Secret Societies of the Middle Ages - Thomas Keightly

A11. Death of Jellal-Ed-Deen

Character of Ala-ed-deen, his successor—The Sheikh Jemal-ed-deen—The Astronomer Nasir-ed-deen—The Vizir Sheref-al-Moolk—Death of Ala-ed-deen—Succession of Rukn-ed-deen, the last Sheikh-al-Jebal.

The reign of Jellal-ed-deen, which, unfortunately for the society, lasted but twelve years, was unstained by blood; and we see no reason to doubt the judgment of the oriental historians, who consider his faith in Islam as being sincere and pure. It was probably his virtue that caused his death, for his life, it was suspected, was terminated by poison administered by his own kindred. His son Ala-ed-deen (Eminence of Religion), who succeeded him, was but nine years old; but as, according to the maxims of the Ismailites, the visible representative of the imam was, to a certain extent, exempted from the ordinary imperfections of humanity, and his commands were to be regarded as those of him whose authority he bore, the young Ala-ed-deen was obeyed as implicitly as any of his predecessors. At his mandate the blood was shed of all among his relatives who were suspected of having participated in the murder of his father.

Ala-ed-deen proved to be a weak, inefficient ruler. His delight was in the breeding and tending of sheep, and he spent his days in the cotes among the herdsmen, while the affairs of the society were allowed to run into disorder. All the restraints imposed by his father were removed, and every one was left to do what was right in his own eyes. The weakness of this prince's intellect is ascribed to his having, in the fifth year of his reign, had himself most copiously bled without the knowledge of his physician, the consequence of which was an extreme degree of debility and a deep melancholy, which never afterwards left him. From that time no one could venture to offer him advice respecting either his health or the state of the affairs of the society, without being rewarded for it by the rack or by instant death. Everything was therefore kept concealed from him, and he had neither friend nor adviser.

Yet Ala-ed-deen was not without some estimable qualities. He had a respect and esteem for learning and learned men. For the sheikh Jemal-ed-deen Ghili, who dwelt at Casveen, he testified on all occasions the utmost reverence, and sent him annually 500 dinars to defray the expenses of his household. When the people of Casveen reproached the learned sheikh with living on the bounty of the Impious, he made answer, "The imams pronounce it lawful to execute the Ismailites, and to confiscate their goods; how much more lawful is it for a man to make use of their property and their money when they give them voluntarily!" Ala-ed-deen, who probably heard of the reproaches directed against his friend, sent to assure the people of Casveen that it was solely on account of the sheikh that he spared them, or else he would put the earth of Casveen into bags, hang the bags about the necks of the inhabitants, and bring them to Alamoot. The following instance of his respect for the sheikh is also related. A messenger coming with a letter to him from the sheikh was so imprudent as to deliver it to him when he was drunk. Ala-ed-deen ordered him to have a hundred blows of the bastinade, at the same time crying out to him, "O foolish and thoughtless man, to give me a letter from the sheikh at the time when I was drunk! Thou shouldest have waited till I was come out of the bath, and was come to my senses."

The celebrated astronomer Nasir-ed-deen (Victory of Religion) had also gained the consideration of Ala-ed-deen, who was anxious to enjoy the pleasure of his society. But the philosopher, who resided at Bokhara, testified little inclination to accept of the favour intended him. Ala-ed-deen therefore sent orders to the Dai-al-Kebir of Kuhistan to convey the uncourteous sage to Alamoot. As Nasir-ed-deen was one day recreating himself in the gardens about Bokhara, he found himself suddenly surrounded by some men, who, showing him a horse, directed him to mount, telling him he had nothing to fear if he conducted himself quietly. It was in vain that he argued and remonstrated; he was far on the road to Kuhistan, which was 600 miles distant, before his friends knew he was gone. The governor made every apology for what he had been obliged to do. The philosopher was sent on to Alamoot to be the companion of Ala-ed-deen, and it was while he was there that he wrote his great work called the Morals of Nasir (Akhlaak-Nasiree).

It was during the administration of Ala-ed-deen that the following event, so strongly illustrative of the modes of procedure of the Assassins, took place. The sultan Jellal-ed-deen, the last ruler of Khaurism, so well known for his heroic resistance to Chingis Khan, had appointed the emir Arkhan governor of Nishaboor, which bordered closely on the Ismailite territory of Kuhistan. Arkhan being obliged to attend the sultan, the deputy whom he left in his stead made several destructive incursions into Kuhistan, and laid waste the Ismailite districts of Teem and Kain. The Ismailites sent to demand satisfaction, but the only reply made to their complaints and menaces by the deputy-governor was one of those symbolical proceedings so common in the east. He came to receive the Ismailite envoy with his girdle stuck full of daggers, which he flung on the ground before him, to signify either his disregard for the daggers of the society, or to intimate that he could play at that game as well as they. The Ismailites were not, however, persons to be provoked with impunity, and shortly afterwards three Fedavees were despatched to Kunja, where Arkhan was residing at the court of the sultan. They watched till the emir came without the walls of the town, and then fell upon and murdered him. They then hastened to the house of Sheref-al-Moolk (Nobleness of the Realm), the vizir, and penetrated into his divan. Fortunately he was at that time engaged with the sultan, and they missed him; but they wounded severely one of his servants, and then, sallying forth, paraded the streets, proclaiming aloud that they were Assassins. They did not however escape the penalty of their temerity, for the people assembled and stoned them to death.

An envoy of the Ismailites, named Bedr-ed-deen (Full Moon of Religion) Ahmed, was meantime on his way to the court of the sultan. He stopped short on hearing what had occurred, and sent to the vizir to know whether he should go on or return. Sheref-al-Moolk, who feared to irritate the Assassins, directed him to continue his journey, and, when he was arrived, showed him every mark of honour. The object of Bedr-ed-deen's mission was to obtain satisfaction for the ravages committed on the Ismailite territory and the cession of the fortress of Damaghan. The vizir promised the former demand without a moment's hesitation, and he made as little difficulty with regard to the second. An instrument was drawn out assigning to the Ismailites the fortress which they craved, on condition of their remitting annually to the royal treasury the sum of 30,000 pieces of gold.

When this affair was arranged the sultan set out for Azerbeijan, and the Ismailite ambassador remained the guest of the vizir. One day, after a splendid banquet, when the wine, which they had been drinking in violation of the law, had mounted into their heads, the ambassador told the vizir, by way of confidence, that there were several Ismailites among the pages, grooms, guards, and other persons who were immediately about the sultan. The vizir, dismayed, and at the same time curious to know who these dangerous attendants were, besought the ambassador to point them out to him, giving him his napkin as a pledge that nothing evil should happen to them. Instantly, at a sign from the envoy, five of the persons who were attendants of the chamber stepped forth, avowing themselves to be concealed Assassins. "On such a day, and at such an hour," said one of them, an Indian, to the vizir, "I might have slain thee without being seen or punished; and, if I did not do so, it was only because I had no orders from my superiors." The vizir, timid by nature, and rendered still more so by the effects of the wine, stripped himself to his shirt, and, sitting down before the five Assassins, conjured them by their lives to spare him, protesting that he was as devotedly the slave of the sheikh Ala-ed-deen as of the sultan Jellal-ed-deen.

As soon as the sultan heard of the meanness and cowardice of his vizir, he sent a messenger to him with the keenest reproaches, and an order to burn alive the five Ismailites without an instant's delay. The vizir, though loth, was obliged to comply, and, in violation of his promise, the five chamberlains were cast on the flaming pyre, where they died exulting at being found worthy to suffer in the service of the great Sheikh-al-Jebal. The master of the pages was also put to death for having admitted Ismailites among them. The sultan then set out for Irak, leaving the vizir in Azerbeijan. While he was there an envoy arrived from Alamoot, who, on being admitted to an audience, thus spake, "Thou hast given five Ismailites to the flames; to redeem thy head, pay 10,000 pieces of gold for each of these unfortunate men." The vizir heaped honours on the envoy, and directed his secretary to draw out a deed in the usual forms, by which he bound himself to pay the Ismailites the annual sum of 10,000 pieces of gold, besides paying for them the 30,000 which went to the treasury of the sultan. Sheref-al-Moolk was then assured that he had nothing to apprehend.

The preceding very characteristic anecdote rests on good authority, for it is related by Aboo-'l-Fetah Nissavee, the vizir's secretary, in his life of sultan Jellal-ed-deen.

The astronomer Nasir-ed-deen was not the only involuntary captive of Alamoot. Ala-ed-deen sent once to Farsistan to the atabeg Mozaffer-ed-deen, to request that he would send him an able physician. Requests from Alamoot were not lightly to be disregarded, and the atabeg despatched the imam Beha-ed-deen, one of the most renowned physicians of the time, to the mountains of Jebal. The skill of the imam proved of great benefit to the prince, but when the physician applied for leave to return to his family he found that he was destined to pass the remainder of his days in Alamoot, unless he should outlive his patient.

The imam's release, however, was more speedy than he expected. Ala-ed-deen, who had several children, had nominated the eldest of them, Rukn-ed-deen (Support of Religion), while he was yet a child, to be his successor. As Rukn-ed-deen grew up the people began to hold him in equal respect with his father, and to consider his commands as equally binding on them. Ala-ed-deen took offence, and declared that he would give the succession to another of his children; but, as this directly contravened one of the Ismailite maxims, namely, that the first nomination was always the true one, it was little heeded. Rukn-ed-deen, in apprehension for his life, which his father threatened, retired to a strong castle to wait there the time when he should be called to the succession. Meantime the tyranny and caprice of Ala-ed-deen had given many of the principal persons about him cause to be apprehensive for their lives, and they resolved to anticipate him. There was a man at Alamoot named Hassan, a native of Mazenderan, who, though no Ismailite, was of a vile and profligate character. He was the object of the doating attachment of Ala-ed-deen, and consequently had free and constant access to him. Him they fixed upon as their agent, and they found no difficulty in gaining him. Ala-ed-deen, whose fondness for breeding and tending sheep had never diminished, had built for himself a wooden house close by his sheep-cotes, whither he was wont to retire, and where he indulged himself in all the excesses in which he delighted. Hassan of Mazenderan seized the moment when Ala-ed-deen was lying drunk in this house, and shot him through the neck with an arrow. Rukn-ed-deen, who is said to have been engaged in the conspiracy, assuming the part of the avenger of blood, the murderer and all his family were put to death, and their bodies committed to the flames; but this act of seeming justice did not free Rukn-ed-deen from suspicion, and the bitter reproaches of his mother were poured forth on him as a parricide.

The termination of the power of the Ismailites was now at hand. Rukn-ed-deen had hardly ascended the throne of his murdered father when he learned that an enemy was approaching against whom all attempts at resistance would be vain.