Hassan-i Sabbah  

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Vestiges of the Alamut Castle (photo Payampak)
Vestiges of the Alamut Castle (photo Payampak)

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Hassan-i Sabbāh (Lord of Alamut, 1050s–1124) was a Persian Nizārī missionary who converted a community in the late 11th century in the heart of the Alborz Mountains of northern Iran. The place was called Alamut and was attributed to an ancient king of Daylam. He founded a group whose members are sometimes referred to as the Hashshashin, or Assassins, to protect from attackers outside of Iran.

His final words supposedly were nothing is true, everything is permitted.

Myths and Legends

Not much is known about Hassan from first hand sources, but legends abound as to the tactics used to induct members. They either stem from Sunni polemicists who were motivated to discredit the Nizari Isma'ili on political and religious grounds, and Crusaders returning to Europe, Marco Polo also claimed to have visited Alamut, although the timeframe he gives makes his assertion dubious at best.

According to polemical accounts which would evolve into legend; a future assassin was subjected to rites very similar to those of other mystery cults in which the subject was made to believe that he was in imminent danger of death. But the twist of the assassins was that they drugged the person to simulate a "dying" to later have them awaken in a garden flowing with wine and served a sumptuous feast by virgins. The supplicant was then convinced he was in Heaven and that Sabbah was a representative of the divinity and that all of his orders should be followed, even to death. This legend derives from Marco Polo, who visited Alamut just after it fell to the Mongols in the thirteenth century.

Other accounts of the indoctrination attest that the future assassins were brought to Alamut at a young age and, while they matured, inhabited the aforementioned paradisaical gardens and were kept drugged with hashish; as in the previous version, Hassan occupied this garden as a divine emissary. At a certain point (when their initiation could be said to have begun) the drug was withdrawn from them, and they were removed from the gardens and flung into a dungeon. There they were informed that, if they wished to return to the paradise they had so recently enjoyed it would be at Sabbah's discretion, and that they must therefore follow his directions exactly, up to and including murder and self-sacrifice.

Given the pillars of devoted adherence to the path of the faith, it is unlikely that the usually accepted "Assassin" postulate is accurate. Hassan had his son executed for drinking wine and another person was banished from Alamut for playing the flute. The theories of Hassan being associated with Hashish are, at best, debatable. Furthermore there have emerged traces that there was a name given to Alamut by the people with Nizarī leanings: al-Assas "the foundation". It was the base for all operations that Hassan wished to effect. Members of al-Assas were known as al-Assasīn.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hassan-i Sabbah" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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