History : Nov-Dec 2018
64 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 KILLING A CRUSADER The city of Tyre (whose Roman-era ruins are shown above) was where Nizari assassins killed Italian crusader Conrad of Montferrat in 1192. Despite this strike on a Christian, the principal targets of the Nizari were Muslim. C onrad of Montferrat, an Italian crusader, was preparing for his coronation as king of Jerusalem, in Tyre, in April 1192. Making his way down a narrow street of the city, he was set on by two men dressed as monks, who stabbed him to death. Although historians still speculate who or- dered the attack, there is little doubt as to the identity of the killers. They were not monks, but members of a secretive Muslim sect with strongholds seated high in the mountains of Per- sia and Syria. Headquartered in an impenetrable Persian castle, Alamut, these agents specialized in targeted killings and espionage. Infiltrating the ranks of their enemies, they would strike at their targets, often stabbing them and willing to die for the mission. Syrian enemies called them the Hashishim, but they are better known today by the European crusaders’ term: Assassins. Perhaps the first European account of the As- sassins comes from a Spanish rabbi, Benjamin of Tudela, who traveled through Syria in 1167. He told of a mysterious leader, the Old Man of Assassination Origination Circa 1045 Hasan-e Sabbah is born in Rayy, south of modern Tehran, Iran. As a young man, he will convert to and study the Ismaili branch of Shiism. 1070-1080 Bright and ambitious, Hasan proves himself a superior scholar. He is sent to Cairo for advanced study and returns to Persia as a missionary. Circa 1090 Hasan founds a sect known as the Nizari Ismaili. They capture the mountain fortress Alamut Castle in Persia and make it their stronghold. 1092 The Nizari Ismaili murder Vizier Nizam al-Mulk, a powerful Seljuk official. The disguised Nizari agent publicly stabs the vizier in plain view of his guards. 1256 The Nizari Ismaili stronghold of Alamut is destroyed by Mongol invasions, bringing their heyday to an end. Circa 1300 The Travels of Marco Polo is published, popularizing both the term “assassin” and the sensationalized exploits of the once powerful Nizari Ismaili. GAVIN HELLIER/GETTY IMAGES 11th-13th centuries Through espionage, and targeted killings of powerful opponents, the Nizari build their might and establish a power base in Syria. European crusaders spread tales of the deadly assassins.