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Libelling the Assassins

This morning on Today the eminent historian Antony Beevor was commenting on the recent revelation that Hitler was under the influence of drugs towards the end of the war. He mentioned other examples of the use of drugs in a military connection, including the mediaeval Iranian sect of the Assassins.

This was an off-the-cuff remark, of course, but it is based on a widespread misapprehension. The term hashishin, from which our word Assassin probably derives, was not used by members of the sect themselves but was a nickname applied by their enemies; even so, it was not in common use. The usual names for the Assassins were esotericists (batinis), Ismailis, or Nizaris. In any case, the idea that the members of the sect carried out their 'assassinations' under the influence of drugs hardly accords with their famed cunning, patience, knowledge of languages and so forth.

On all this, see MGS Hodgson, The Order of Assassins: The Struggle of the Early Nizari Isma'ilis Against the Islamic World (The Hague, 1955), and also my book The Assassins of Alamut.

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