In my fantasy series, The Queen’s Blade, the assassin Blade is a member of an assassins’ guild. It’s the stuff of fiction, right? Wrong.
Between 1090 and 1273, the Order of Assassins was a very real entity in the Middle East. The order’s few members were Shiite Muslims who were considered heretics by not only the Sunni Muslims, but also other Shiites. Due to the efforts of the leader, Hasan-i Sabbah, by the end of the 11th century the order had become one of the deadliest terrorist groups in today’s recorded history.
The Order of Assassins’ members often spent months or years following or infiltrating the targets, who they considered political or religious enemies. The killings were up close and personal, mostly in public places such as mosques. One ‘infiltrated’ assassination was that of Conrad of Montferrat, who was to be the Kingdom of Acre’s next ruler. In 1192, two assassins who were posing as Christian Arab monks killed him.
The assassins never killed innocents like today’s terrorists, only targeting prominent figures. They never tried to flee the scene either, apparently not fearing death.
By the middle of the 12th century, Sunni leaders left the Order of Assassins alone, realising it wasn’t good for their longevity.
Ultimately, the invading Mongols, under the rule of Genghis Khan, destroyed the Order of Assassins to guarantee their own safety after hearing of the order’s reputation.
The above illustration depicts an Order of Assassins member (left) stabbing Nizam al-Mulk, a Seljuk vizier. (Source: wikimedia.org; originally from a 14th century manuscript)