Sir Conrad of Montferrat confidently strode through the courtyard of the fortress city of Tyre, flanked by a heavily-armed entourage of mailed knights and dressed in the lavish garments and expensive silks indicative of his lofty status. The King of Jerusalem was one of the most powerful men in the world - as commander of all Crusader forces in the Middle East, even the famous king Richard the Lion-Hearted was honor-bound to recognize Conrad's authority. His anointing had been blessed by the Pope Himself, the armies of the Muslim infidel had been shattered by the might of his blade, and at his command the Warriors of Christendom went forth to conquer all that lay before them.
From a small side alley two nondescript monks approached, their heads bowed low as they almost inaudibly chanted traditional Latin hymns, their fingers dexterously working their wooden prayer beads beneath their flowing brown robes. They quietly walked towards the center of the courtyard, seemingly too absorbed in their prayers to notice Sir Conrad and his bodyguards. Then, suddenly, the monks doubled their pace. They closed quickly, sprinting the last few feet towards the Lord of Tyre. There was a flash of steel, the glint of the afternoon sun gently reflecting off of a well-polished dagger blade. Within seconds the King of Jerusalem was silently lying crumpled on the road in a pool of his own blood. The most imposing, merciless, and untouchable man in the Holy Land was dead.
Hassan al-Sabbah was a charismatic leader, a brilliant mathematician, a devoted religious scholar, an awesomely diabolical mastermind, and the founder and first Grand Master of one of history's deadliest and most lethal mystery cults - the Hashashin, the secret Order of Assassins. From the darkest recesses of the thousand year-old impenetrable mountain fortress of Alamut (meaning either "Eagle Peak" or "Death Mountain" - I prefer the latter, but only because it sounds way more fucking badass), The Lord of the Mountain directed a covert brotherhood of fearless insane warriors completely dedicated to his cause, willing to carry out his every order and, if necessary, die for him willingly and without hesitation.
Very little is known about what went on behind the impregnable walls of Death Mountain, but several medieval sources describe the initiation process thusly: Recruits came to Alamut to study the mysterious ways of the Isma'ili, and Hassan housed them in small, modest, windowless apartments deep beneath the mountain. They stayed there for a while, studying shit and learning, until one day a servant arrived with a magical potion for the initiate to drink. The guy would fucking chug this potion (the key ingredients of which were hashish, LSD, and dirty bong water) and pass out. When the initiate awoke he found himself stoned off his ass in the most beautiful garden this side of Babylon – a glorious place full of wine, honey, fountains, palm trees, daiquiris, and super mega hot topless bellydancing virgins fucking gyrating around like crazy all over the place. The guy basked in this Earthly Paradise for several hours, at the end of which Hassan appeared to him and said something to the effect of, "This is what I have to offer you. Follow my teaching and submit to my will and I shall show you the way to Heaven." Then the fucker was drugged again and thrown back into his shitty studio apartment. When he awoke, Hassan appeared to him again, this time asking if the initiate was willing to obey him. They usually agreed, for obvious reasons.
From this point on, Hassan commanded their absolute fucking obedience, as they truly believed that he held the key to Heaven. His acolytes were so fanatically loyal that more than one account exists where Hassan ordered one of his men to take a swan dive off of the parapet of Alamut, and the dude responding by unhesitatingly fucking face-planting the asphalt from thirty stories up. And you pussies think bungee jumping is balls-out.
It would be a mistake to write the Hashashin off as a disorganized association of pothead stoner dropouts, however, and Alamut wasn't exactly a goddamned Cheech & Chong movie with blacklight posters everywhere and a fucking flaming car made out of hemp. These guys were elite warriors trained in all the badass ninja techniques required to wreak havoc on the most powerful men in the Middle East, and they were awesome at it. They studied martial arts, poison, disguise, infiltration, espionage and fucking hardcore knife-fighting, and could speak several languages fluently. When a death writ was issued for some poor bastard, the medieval hitman was given a specialized dagger to complete his mission. In true badass fashion, the Order of Assassins opted to do their dirty work up close and personal, preferably in public places in front of hundreds of people in order to maximize the shock value and intimidation factor.
The Fortress of Alamut
As the bloody, murderous arm of Hassan al-Sabbah, the Assassins went to work destroying the enemies of their Grandmaster, killing pretty much anybody he told them to. Now the Seljuk Turks and the Abbasid Caliphate, the two most powerful Muslim Empires during this time, were Sunni Muslims, and they quickly declared that the Shi'ite Hassan and his radical sect of lethal face-stabbing ninja assassins were heretics and infidels, etc. (you know how super-religious types can be), so Hassan responded by having the Sultan and the Vizier teabagged while they slept and/or stabbed to death in their own palaces. When the European Crusaders rolled into town acting like they fucking owned the place and swinging their nuts around by slaughtering everyone who didn’t believe in Jeebus, the Order of Assassins showed them what it felt like to wind up on the pointy end of a kitchen knife, Fatal Attraction-style. From the citadel at Alamut, the calculating mastermind Hassan al-Sabbah orchestrated a secretive web of lethal executioners fanatically devoted to his will, and eventually established splinter groups in Syria and Persia to continue his mission to kill everyone that ever pissed him off for any reason ever. The Hashashin soon became a major political faction, exerting their dominance over the world through fear and merciless eye-poking badassitude.
Under the direction of Hassan and his successors, the Assassins killed Sultans, Viziers, Caliphs, Patriarchs, and Counts, barely giving their victims enough time to yell, "Holy Shi'ite!" before getting a fucking shiv in the ribcage. The Grandmaster of the Knights Hospitaller was stabbed to death in a public square in front of dozens of horrified onlookers. The English King Edward Longshanks was wounded within an inch of his life by the blade of an Assassin outside the walls of Jerusalem, and even Saladin, the fucking badass Muslim hero of the Third Crusade and the man responsible for pushing the Europeans out of the Holy Land, had more than one close call with these mysterious killers. Nobody was safe, a point that became painfully obvious to those political leaders unlucky enough to wake up in the morning and find an Assassin’s dagger lying on his pillow with a note attached to it reading, "We fucking rule you, bitch."
Hassan's lethal and mysterious Order exerted its power across the Middle East, and continued its fearsome dominance long after the death of its founder and Grand Master. In fact, the fortress of Alamut was never captured by hostile forces – the Mongols surrounded it in 1256, but were unable to launch a successful assault on the mountain stronghold. The Hashashin held out for three fucking years, finally surrendering only once they had completely run out of provisions. The Mongol leader Hulagu Khan had them all executed for causing him so much damn trouble, and that, as they say, was the end of that.
Benjamin of Tudela. The Itenerary of Benjamin of Tudela. Trans. Adler, Marcus Nathan. P. Feldheim, 1964.
Daftary, Farhad. The Assassin Legends. I.B. Tauris, 1995.
Hogsdon-Marshall, G.S. The Secret Order of Assassins. Mouton, 1955.
Lewis, Bernard. The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam. Basic Books, 2003.
Polo, Marco. The Travels of Marco Polo. Cosimo, Inc. 2007.