The Assassins by W B Bartlett
The so-called 'Assassins' are one of most spectacular legends of medieval history. In the popular imagination they are drug-crazed fanatics who launched murderous attacks on their enemies, terrorising the medieval world. Since the tales of Marco Polo and others, the myths surrounding them have been fantastically embellished and the truth has become ever more obscure. The group we know as the Assassins first appeared in the late eleventh century. They called themselves Nizaris but to other Muslims they were 'hashishin', a derogatory term meaning 'hashish taker', applied to those they regarded as moral reprobates. When the group came into contact with westerners, 'hashishin' became 'assassin' and has remained ever since a common noun meaning murderer. Universally loathed and feared, they were especially frightening because they apparently had no fear of death. Bartlett's new book deftly traces the origins of the sect out of the schisms within the early Islamic religion and examines the impact of Hasan-i Sabbah, its founder, and Sinan - the legendary 'Old Man of the Mountain'. This popular history follows the vivid history of the group over the next two centuries, including its clash with the crusaders, its near destruction at the hands of the Mongols, and its subsequent history. Finally, and fascinatingly, we discover how the myths surrounding the assassins have developed over time, and why indeed they continue to have such an impact on the popular imagination.