The Ismaili Assassins: A History of Medieval Murder by James Waterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Legend has it that high inn the hills of Persia there existed lush castles with fragrant gardens and beautiful women. The fountains and water falls spouted forth milk and wine. Potential assassins were supposedly drugged with Hashish and when they awoke , it was in one of these pleasure gardens surrounded by beautiful women. This was paradise and the assassin would do anything to get back there. To die while assassinating your target wass the quickest way there. Of course all for this is lies it did not really go down that way, although there was proselytizing on the part of the old man of the mountain . To be surre the assassins enjoyed a reputation of being able to kill any one at anywhere and any time. Even the European leaders were spooked.
The book gives an excellent history of this secretive group. Going all the way to the beginning of Islam when there was a dispute about succeeding Mohammed after his death all the way through to the Turkish invasions and the mongol hordes. You got both the past and the context. This will help you understand who the assassins were and why and how they were forced to change.
Starting with the death of Mohammed there was a controversy about who should succeed him. Should they choose his cousin and son in law Ali or should they choose Abu Bakr. In the end Abu Bakr was chosen. Ali would become a caliph after Abu Bakr passed on and two more would take his place and die. Ali himself died violently. As Islam itself spread they conquered Syria,Babylon and Persia. Their goal was not to convert people but rather let them be infidels and live off the tax or jizzya money. Many people did convert. Many converts were not happy with the way they were treated especially in Persia. This would help give rise to the Abbassid dynasty, a rival to the Sunni Ommayad Dynasty. Indeed many smaller non arabic groups would adopt Islam, or variations there of as a way to bolster ethnic identity. With in Persia there would rise many independent statelets trig to run their own show,
As Islam spread and the conflict between Sunni and Shiite got worse. Islam would take over North Africa, and Egypt along with the Holy Land and al thew way to the border with China. Ismael, son of Ali would die in the battle of Karballa. THe arabs would also resort to employing Turkish warrior slaves to fight their battles for them. Among these groups were the Seljuks and the Mamelukes. Shia Islam would break off into more sercts likes the twelve's and the nizari. THe assassins were connected with the Nizari.
The Seljuks would eventually adopt Islam, Sunni Style and begin oppressing the Persians. Hassan Ibn Sabbah would proselytize and gather people form minority groups and eventually assume control after Alamut. Other fortresses were soon to follow. THe Sunni establishment strove to wipe out the assassins as did the Turks. The Assassins would kill one or more leaders and throw everything into chaos. They even managed to kill Nizam al Malk.
Turkish power was not falling and the Mongols entered the scene. They would fight with the Khwarazim Turks and the assassins were allies with the mongols at first. Later when the Khrarazin were destroyed and the Mongoils made their way to Baghdad, under Helegu Khan , would later betray the assassins and force them to leave their castles, in Persia. After that they remained in Syria as vassals to the Turkish warlord there. Eventually when they lost their forts they fled to places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
One of the least known groups that is shrouded with mystery . This book does a good job of guiding you throuhg it and demystifying everything. This book is well researched and very absorbing .
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