History : Nov-Dec 2018
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 71 struggle brought him into conflict with another central figure in the Crusades, the sultan Saladin, who set out to expel the Christian foe, and unite Islam—a goal the Nizari did not share. Fedayeen were twice sent to kill him, but Sal- adin escaped. In response, he besieged Masyaf Castle but then unexpectedly withdrew. Ismaili sources claimed the Nizari had infil- trated Saladin’s most trusted guards, and that he was forced to strike a deal or die. The Nizari survived that attack, but their undoing would not come at Muslim hands. Mongol invaders in the 13th century destroyed Alamut in 1256 and took down the Nizari. Europeans continued to circulate legends of the deadly Assassins even after the Mongols took over the Nizari strongholds. The word“as- sassin” passed into common parlance during the 13th and 14th centuries. Dante uses it in his 14th-century epic poem, The Divine Com- edy. In Spanish, “assassin” became the root of the common word for “murder”: asesinato. In modern English, an assassination has retained its specific sense of killing a powerful person for political ends. The romantic idea of the As- sassins still lingers in popular culture, like the series of Assassin’s Creed action-adventure video games. Although the military might of the Nizari faded over time, their faith has survived and is still practiced around the world today with Isma- ili living in 25 countries, mainly in Central and South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. While the reputation of the Assassins was largely built on exaggerations by their enemies, the impact of this small sect and its effective tactics struck fear into mighty powers and has inspired imita- tors ever since. IN 1255 HÜLEGÜ, brother of the Great Khan of the Mongols, launched an offensive against the Nizari to neutralize attacks by the order against the new strongmen of the region. The Niz- ari leader, Rukn al-Din Khurshah, attempted to negotiate, but Hülegü had the fortress of Alamut destroyed in 1256, diminish- ing the strength of the Nizari as a military force. THE FALL OF ALAMUT BOOKS The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam Bernard Lewis, Basic Books, 2003. The Heirs of Muhammad: Islam’s First Century and the Origins of the Sunni-Shia Split Barnaby Rogerson, Little, Brown Book Group, 2006. The Travels of Marco Polo Marco Polo, Ronald Latham, Penguin Classics Edition, 1958. Learn more LINGUIST AND ARABIST VICENTE MILLÁN TORRES HAS WRITTEN EXTENSIVELY ON THE HISTORY OF THE MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA. FRÉDÉRIC SOREAU/GETTY IMAGES THE SIEGE OF ALAMUT BY THE MONGOLS. 15TH-CENTURY ILLUSTRATION. BIBLIOTHÈQUE NATIONALE, PARIS PHOTOAISA MASYAF CASTLE Perched on a rock near Hama, Masyaf Castle was the central stronghold of the Syrian sect of the Nizari. Resisting even Saladin’s attack, it finally fell to the Mongols in 1260.