ladies and of the most beautiful damsels in the world, who could play on all manner of instruments, and sung most sweetly, and danced in a manner that it was charming to behold. For the Old Man desired to make his people believe that this was actually Paradise. So he had fashioned it after the description that Mahommet gave of his Paradise, to wit, that it should be a beautiful garden running with conduits of wine and milk and honey and water, and full of lovely women for the delectation of all its inmates. And sure enough the Saracens of those parts believed that it was Paradise!

Now no man was allowed to enter the Garden save those whom he intended to be his assassin. There was a Fortress at the entrance to the Garden, strong enough to resist all the world, and there was no other way to get in. He kept at his Court a number of the youths of the country, from 12 to 20 years of age, such as had a taste for soldiering, and to these he used to tell tales about Paradise, just as Mahommet had been wont to do, and they believed in him just as the Saracens believe in Mahommet. Then he would introduce them into his garden, some four, or six, or ten at a time, having first made them drink a certain potion which cast them into a deep sleep, and then causing them to be lifted and carried in. So when they awoke, they found themselves in the Garden.

CHAPTER XXIV: HOW THE OLD MAN USED TO TRAIN HIS ASSASSINS

When therefore they awoke, and found themselves in a place so charming, they deemed that it was Paradise in very truth. And the ladies and damsels dallied with them to their hearts’ content, so that they had what young men would have; and with their own good will they never would have quitted the place.

Now this Prince whom we call the Old One kept his Court in grand and noble style, and made those simple hill-folks about him believe firmly that he was a great Prophet. And when he wanted one of his Ashishin to send on any mission, he would cause that potion whereof I spoke to be given to one of the youths in the garden, and then had him carried into his Palace. So when the young man awoke, he found himself in the Castle, and no longer in that Paradise; whereat he was not over well pleased. He was then conducted to the Old Man’s presence, and bowed before him with great veneration as believing himself to be in the presence of a true Prophet. The Prince would then ask whence he came, and he would reply that he came from Paradise! and that it was exactly such as Mahommet had described it in the Law. This of course gave the others who stood by, and who had not been admitted, the greatest desire to enter therein.

So when the Old Man would have any Prince slain, he would say to such a youth: “Go thou and slay So and So; and when thou returnest my Angels shall bear thee into Paradise. And shouldst thou die, natheless even so will I send my Angels to carry thee back into Paradise.” So he caused them to believe; and thus there was no order of his that they would not affront any peril to execute, for the great desire they had to get back into that Paradise of his. And in this manner the Old One got his people to murder any one whom he desired to get rid of. Thus, too, the great dread that he inspired all Princes withal, made them become his tributaries in order that he might abide at peace and amity with them.

I should also tell you that the Old Man had certain others under him, who copied his proceedings and acted exactly in the same manner. One of these was sent into the territory of Damascus, and the other into Curdistan.

CHAPTER XXV: HOW THE OLD MAN CAME BY HIS END

Now it came to pass, in the year of Christ’s Incarnation, 1252, that Alaü, Lord of the Tartars of the Levant, heard tell of these great crimes of the Old Man, and resolved to make an end of him. So he took and sent one of his Barons with a great Army to that Castle, and they besieged it for three years, but they could not take it, so strong was it. And indeed if they had had food within it never would have been taken. But after being besieged those three years they ran short of victual, and were taken. The Old Man was put to death with all his men [and the Castle with its Garden of Paradise was levelled with the ground]. And since that time he has had no successor; and there was an end to all his villainies

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2 Responses to Hashishims – Assassins

  1. Farid says:

    In fact… The Old Man of The Mountain was Rashid Al-Din Sinan, not Hassan-i Sabbah.

  2. Lichanos says:

    Quite so. Hassan-i Sabbah had a mountain fortress as well, but in Persia, and was a more standard warrior lord, from what I can tell. I guess Marco got his names mixed up.

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