Jacqueline Oud - Culture

The Assassins of Alamut - ancient Kamikazes from Persia

Assassins, romance or a tough life of Kamikazes...

A lot is written for those who will look for it on the topic "Assassins of Alamut". But a lot will be much more romantic than it ought to have been. This article aims to provide you some inside on this secret society that existed around the end of the 11th century. How did it happen to exist, why was it so doubtful, by who was it maintained and how did it operate. Ofcourse I will try to analyse its historical and strategic impact.

Hassan Ibn Saba (1056 - 1124)

The person who created this society was Hassan Ibn Saba. When he was young he was a very serious student - in the Coran and philisophy studies at Nichapour - and as a result managed to place himself within the service of the Seldjouk sultan " Malik Chah". He was very serious regarding religion and a follower of the ismaellian stream and the chiites from Persia. The Persian territory being occupied by the Turcs, Hassan found it more and more difficult to approve their ways and started openly to criticise them. This caused his expulsion.

As from this moment he started travalling around many countries in the Orient and met a lot of different people who taught him different parts of religion and of philisophy. He had even been taught by some important leaders of the Suffi mouvement and of the Isma’ili. All these teachings gave him a sort of new view of the world and strengthened its desire to increase the Isma’ili religion and to fight against the Turcs. He became a kind of enlighted person and created its own kind of religion inspired by his chiite prédiliction and enriched by his Persian influence of Zoroastre.

His orator qualities and sense of sales gave him the force and ability of a real convincer. During his "traveling period" he developed his many skills of a leader and ways of motivation and incentives and took advantage of his possibilities to study some psychology.

What whas his aim?

Since he was that much convinced about his new beliefs, he wanted to teach its ideas to everyone. His qualities of a leader helped him a lot and it was soon that he gained many followers. His teachinsg were above all that of a new purified religion based on the ancient beliefs. This was to bring the people back to their real conctact with the heavenly world in the way it was supposed to be. On top of that, his aim was to expell the Turk rulers as to enable purification of his nation.

Why "Alamut"?

In the beginning, Hassan wasn’t considered dangerous, he was just "an odd man trying to attract people to him with his news beliefs". Even his friend the writer and astronome Omar Khayyam didn’t belief in his possible success. However, his ideas didn’t fit to the official and authorised beliefs and when it became clear that his teachings gained importance he was again chased away from its grounds.
Hassan needed a save place where he could continue his teachings and trainings but also to accomodate his followers. Alamut, a place he found during his wanderings in the mountain region of Elbzur, was the place he needed. The name "Alamut" invokes in the local language the difficulty of access since it signifies " Eagle’s place", or "Eagles lesson". Alamut was indeed located at an untakeble place: a big fortress at about 1800 meters height at the crest of the Elburz mountains and accessble only by a little stream. This is not the only reason that made Alamut the best place to realise its ideas. The other side of Alamut seems to have had large plains and beautiful gardens, but as we will see this was the "hidden and secret" part of Alamut.

Training and motivation

The followers of Hassan were submitted to an extreem strict training schedule and were kept inside of Alamut. This way they were "protected" from unhealthy influences and could keep their spirit entirely at what was their mission. The fact of being a follower was indeed really considered to be a mission and they felt honoured. Hassan also put in place an special training of his "elites", the best of the best. They had a special treatment, were better served and thus were an exemple to all of the others, which therefor was another factor of motivation.
None were allowed to drink, nor smoke. Life seems to have been reduced to the strict minimum under the "philisophy" of keeping a spirit ready to be prepared. Their training was also aimed at killing "for the sake of the religion" and it was considered the hightest goal one can achieve in life. It was when fuliflling this mission, and as a reward being killed in it, that "Paradise" was achieved.

The word Assassins

This belief of paradise was kept alive with a pre-visit to "Paradise" for those who were a bout to leave on a mission (and maybe for those who needed to be more convinced). It increased even more the motivation and their wish to deserve paradise. Besides, the pre-visit to paradise could be told to their fellow followers and motivate others to increase their efforts and be the next to be chosen.
But how did he manage to create this visit to paradise? During one of his visits in Asia, Hassan seemed to have discovered the secret key to it. In fact, nowadays it seems to have been the precursor of Hasisch that took his trainees to another world in their sleep. During this sleep they were taken secretly to the gardens of Alamut where "houries" awaited them to give them during some hours all they desired. At the end they had to take another dose of Hasisch to get back in a deep sleep and could be brought back again.
The word Assassins is in fact probably badly chosen since its origine springs from the word "Hasisch" (Hashshashin)and has been deformed by signifing the fact that the effet of hasisch motivated them so much that the became killers for their belief. The group became known as the Assassins due to their legendary killing methods, their tenacity and their methods of infiltration that made it very difficult to know someone was an "Assassin" since he was in a "sleeping function" awaiting the message to attack.
From 1090 till at least 1118 Hassans group was at its peak. It was impossible to penetrate or hunger the inhabitants of Alamut, Hassan had a stock for many months and the inhabitants were used to a strict way of life. At Hassans dead, his "empire" lacks its personality and its solidity decreases strating thus its decline.

The strategical impact

As noticed during the description, Hassan had prepared all his part into detail: knowledge, motivation, discipline, desire, the reasons for religion and the "unpure" to defeat. He used a lot of psychology and kept apparently a lot of secrecy around his own personality as to increase his "illumination". His preparation of the world of paradise seems to have been done in detail and the "houries", the young and beautifull girls, were also trained in a way to become the most delightfull creatures and very well educated. They too were in fact prisoners since they couldn’t go out neither but since they were well taken care of most of them didn’t care.
We can see that the training took a great part of "brainwashing" but the fact of being kept in a secret place and the indoctrination of their good ideas didn’t make anyone doubt too much.
Hassan must have had a very great spirit as to have managed all by himself that long to maintain the importance of Alamut and to create all around him. He must also have had a great a pasionate personality to convince and motivate so many people and inspire the fear of the Turks.

Nowadays

Though his society does no longer seem to exist nowadays, we can see real exemples of part of his teaching in todays world. Very charismatic leaders manage to score with their ideas. It is important to create a commun belief and a cause to fight combined with a reward in the end. These characteristics can be found back in todays business: to motivate your team, but also in todays wars: the Palestiniens kill and are proud to pay this with their own live, or the Japanese Kamikza pilots.
When managing to really motivate people for something and keep every now and then a "teaser" as a reminder, people will become like dolls in your controll. Ofcourse depending on what are your aims, you will need to be very convincing, charmismatique and a good organiser.

To read more about it...

  • A website ismaili.net
  • The book "Alamut" by Vladimir Bartol (a book written in about 1942 but proscribed until recently)
  • A French Strategy book called "L’Art de la Guerre par l’Exemple", by Frederic Encel (edited in 2000)

[10 March 2004]


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