The word assassin is derived from the word Hashshashin (Arabic: حشّاشين, also Hashishin, Hashashiyyin or Assassins) and share its etymological roots with hashish (pronounced /hæˈʃiːʃ/ or /ˈhæʃiːʃ/) (from Arabic: حشيش ḥashīsh), referred to the Nizari branch of the Ismā'īlī Shia under the instruction of Hassan aṣ-Ṣabbaḥ during the Middle Ages. They were active in the fort of Alamut in Iran from the eighth to the fourteenth centuries. This group killed members of the elites of Arab Abbasid, Seljuq and crusaders élite for political and religious reasons. They were feared among the crusaders, the Arabs and the Knights Templar for their power and tactics. The Hashshashin were eradicated by the Mongol Empire and the well documented invasion of Khwarizm. They probably dispatched their assassins to kill Mongke Khan. Thus a decree was handed over to the Mongol commander Kitbuqa who began to assault several Hashshashin fortresses in 1253 before Hulegu advance in 1256. The Mongol besieged Alamut on December 15, 1256. The Hashshashin recaptured and held Alamut for a few months in 1275 but they were crushed and their political power was lost forever. Thus ended the reign of one of the most feared sects in the whole world.
Although commonly believed that assassins were under the influence of hashish during their killings or during their indoctrination, there is continued debate within the historical community whether these claims have any merit, as direct evidence from any contemporary source, Nizari or otherwise, is non-existent. Marco Polo and subsequent European visitors to the area received from rivals of the Nizarai, what were to these opponents, derogatory names for the Nizarai Ismaili, and significantly embroidered stories about them. Polo, Henry II, Count of Champagne, William Marsden, an envoy of Frederick Barbarossa, William, Archbishop of Tyre and others following, popularized the names and stories in Europe, oblivious to their origin in factional propaganda.
- 1: to injure or destroy unexpectedly and treacherously
- 2: to murder (a usually prominent person) by sudden or secret attack often for political reasons
Assassination is one of the oldest tools of power politics, dating back at least as far as recorded history. Perhaps the earliest recorded instance is the murder of the Moabite King, Eglon by Ehud around 1337 BC, described by The Book of Judges. Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar are famous victims. Emperors of Rome often met their end in this way, as did many of the Shia Imams. The practice was also well known in ancient China. An example of this is Jing Ke's failed assassination of Qin Shi Huang. The ancient Indian military adviser Chanakya wrote about assassinations in detail in his political treatise Arthashastra. On April 28, 1192, Conrad of Montferrat was assassinated by two hashshashin.
The apocryphal Old Testament story of Judith illustrates how a woman frees the Israelites by tricking and assassinating Holofernes, a war-lord of the rival Assyrians with whom the Israelites were at war.
In the Middle Ages, regicide was rare in Western Europe, but it was a recurring theme in the Eastern Roman Empire. Blinding and strangling in the bathtub were the most commonly used procedures. With the Renaissance, tyrannicide—or assassination for personal or political reasons—became more common again in Western Europe. The reigns of the French kings Henry III and Henry IV, and William the Silent of the Netherlands ended with assassination.