Alamut was a mountain fortress located in the South Caspian
Caspian Sea
The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth by area, variously classed as the world's largest lake or a full-fledged sea. The sea has a surface area of and a volume of...

 province of Daylam
Daylam was a province of Persia, now part of Gīlān, Iran.The Daylam region corresponds to the modern region of Gīlān...

 near the Rudbar
Rudbar is a city in and the capital of Rudbar County, Gilan Province, Iran. At the 2006 census, its population was 11,454, in 3,303 families....

 region in Iran, approximately 100 kilometres (60 mi) from present-day Tehran
Tehran , sometimes spelled Teheran, is the capital of Iran and Tehran Province. With an estimated population of 8,429,807; it is also Iran's largest urban area and city, one of the largest cities in Western Asia, and is the world's 19th largest city.In the 20th century, Tehran was subject to...

, Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

. The name means “Eagle’s Nest.”

Under the leadership of Hasan-i Sabbah, Alamut became the site of intense activity for the Shi’a Nizari
'The Shī‘a Imami Ismā‘īlī Tariqah also referred to as the Ismā‘īlī or Nizārī , is a path of Shī‘a Islām, emphasizing social justice, pluralism, and human reason within the framework of the mystical tradition of Islam. The Nizari are the second largest branch of Shia Islam and form the majority...

' is a branch of Shia Islam. It is the second largest branch of Shia Islam, after the Twelvers...

 Muslims (also known as the Assassins) between 1090 and 1256 AD. During the medieval period, the castle functioned as the major stronghold of the Nizari Ismaili state. In 1256, Ismaili control of the fortress was lost to the invading Mongols
Mongols ) are a Central-East Asian ethnic group that lives mainly in the countries of Mongolia, China, and Russia. In China, ethnic Mongols can be found mainly in the central north region of China such as Inner Mongolia...

 and its famous library holdings were destroyed when the castle’s library was condemned to be burned by ‘Ata-Malik Juwayni, a servant of the Mongol court. Sources on the history and thought of the Ismailis in this period are therefore lacking and the majority extant are written by their detractors.

After the Mongol destruction, the castle was of only regional significance, passing through the hands of various local powers. Today, it lies in ruins, but because of its historical significance, it is being developed by the Iranian government as a tourist destination.


The origins of the Alamut fortress can be traced back to the Daylam ruler, Wahsudan, who, during a hunting trip, witnessed a soaring eagle perch down high on a rock. Realizing the tactical advantage of the location, he chose the site for the construction of a fortress, which was called “Aluh amu[kh]t” likely meaning “Eagle’s Teaching”. The origin of the word “Alamut” is obscure. By 602 AD, the castle was rebuilt by a group of Zaydi ‘Alids in whose possession it remained until the arrival of the Ismaili chief da’i (missionary) Hasan-i Sabbah to the castle in 1090 AD, marking the start of the Alamut period in Ismaili history.

Nizari Ismaili Da’is who ruled at Alamut

  1. Hasan-i Sabbah (1090–1124)
  2. Kiya Buzurg-Ummid (1124–1138)
  3. Muhammad (neé Buzurg-Ummid?) (1138–1162)

Nizari Ismaili Imams who ruled at Alamut

  1. Imam Hasan ‘Ala dhikrihi al-Salam (1162–1166)
  2. Imam Nur al-din Muhammad (1166–1210)
  3. Imam Jalal al-Din Hasan (1210–1221)
  4. Imam ‘Ala al-Din Muhammad (1221–1255)
  5. Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah (1255–1256)


Following his expulsion from Egypt over his support for the Ismaili Imam Nizar b. Mustansir, Hasan-i Sabbah found that his co-religionists, the Ismailis, were scattered throughout Iran, with a strong presence in the northern and eastern regions, particularly in Daylaman, Khorasan
Greater Khorasan
Greater Khorasan or Ancient Khorasan is a historical region of Greater Iran mentioned in sources from Sassanid and Islamic eras which "frequently" had a denotation wider than current three provinces of Khorasan in Iran...

 and Quhistan
Quhistan or Kohistan was a region of medieval Persia, essentially the southern part of Greater Khorasan. Its boundaries appear to have been indeterminate, and the term generally seems to have been applied loosely....

. The Ismailis and other occupied peoples of Iran held shared resentment for the ruling Seljuq
Great Seljuq Empire
The Great Seljuq Empire was a medieval Persianate, Turko-Persian Sunni Muslim empire, originating from the Qynyq branch of Oghuz Turks. The Seljuq Empire controlled a vast area stretching from the Hindu Kush to eastern Anatolia and from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf...

s, who had divided the country’s farmland into iqtā’ (fiefs
Fiefs may refer to:* Fiefdom* Fiefs, a commune of the Pas-de-Calais département in northern France...

) and levied heavy taxes upon the citizens living therein. The Seljuq amirs (independent rulers) usually held full jurisdiction and control over the districts they administered. Meanwhile, Persian artisans, craftsmen and lower classes grew increasingly dissatisfied with the Seljuq policies and heavy taxes. Hasan too, was appalled by the political and economic oppression imposed by the Sunni Seljuq ruling class on Shi'i Muslims living across Iran. It was in this context that he embarked on a resistance movement against the Seljuqs, beginning with the search for a secure site from which to launch his revolt.

The capture of Alamut

By 1090 AD, the Seljuq vizier Nizam al-Mulk
Nizam al-Mulk
Abu Ali al-Hasan al-Tusi Nizam al-Mulk, better known as Khwaja Nizam al-Mulk Tusi ; born in 1018 – 14 October 1092) was a Persian scholar and vizier of the Seljuq Empire...

 had already given orders for Hasan’s arrest and therefore Hasan was living in hiding in the northern town of Qazvin
Qazvin is the largest city and capital of the Province of Qazvin in Iran. At the 2006 census, its population was 349,821, in 96,420 families....

, approximately 60 km from the Alamut castle. There, he made plans for the capture of the fortress, which was surrounded by a fertile valley whose inhabitants were mainly fellow Shi’i Muslims, the support of whom Hasan could easily gather for the revolt against the Seljuqs. The castle had never before been captured by military means and thus Hasan planned meticulously. Meanwhile, he dispatched his reliable supporters to the Alamut valley to begin settlements around the castle.

In the summer of 1090 AD, Hasan set out from Qazvin towards Alamut on a mountainous route through Andej. He remained at Andej disguised as a schoolteacher named Dekhhoda until he was certain that a number of his supporters had settled directly below the castle in the village of Gazorkhan or had gained employment at the fortress itself. Still in disguise, Hasan made his way into the fortress, earning the trust and friendship of many of its soldiers. Careful not to attract the attention of the castle’s Zaydi ‘Alid lord, Mahdi, Hasan began to attract prominent figures at Alamut to his mission. It has even been suggested that Mahdi’s own deputy was a secret supporter of Hasan, waiting to demonstrate his loyalty on the day that Hasan would ultimately take the castle.

Earlier in the summer, Mahdi visited Qazvin, where he received strict orders from Nizam al-Mulk to find and arrest Hasan who was said to be hiding in the province of Daylaman. Upon his return to the Alamut fortress, Mahdi noticed several new servants and guards employed there. His deputy explained that illness had taken many of the castle’s workers and it was fortunate that other labourers were found from the neighbouring villages. Worried about the associations of these workers, Mahdi ordered his deputy to arrest anyone with connections to the Ismailis.

Mahdi’s suspicions were confirmed when Hasan finally approached the lord of the fortress, revealing his true identity and declared that the castle now belonged to him. Immediately, Mahdi called upon the guards to arrest and remove Hasan from the castle, only to find them prepared to follow Hasan’s every command. Astounded, he realized he had been tricked and was allowed to exit the castle freely. Before leaving however, Mahdi was given a draft of 3000 gold dinars as payment for the fortress, payable by a Seljuq officer in service to the Ismaili cause named Ra’is Muzaffar who honoured the payment in full. The Alamut fortress was captured from Mahdi and therefore from Seljuq control by Hasan and his supporters without resorting to any violence.

Construction and intellectual development

With Alamut now in his possession, Hasan swiftly embarked on a complete refortification of the complex. By enhancing the walls and structure of a series of storage facilities, the fortress was to act as a self-sustaining stronghold during major confrontations. The perimeters of the rooms were lined with limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

, so as to preserve provisions to be used in times of crisis. Indeed when the Mongols invaded the fortress, Juwayni was astonished to see stored countless supplies in perfect condition to withstand a possible siege. Recent work by Iranian archeologists at the northern gate of the fortress revealed two interconnected cellars, likely used as private spaces or for food storage.

Next, Hasan took on the task of irrigating
Irrigation may be defined as the science of artificial application of water to the land or soil. It is used to assist in the growing of agricultural crops, maintenance of landscapes, and revegetation of disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall...

 the surrounding villages of the Alamut valley. The land at valley’s floor was arable land, allowing for the cultivation
Tillage is the agricultural preparation of the soil by mechanical agitation of various types, such as digging, stirring, and overturning. Examples of human-powered tilling methods using hand tools include shovelling, picking, mattock work, hoeing, and raking...

 of dry crops including barley
Barley is a major cereal grain, a member of the grass family. It serves as a major animal fodder, as a base malt for beer and certain distilled beverages, and as a component of various health foods...

, wheat
Wheat is a cereal grain, originally from the Levant region of the Near East, but now cultivated worldwide. In 2007 world production of wheat was 607 million tons, making it the third most-produced cereal after maize and rice...

 and rice
Rice is the seed of the monocot plants Oryza sativa or Oryza glaberrima . As a cereal grain, it is the most important staple food for a large part of the world's human population, especially in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and the West Indies...

. In order to make available the maximum amount of cultivable land, the ground was terraced under Hasan’s direction. The sloping valley was broken up into step-like platforms upon which abundant food could be cultivated. In times of need the surrounding villages were well equipped to furnish the castle with ample supplies.

The construction of Alamut’s famous library
In a traditional sense, a library is a large collection of books, and can refer to the place in which the collection is housed. Today, the term can refer to any collection, including digital sources, resources, and services...

 likely occurred after Hasan’s fortification of the castle and its surrounding valley. With its astronomical
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

 instruments and rare collection of works, the library attracted scholars and scientists of a variety of religious persuasions from around the world who visited it for many months at a time, hosted by the Ismailis. By and large the writings of the Persian Ismailis, both scientific and doctrinal, did not survive beyond the Alamut period. In addition to the rich literature they had already produced in Arabic, the relocation of the Ismaili center to Iran now prompted a surge in Persian Ismaili literature. The bulk of Nizari writing produced in this period however, was lost or destroyed during the Mongol invasions. While the majority of Alamut’s theological works on Ismailism were lost during the library’s destruction, a few significant writings were preserved including the major anonymous work of 1199 AD entitled Haft Bāb-i Bābā Sayyidnā and a number of treatises by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.

One of the earliest losses of the library came during the early years of the Imam Jalal al-Din Hasan’s leadership at Alamut. In keeping with his principles of bridging the gaping relations between the Persian Ismailis and the broader Sunni world, Imam Jalal al-Din Hasan invited a number of religious scholars from the town of Qazvin to visit the castle’s library and burn
Book burning
Book burning, biblioclasm or libricide is the practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material and media. In modern times, other forms of media, such as phonograph records, video tapes, and CDs have also been ceremoniously burned, torched, or shredded...

 any books they deemed heretical. However, it was not until under the direction of the Mongol ruler, Hulegu Khan, when the Mongols ascended to the fortress in December 1256 AD, that the Alamut library was lost. With the permission of Hulegu, Juwayni explored the library and selected a few works he deemed worthy of salvaging, before the remainder was set aflame. His choice items included copies of the Qur'an a number of astronomical instruments and treatises, and a number of Ismaili works. An anti-Ismaili, Juwayni’s personal leanings were the sole measure of heretical content of the library’s doctrinal works. Thus, some of the richest treatises regarding the tenets of Ismaili faith were lost with his destruction of the library. From his tour and survey of the castle, Juwayni compiled a description of Alamut that he incorporated into his chronicle of the Mongol invasions, entitled The History of the World Conqueror.

Concealment and emergence: Imamat at Alamut

With the death of Hasan-i Sabbah in 1124 AD, the Alamut fortress was now in the command of the da’i Kiya Buzurg Ummid, under whose direction Ismaili-Seljuq relations improved. However, this was not without a test of the strength of Buzurg Ummid’s command, and consequently the Seljuqs began an offensive in 1126 AD on the Ismaili strongholds of Rudbar and Quhistan. Only after these assaults failed did the Seljuq sultan Sanjar concede to recognize the independence of the Ismaili territories. Three days before his death, Buzurg Ummid designated his son Muhammad to lead the community in the name of the Ismaili Imam.

Accordingly, Muhammad succeeded Kiya Buzurg Ummid in 1138 AD. Though they expected some resistance to his rule, the fragmented Seljuqs were met with continued solidarity amongst the Ismailis, who remained unified under Muhammad’s command. The early part of Muhammad’s rule saw a continued low level of conflict, enabling the Nizaris to acquire and construct a number of fortresses in the Qumis and Rudbar regions, including the castles of Sa’adat-kuh, Mubarak-kuh, and Firuz-kuh. Muhammad designated his son Hasan, born in 1126 AD, to lead the community in the name of the Imam. Hasan was well trained in Ismaili doctrine and ta’wil (esoteric interpretation).

Taken by illness in 1162 AD, Muhammad was succeeded by Hasan, who was then about thirty-five years of age. Only two years after his accession, the Imam Hasan ‘ala dhikri al-salam, apparently conducted a ceremony known as qiyama (resurrection) at the grounds of the Alamut castle, whereby the Imam would once again become visible to his community of followers in and outside of the Nizari Ismaili state. Given Juwayni's polemical aims, and the fact that he burned the Ismaili libraries which may have offered much more reliable testimony about the history, scholars have been dubious about his narrative but are forced to rely on it given the absence of alternative sources. Fortunately, descriptions of this event are also preserved in Rashid al-Din’s narrative and recounted in the Haft Bab-i Abi Ishaq, an Ismaili book of the 15th century AD. However, these are either based on Juwayni, or don't go into great detail. No contemporary Ismaili account of the events has survived, and it is likely that scholars will never know the exact details of this time.

The Imam Hasan ‘ala dhikrihi al-salam died only a year and a half after the declaration of the qiyama. According to Juwayni, he was stabbed in the Ismaili castle of Lamasar by his brother in law, Hasan Namwar.

Succeeding Hasan 'ala dhikri al-salam in 1166, was the Imam Nūr al-Dīn Muhammad, who, like his father and the imams of the pre-Alamut period, openly declared himself to his followers. Under the forty-year rule of the Imam Nur al-Din Muhammad, the doctrine of Imamate was further developed and, consistent with the tradition of Shi'i Islam, the figure of the Imam was accorded greater importance.

What little we know about the Imamate at Alamut is narrated to us by one of the greatest detractors of the Ismailis, Juwayni. According the Ismaili version of the events, in the year following the death of the Imam-caliph al-Mustansir, a qadi (judge) by the name of Sa’idi travelled from Egypt to Alamut, taking with him Imam Nizar’s grandson, who was known as al-Hadi. Imam Hadi apparently lived in concealment in the Alamut valley, under the protection of Hasan-i Sabbah, then the chief da’i of the Nizari Ismaili state. Following him were Imam Muhtadi and Imam Qahir, also living in concealment from the general population, but in touch with the highest-ranking members of the Ismaili hierarchy (hudūd). These living and visible proofs of the existence of the concealed Imams are known in Ismaili doctrine as hujjat (proof). The period of the Imam’s concealment was marked by central direction from the chief da’i at the Alamut fortress across the Nizari Ismaili state. With the emergence of Imam Hasan ‘ala dhikri al-salam however, the period of concealment (saṭr) was now complete.

Within Persia, the Nizaris of the qiyama period largely disregarded their former political endeavours and became considerably isolated from the surrounding Sunni world. The death of Muhammad II however, ushered in a new era for the Nizaris, under the direction of the next Imam Jalal al-din Hasan. Imam Jalal al-Din Hasan invited Sunni scholars and jurists from across Khurasan and Iraq to visit Alamut, and even invited them to inspect the library and remove any books they found to be objectionable. During his lifetime, the Imam Jalal al-Din Hasan maintained friendly relations with the ‘Abbasid Caliph
The Caliph is the head of state in a Caliphate, and the title for the ruler of the Islamic Ummah, an Islamic community ruled by the Shari'ah. It is a transcribed version of the Arabic word   which means "successor" or "representative"...

 al-Nasir. An alliance with the caliph of Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

 meant greater resources for the self-defence of not only the Nizari Ismaili state, but also the broader Muslim world.

After his death in 1221, Imam Jalal al-Din Hasan was succeeded by his son ‘Ala al-Din Muhammad. Ascending to the throne at only nine years of age, Imam 'Ala al-Din Muhammad continued his father's policy of maintaining close relations with the Abbasid caliph. Under the leadership of Imam 'Ala al-Din Muhammad, the need for an Imam to constantly guide the community according to the demands of the times was emphasized. Intellectual life and scholarship flourished under the rule of Imam 'Ala al-Din Muhammad. The Nizari libraries were invigorated with scholars from across Asia, fleeing from the invading Mongols. Among these intellectuals, some, including Naṣīr al-Din Tusi, were responsible for important contributions to Ismaili thought towards the end of the Alamut period. Having written on the topics of astronomy, philosophy, and theology, Tusi’s notable contributions to Ismaili thought include Rawdat al-Taslim (Paradise of Submission), which he composed with Hasan-i Mahmud Katib, and Sayr va Suluk (The Journey), his spiritual autobiography. Following his two major ethical works, al-Tusi studied under the patronage of the Ismaili Imam at the Alamut library until it capitualtedto the Mongols in 1256.

By the time of Imam 'Ala al-Din Muhammad’s murder in 1255, the Mongols had already attacked a number of the Ismaili strongholds in Quhistan. Imam 'Ala al-Din Muhammad was succeeded by his eldest son Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah who engaged in a long series of negotiations with invading Mongols, and under whose leadership, the Alamut castle was surrendered to the Mongols.

The Mongol invasion and collapse of the Nizari Ismaili state

The expansion of Mongol power across Western Asia depended upon the conquest of the Islamic lands, the complete seizure of which would be impossible without dismantling the ardent Nizari Ismaili state. Consisting of over fifty strongholds unified under the central power of the Imam, the Nizaris represented a significant obstruction to the Mongol undertaking. The task of successively destroying these castles was assigned to Hulegu
Hulagu Khan
Hulagu Khan, also known as Hülegü, Hulegu , was a Mongol ruler who conquered much of Southwest Asia...

, under the direction of his brother, the Great Khan Möngke
Möngke Khan
Möngke Khan , born Möngke, , was the fourth Great Khan of the Mongol Empire from July 1, 1251 – August 11, 1259. He was the first Great Khan from the Toluid line, and made significant reforms to improve the administration of the Empire during his reign...

. Only after their destruction could the invading Mongols proceed to remove the Abbasid caliph from Baghdad and advance their conquest westward.

Before Hulegu set forth toward Persia, the threat to the Muslim world posed by the swelling Mongol force was felt by the Ismaili Imam ‘Ala al-Din Muhammad who, in 1238 joined the Abbasid caliph, al-Mustansir, in appealing to the Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an monarchs in England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 to coalesce in a Christian-Muslim alliance against the Mongols. Although the European rulers did not accept this proposal, the Ismaili Imam partnered again with the Sunni caliph in 1246 AD when the two journeyed to the enthronement of the Great Khan Güyük
Güyük Khan
Güyük was the third Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. As the eldest son of Ögedei Khan and a grandson of Genghis Khan, he reigned from 1246 to 1248...

 in Mongolia
Mongolia is a landlocked country in East and Central Asia. It is bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, east and west. Although Mongolia does not share a border with Kazakhstan, its western-most point is only from Kazakhstan's eastern tip. Ulan Bator, the capital and largest...

. Their joint expressions of peace were not acknowledged by the Mongol lord and shortly after in 1252 AD, the Mongols arrived in Quhistan.

The first Mongol attack on the Ismailis came in April 1253 AD, when many of the Quhistani fortresses were lost to the Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 Mongol general Ket-Buqa
Kitbuqa Noyan was a Nestorian Christian and a member of the Naiman Turks, a group that was subservient to the Mongol Empire. He was a lieutenant and confidant of the Mongol Ilkhan Hulagu, assisting him in his conquests in the Middle East...

. By May, the Mongol troops had proceeded to the fortress of Girdkuh where Ismaili forces held ground for several months. In December, a cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

 outbreak within the castle weakened the Ismaili defences. Reinforcements quickly arrived from the neighbouring Alamut fortress and thwarted the attacking Mongols, killing several hundred of Ket-Buqa’s troops. The castle was saved but the subsequent Mongol assaults on the towns of Tun
- Science and technology :* TUN/TAP, a computer network device driver* TUN , a Danish product standard for building materials* Tun , a part of the Mayan long count calendar system* A unit of time in the Mayan Long Count calendar...

 and Tus. Across Khurasan the Mongols imposed tyrannical laws and were responsible for the mass displacement of the province’s population.

After the massacres at Tun in 1256 AD, Hulegu became directly involved in the Mongol campaign to eliminate the Ismaili centres of power. From a lavish tent erected for him at Tus, Hulegu summoned the Ismaili governor at Quhistan, Nasir al-Din Muhtasham and demanded the surrender of all fortresses in his province. Nasir al-Din explained that submission could only come at the Imam’s orders and that he, as governor, was powerless to seek the Ismailis’ compliance.

Meanwhile, Imam ‘Ala al-Din Mohammad, who had been murdered, was succeeded by his son Rukn al-Din in 1255 AD. In 1256 AD, Rukn al-Din commenced a series of gestures demonstrating his submission to the Mongols. In a show of his compliance and at the demand of Hulegu, Rukn al-Din began the dismantling process at Alamut, Maymundiz and Lamasar, removing towers and battlements. However as winter approached, Hulegu took these gestures to be a means of delaying his seizure of the castles and on November 8, 1256, the Mongol troops quickly encircled the Maymundiz fortress and residence of the Imam. After four days of preliminary bombardment with significant casualties for both sides, the Mongols assembled their mangonel
A mangonel was a type of catapult or siege engine used in the medieval period to throw projectiles at a castle's walls. The exact meaning of the term is debatable, and several possibilities have been suggested. Mangonel may also be indirectly referring to the 'mangon' a French hard stone found in...

s around the castle in preparation for a direct siege. There was still no snow on the ground and the attacks proceeded, forcing Rukn al-Din to declare his surrender in exchange for his and his family’s safe passage. A yarligh (decree) was drafted and taken to the Imam by Juwayni. After another bombardment, Rukn al-Din descended from Maymundiz on the 19th day of November.

In the hands of Hulegu, Rukn al-Din was forced to send the message of surrender to all the castles in the Alamut valley. At the Alamut fortress, the Mongol Prince Balaghai led his troops to the base of the castle, calling for the surrender of the commander of Alamut, Muqaddam al-Din. It was decreed that should he surrender and pledge his allegiance to the Great Khan within one day, the lives of those at Alamut would be spared. Maymundiz was reluctant and wondered if the Imam’s message of surrender was an actually act of duress. In obedience to the Imam, Muqaddam and his men descended from the fortress, and the Mongol army entered Alamut and began its demolition.

Compared with Maymundiz, the Alamut fortress was far better fortified and could have long withstood the assaults of the Mongol army. However, the castle was relatively small in size and was easily surrounded by the Mongols. Still, the most significant factor in determining the defeat of the Ismailis at Alamut was the command by the Imam for the surrender of the castles in the valley. Many of the other fortresses had already complied, therefore not only would Muqaddam’s resistance have resulted in a direct battle for the castle, but the explicit violation of the instructions of the Imam, which would impact significantly on the Ismaili commander’s oath of total obedience to the Imam.

The conquest of the Ismaili castles was critical to the Mongol’s political and territorial expansion westward. However, it was depicted by Juwayni as a “matter of divine punishment upon the heretics [at] the nest of satan”. Juwayni’s depiction of the fall of the Nizari Ismaili state reveals the religious leanings of the anti-Ismaili historian. When Rukn al-Din arrived in Mongolia with promises to persuade the prevailing Ismaili fortresses to surrender, the Great Khan Mongke no longer believed the Imam to be of use. En route back to his homeland, Rukn al-Din was put to death. In his description of this, Juwayni concludes that the Imam’s murder cleansed “the world which had been polluted by their evil”. Subsequently in Quhistan, the Ismailis were called by thousands to attend large gatherings, where they were massacred. While some escaped to neighbouring regions, the Ismailis who perished in the massacres following the capture of the Ismaili garrisons numbered nearly 100,000.

Defense and military tactics

The natural geographical features of the valley surrounding Alamut largely secured the castle’s defence. Positioned atop a narrow rock base approximately 180 meters above ground level, the fortress could not be taken by direct military force. To the east, the Alamut valley is bordered by a mountainous range called Alamkuh (The Throne of Solomon) between which the Alamut River flows. The valley’s western entrance is a narrow one, shielded by cliffs over 350m high. Known as the Shirkuh
Asad ad-Din Shirkuh bin Shadhi , also known as Shêrko or "Shêrgo" was an important Kurdish military commander, and uncle of Saladin....

, the gorge sits at the intersection of three rivers: the Taliqan, Shahrud
Shahrud is classified as a "short-necked lute." The word sehrud is of Persian origin, derived from the words sah-i rûd meaning "king of lutes/large lute." Though Al-Farabi included an illustration of the sehrud in his Kitâbü'l Musiki, it is very difficult to determine particulars from this drawing...

 and Alamut River. For much of the year, the raging waters of the river made this entrance nearly inaccessible. Qazvin, the closest town to the valley by land can only be reached by an underdeveloped mule track upon which an enemy’s presence could easily be detected given the dust clouds arising from their passage.

The military approach of the Nizari Ismaili state was largely a defensive one, with strategically chosen sites that appeared to avoid confrontation wherever possible without the loss of life. But the defining characteristic of the Nizari Ismaili state was that it was scattered geographically throughout Persia and Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

. The Alamut castle therefore was only one of a nexus of strongholds throughout the regions where Ismailis could retreat to safety if necessary. West of Alamut in the Shahrud Valley, the major fortress of Lamasar served as just one example of such a retreat. In the context of their political uprising, the various spaces of Ismaili military presence took on the name dar al-hijra  (place of refuge). The notion of the dar al-hijra originates from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, who fled with his supporters from intense persecution to safe haven in Yathrib. In this way, the Fatimid
The Fatimid Islamic Caliphate or al-Fāṭimiyyūn was a Berber Shia Muslim caliphate first centered in Tunisia and later in Egypt that ruled over varying areas of the Maghreb, Sudan, Sicily, the Levant, and Hijaz from 5 January 909 to 1171.The caliphate was ruled by the Fatimids, who established the...

s found their dar al-hijra in North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

. Likewise during the revolt against the Seljuqs, several fortresses served as spaces of refuge for the Ismailis.

In pursuit of their religious and political goals, the Ismailis adopted various military strategies popular in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

. One such method was that of assassination, the selective elimination of prominent rival figures. The murders of political adversaries were usually carried out in public spaces, creating resounding intimidation for other possible enemies. Throughout history, many groups have resorted to assassination as a means of achieving political ends. In the Ismaili context, these assignments were performed by fidā’īs (devotees) of the Ismaili mission. They were unique in that civilians were never targeted. The assassinations were against those whose elimination would most greatly reduce aggression against the Ismailis and, in particular, against those who had perpetrated massacres against the community. A single assassination was usually employed in favour of widespread bloodshed resultant from factional combat. The first instance of assassination in the effort to establish an Nizari Ismaili state in Persia is widely considered to be the murder of Seljuq vizier, Nizam al-Mulk. Carried out by a man dressed as a Sufi whose identity remains unclear, the vizier’s murder in a Seljuq court is distinctive of exactly the type of visibility for which missions of the fida’is have been significantly exaggerated. While the Seljuqs and Crusaders
The Crusaders are a New Zealand professional rugby union team based in Christchurch that competes in the Super Rugby competition. They are the most successful team in Super Rugby history with seven titles...

 both employed assassination as a military means of disposing of factional enemies, during the Alamut period almost any murder of political significance in the Islamic lands was attributed to the Ismailis.

Legend and folklore

During the medieval period, Western scholarship on the Ismailis contributed to the popular view of the community as a radical sect of assassins, believed to be trained for the precise murder of their adversaries. By the 14th century AD, European scholarship on the topic had not advanced much beyond the work and tales from the Crusaders. The origins of the word forgotten, across Europe the term Assassin had taken the meaning of “professional murderer”. In 1603 the first Western publication on the topic of the Assassins was authored by a court official for King Henry IV
Henry IV of France
Henry IV , Henri-Quatre, was King of France from 1589 to 1610 and King of Navarre from 1572 to 1610. He was the first monarch of the Bourbon branch of the Capetian dynasty in France....

 and was mainly based on the narratives of Marco Polo
Marco Polo
Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant traveler from the Venetian Republic whose travels are recorded in Il Milione, a book which did much to introduce Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned about trading whilst his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, travelled through Asia and apparently...

 (1254–1324) from his visits to the Near East
Near East
The Near East is a geographical term that covers different countries for geographers, archeologists, and historians, on the one hand, and for political scientists, economists, and journalists, on the other...

. While he assembled the accounts of many Western travelers, the author failed to explain the etymology of the term Assassin.

The infamous Assassins were finally linked by orientalists scholar Silvestre de Sacy
Silvestre de Sacy
Antoine Isaac, Baron Silvestre de Sacy , was a French linguist and orientalist. His son, Ustazade Silvestre de Sacy, became a journalist.-Early life:...

 (d.1838) to the Arabic hashish using their variant names assassini and assissini in the 19th century. Citing the example of one of the first written applications of the Arabic term hashishi to the Ismailis by historian Abu Shams (d.1267), de Sacy demonstrated its connection to the name given to the Ismailis throughout Western scholarship. Ironically, the first known usage of the term hashishi has been traced back to 1122 AD when the Fatimid Caliph al-Amir
Al-Āmir bi'Aḥkāmi l-Lah was the tenth Fatimid Caliph , and recognised as the 20th imam by the Mustaali Ismaili Shi'a sect....

 employed it in derogatory reference to the Syrian Nizaris. Without accusing the group of utilizing the hashish drug, the caliph used the term in a pejorative manner. This label was quickly applied by anti-Ismaili historians to the Ismailis of Syria and Persia. Used figuratively, the term hashish i connoted meanings such as outcasts or rabble. The spread of the term was further facilitated through military encounters between the Nizaris and the Crusaders, whose chroniclers adopted the term and disseminated it across Europe.

The legends of the Assassins had much to do with the training and instruction of Nizari fida’is, famed for their public missions during which they often gave their lives to eliminate adversaries. Misinformation from the Crusader accounts and the works of anti-Ismaili historians have contributed to the tales of fida’is being fed with hashish as part of their training. Whether fida’is were actually trained or dispatched by Nizari leaders is unconfirmed, but scholars including Wladimir Ivanow purport that the assassination of key figures including Seljuq vizier Nizam al-Mulk likely provided encouraging impetus to others in the community who sought to secure the Nizaris from political aggression. In fact, the Seljuqs and Crusaders both employed assassination as a military means of disposing of factional enemies. Yet during the Alamut period almost any murder of political significance in the Islamic lands became attributed to the Ismailis. So inflated had this association grown, that in the work of Orientalist scholars such as Bernard Lewis the Ismailis were virtually equated to the politically active fida’is. Thus the Nizari Ismaili community was regarded as a radical and heretical sect known as the Assassins. Originally, a “local and popular term” first applied to the Ismailis of Syria, the label was orally transmitted to Western historians and thus found itself in their histories of the Nizaris.

The tales of the fida’is’ training collected from anti-Ismaili historians and orientalists writers were confounded and compiled in Marco Polo’s account, in which he described a “secret garden of paradise”. After being drugged, the Ismaili devotees were said be taken to a paradise-like garden filled with attractive young maidens and beautiful plants in which these fida’is would awaken. Here, they were told by an “old” man that they were witnessing their place in Paradise and that should they wish to return to this garden permanently, they must serve the Nizari cause. So went the tale of the “Old Man in the Mountain”, assembled by Marco Polo and accepted by Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774–1856), a prominent orientalist writer responsible for much of the spread of this legend. Until the 1930s, von Hammer’s retelling of the Assassin legends served as the standard account of the Nizaris across Europe.

Modern works on the Nizaris have elucidated the history of the Nizaris and in doing so, dispelled popular histories from the past as mere legends. In 1933, under the direction of the Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III
Aga Khan III
Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, Aga Khan III, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, GCVO, PC was the 48th Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. He was one of the founders and the first president of the All-India Muslim League, and served as President of the League of Nations from 1937-38. He was nominated to represent India to...

 (1877–1957), the Islamic Research Association was developed. Prominent historian Wladimir Ivanow, was central to both this institution and the 1946 Ismaili Society of Bombay. Cataloguing a number of Ismaili texts, Ivanow provided the ground for great strides in modern Ismaili scholarship.

In recent years, Peter Willey
Peter Willey
Peter Willey is a former English cricketer, who played as a right-handed batsman and right-arm offbreak bowler. In and out of the England team, he interrupted his international career for three years by taking part in the first of the England players' South African rebel tours in 1982...

 has provided interesting evidence against the folkloric Assassin histories of earlier scholars. Drawing on its established esoteric doctrine, Willey asserts that the Ismaili understanding of Paradise is a deeply symbolic one. While the Qur'anic description of Heaven includes natural imagery, Willey argues that no Nizari fida’i would seriously believe that he was witnessing Paradise simply by awakening in a beauteous garden. The Nizaris’ symbolic interpretation of the Qur'anic description of Paradise serves as evidence against the possibility of such an exotic garden used as motivation for the devotees to carry out their armed missions. Furthermore, Willey points out that Juwayni the courtier of the Great Mongke, surveyed the Alamut castle just before the Mongol invasion. In his reports about of the fortress, there are elaborate descriptions of sophisticated storage facilities and the famous Alamut library. However, even this anti-Ismaili historian makes no mention of the folkloric gardens on the Alamut grounds. Having destroyed a number of texts of the library’s collection, deemed by Juwayni to be heretical, it would be expected that he would pay significant attention to the Nizari gardens, particularly if they were the site of drug use and temptation. Having not once mentioned such gardens, Willey concludes that there is no sound evidence in favour of these fictitious legends.

In popular culture

  • Slovenia
    Slovenia , officially the Republic of Slovenia , is a country in Central and Southeastern Europe touching the Alps and bordering the Mediterranean. Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north, and also has a small portion of...

    n novelist Vladimir Bartol
    Vladimir Bartol
    Vladimir Bartol was a Slovene writer, most famous for his novel Alamut. Alamut was published in 1938 and translated into numerous languages, becoming the most popular work of Slovene literature around the world.-Biography:Bartol was born on February 24, 1903 in San Giovanni , a suburb of the...

    's novel Alamut
    Alamut (1938 novel)
    Alamut is a novel by Vladimir Bartol, first published in 1938 in Slovenian, dealing with the story of Hassan-i Sabbah and the Hashshashin, and named after their Alamut fortress....

    (1938) reminded the West of the Assassin legends and stands as a canonical work of Slovene literature. Bartol's novel has been translated into most major literary languages.
  • Judith Tarr
    Judith Tarr
    Judith Tarr is an American author, best known for her fantasy books. She received her B.A. in Latin and English from Mount Holyoke College in 1976, and has an M.A. in Classics from Cambridge University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from Yale University...

     wrote a series of novels
    Alamut series
    The Alamut series consists of the two fantasy books Alamut and The Dagger and the Cross by Judith Tarr...

     centered on Alamut.
  • In his story "The Walking Drum
    The Walking Drum
    The Walking Drum is a novel by American author Louis L'Amour. Unlike most of his other novels, it is not set in the American West, but is a historical novel set in 12th century Europe and the Middle East.The main character of the story is Mathurin Kerbouchard...

    ", Louis L'Amour
    Louis L'Amour
    Louis Dearborn L'Amour was an American author. His books consisted primarily of Western fiction novels , however he also wrote historical fiction , science fiction , nonfiction , as well as poetry and short-story collections. Many of his stories were made into movies...

     uses Alamut as the setting for the rescue of Kerbouchard's father.
  • Alamut and Hassan-i-Sabbah are described vividly in William S. Burroughs
    William S. Burroughs
    William Seward Burroughs II was an American novelist, poet, essayist and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th...

    ' The Western Lands
    The Western Lands
    The Western Lands by William S. Burroughs, published in 1987, is a novel which is the final part of the trilogy that begins with Cities of the Red Night and The Place of Dead Roads. The title refers to the western bank of the Nile River, which in Egyptian mythology is the Land of the Dead...

  • The video game Assassin's Creed
    Assassin's Creed
    Assassin's Creed is an award-winning historical third person, stealth action-adventure video game developed by Ubisoft for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows. The bulk of the game takes place during the Third Crusade, with the plot revolving around a sect known as the Secret Order of...

    depicts an Assassin sanctuary very similar to Alamut, including a hilltop fortress with a garden, but situated in Masyaf
    Masyaf is a city in Syria, in the Hama Governorate, notable for its large medieval castle.It was used by Hashashins as their headquarters after the destruction of Alamut....

    , Syria
    Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

  • A fictional depiction of Alamut castle in the middle of the 13th century and its fall in 1256 is featured in the The Children of the Grail
    The Children of the Grail
    The Children of the Grail is a historical novel published in 1996 and a series based on it written by Peter Berling.*The Children of the Grail...

    books series by Peter Berling
    Peter Berling
    Peter Berling is a German actor and writer. He has worked on several occasions with director Werner Herzog, in his collaborations with actor Klaus Kinski....

  • In Umberto Eco
    Umberto Eco
    Umberto Eco Knight Grand Cross is an Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, literary critic, and novelist, best known for his novel The Name of the Rose , an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory...

    's novel Foucault's Pendulum
    Foucault's Pendulum
    Foucault's Pendulum is a novel by Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco. It was first published in 1988; the translation into English by William Weaver appeared a year later....

    , Alamut is described in detail towards the end of the novel.
  • A fictional depiction of the fall of the Alamut citadel is described on the book Bones of the Hills
    Bones of the Hills
    Bones of the Hills is the third book of the Conqueror series, based on the life of Mongol warlord Genghis by Conn Iggulden. It focuses mainly on the mongol invasion of Islamic Central Asia, the war against shah Muhammad II of Khwarezm and his son Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu and the brutal massacres...

    , from the Conqueror series written by Conn Iggulden
    Conn Iggulden
    Conn Iggulden is a British author who mainly writes historical fiction. He also co-authored The Dangerous Book for Boys.-Background:...

  • In the role-playing game
    Role-playing game
    A role-playing game is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making or character development...

    , Vampire: the Masquerade
    Vampire: The Masquerade
    Vampire: The Masquerade is a role-playing game. Created by Mark Rein·Hagen, it was the first of White Wolf Game Studio's World of Darkness role-playing games, based on the Storyteller System and centered around vampires in a modern gothic-punk world....

    , by White Wolf, Inc.
    White Wolf, Inc.
    White Wolf Publishing is an American gaming and book publisher. The company was founded in 1991 as a merger between Lion Rampant and White Wolf Magazine, and was initially led by Mark Rein·Hagen of the former and Steve and Stewart Wieck of the latter. Since White Wolf Publishing, Inc. merged with...

    , the clan Assamite used Alamut as its central headquarters.
  • Alamut is an art-house fragrance by Lorenzo Villoresi
    Lorenzo Villoresi
    Lorenzo Villoresi is a perfumer in Florence, Italy. His study and travel in the Middle East has greatly influenced his work and some of his most important fragrances are Orientals, exotic perfumes of spices, amber, incense, resins, vanilla, sandalwoods and other aromatics...

    , one of his many inspired by Middle Eastern locations and orientals.
  • Alamut is the city of Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton
    Gemma Arterton
    Gemma Arterton is an English actress. She played the eponymous protagonist in the BBC adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and starred in the feature films St Trinian's, the James Bond film Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Tamara...

    ) and the location of the Sands of Time in the 2010 movie Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
    Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (film)
    Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a 2010 sword-and-sorcery action film written by Jordan Mechner, Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, and Carlo Bernard; directed by Mike Newell; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer; and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures...

  • "Alamut" is the title and subject of a short story by Harold Lamb
    Harold Lamb
    Harold Albert Lamb was an American historian, screenwriter, short story writer, and novelist.Lamb was born in Alpine, New Jersey. He attended Columbia University, where his interest in the peoples and history of Asia began. Lamb's tutors at Columbia included Carl Van Doren andJohn Erskine. ...

     featuring the main character Khlit the Cossack
    Khlit the Cossack
    Khlit the Cossack is a literary character created by Harold Lamb for Adventure between 1917 and 1926.A wandering Cossack hero, Khlit defies conventional stereotypes: he is not a lover, nor is he youthful or flamboyant...

     and published in Adventure (magazine)
    Adventure (magazine)
    Adventure magazine was first published in November 1910 as a monthly pulp magazine. Adventure went on become one of the most profitable and critically acclaimed of all the American pulp magazines...

    in 1918.
  • On the occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan
    Aga Khan
    Aga Khan is the hereditary title of the Imam of the largest branch of the Ismā'īlī followers of the Shī‘a faith. They affirm the Imamat of the descendants of Ismail ibn Jafar, eldest son of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, while the larger Twelver branch of Shi`ism follows Ismail's younger brother Musa...

    's Golden Jubilee in 2007, Alamut International Theatre Company presented Ali to Karim (A2K): A Tribute to the Ismaili Imams directed by Hafiz Karmali.
  • Assad, the protagonist in Scott Oden
    Scott Oden
    Scott Oden is an American historical novelist. His settings run the gamut, from Late Period Egypt to the era of Alexander the Great to Medieval Cairo. His first book was the critically acclaimed Men of Bronze...

    's 2010 novel, The Lion of Cairo
    The Lion of Cairo
    The Lion of Cairo is a 2010 historical fantasy novel by Scott Oden, published by Thomas Dunne Books.- External links :*

    , is an assassin from Alamut.
  • In the multiplatform computer game Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
    Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
    Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars is a point-and-click adventure game released to the PC on November 5, 1996. It was released on the PlayStation in December that same year and on the Game Boy Advance March 19, 2002. It has also been ported to the Mobile phone, and re-released to the Wii, PC,...

    , Club Alamut is a dodgy bar the player can visit and meet people.
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