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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > April 2019 > Terror in the Middle East

Terror in the Middle East

The mere mention of the Hashashin struck fear in the hearts of sultans and crusaders alike. Hareth Al Bustani brings these enigmatic assassins out of the shadows, who spread a cloud of terror across the Muslim world
Able to disguise themselves and strike at any time, these killers were the inspiration for Assassin’s Creed

During his travels through Persia in 1273, Marco Polo came to hear of a self-styled prophet, who had ruled nearly two centuries ago from an indomitable fortress at the mouth of an enclosed valley. The Old Man of the Mountain had crafted an artificial paradise, filled with stunning pavilions, free-flowing wine and “beautiful damsels”. Young men would be drugged unconscious and brought into the beautiful garden, where, having indulged to their hearts’ content, the prophet told them they were in paradise. After sedating and removing his young recruits again, the Old Man handed them a dagger and claimed the only way for them to return to paradise was to kill and die for him.

Other writers and travellers said that the Old Man treated guests to bold displays of his followers’ devotion, instructing them to smoke copious amounts of hashish before leaping from towers to their deaths. Such was the nature of the so-called Hashashin, a group so secretive and so unusual that nothing seemed impossible. For the better part of two centuries, hidden in the mountains at the heart of the Muslim world, the evasive group waged warfare like none had ever done before, and carved out a kingdom through propaganda, trickery and assassination. Yet, it all began with one man.

LEFT: Marco Polo made sure Europeans saw Hassan as a sorcerer who drugged his acolytes; the real man built a loyal following willing to kill for him
RIGHT: The ruins of the mountain-top castle of Alamut, from where Hassan sent out his assassins, known as fida’i or Hashashin
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About History Revealed

William Shakespeare had humble beginnings – how did he transform into England’s greatest playwright? We explore how the ‘upstart crow’ became so widely celebrated. Plus: The mysterious assassins of the medieval Muslim world are explored, we dig into the diaries of Samuel Pepys and take a look at the life of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians.