Secret Societies of the Middle Ages - Thomas Keightly

A12. The Mongols

Hoolagoo sent against the Ismailites—Rukn-ed-deen submits—Capture of Alamoot—Destruction of the Library—Fate of Rukn-ed-deen—Massacre of the Ismailites—St. Louis and the Assassins—Mission for the Conversion of the People of Kuhistan—Conclusion.

Half a century had now elapsed since the voice of the Mongol seer on the banks of the Selinga had announced to the tribes of that race that he had seen in a vision the Great God sitting on his throne and giving sentence that Temujeen, one of their chiefs, should be Chingis Khan (Great Khan), and the obedient tribes had, under the leading of Temujeen, commenced that career of conquest which extended from the eastern extremity of Asia to the confines of Egypt and of Germany. At this time the chief power over the Mongols was in the hands of Mangoo, the grandson of Chingis, a prince advantageously made known to Europe by the long abode of the celebrated Venetian Marco Polo at his court. The Mongols had not yet invaded Persia, though they had, under Chingis himself, overthrown and stripped of his dominions the powerful sultan of Khaurism. It was however evident that that country could not long escape the fate of so many extensive and powerful states, and that a pretext would soon be found for pouring over it the hordes of the Mongols.

We are told, though it seems scarcely credible, that ambassadors came from the Khalif of Bagdad to Nevian, the Mongol general who commanded on the northern frontier of Persia, requiring safe conduct to the court of Mangoo. The object of their mission was to implore the great khan to send his invincible troops to destroy those pests of society the bands of the Ismailites. The prayer of the envoys of the successor of the Prophet was supported by the Judge of Casveen, who happened to be at that time at the court of Mangoo, where he appeared in a coat of mail, to secure himself, as he professed, from the daggers of the Assassins. The khan gave orders to assemble an army; his brother Hoolagoo was appointed to command it, and, as he was setting forth, Mangoo thus addressed him:—

"With heavy cavalry and a mighty host I send thee from Tooran to Iran, the land of mighty princes. It behoves thee now strictly to observe, both in great and in small things, the laws and regulations of Chinghis Khan, and to take possession of the countries from the Oxus to the Nile. Draw closer unto thee by favour and rewards the obedient and the submissive; tread the refractory and the rebellious, with their wives and children, into the dust of contempt and misery. When thou hast done with the Assassins begin the conquest of Irak. If the Khalif of Bagdad comes forward ready to serve thee, thou shalt do him no injury; if he refuses, let him share the fate of the rest."

The army of Hoolagoo was reinforced by a thousand families of Chinese firemen to manage the battering machines and fling the flaming naphtha, known in Europe under the name of Greek fire. He set forward in the month Ramazan of the 651st year of the Hejra (A.D. 1253). His march was so slow that he did not cross the Oxus till two years afterwards. On the farther bank of this river he took the diversion of lion-hunting, but the cold came on so intense that the greater part of his horses perished, and he was obliged to wait for the ensuing spring before he could advance. All the princes of the menaced countries sent embassies to the Mongol camp announcing their submission and obedience. The head-quarters of Hoolagoo were now in Khorassan, whence he sent envoys to Rukn-ed-deen, the Ismailite chief, requiring his submission. By the advice of the astronomer Nasir-ed-deen, who was his counsellor and minister, Rukn-ed-deen sent to Baissoor Noobeen, one of Hoolagoo's generals, who had advanced to Hamadan, declaring his obedience and his wish to live in peace with every one. The Mongol general recommended that, as Hoolagoo himself was approaching, Rukn-ed-deen should wait on him in person. After some delay, the latter agreed to send his brother Shahinshah, who accompanied the son of Baissoor to the quarters of the Mongol prince. Meantime Baissoor, by the orders of Hoolagoo, entered the Ismailite territory and drew near to Alamoot. The troops of the Assassins occupied a steep hill near that place. The Mongols attacked them, but were repelled each time they attempted the ascent. Being forced to give over the attack, they contented themselves with burning the houses and ravaging the country round.

When Shahinshah reached the camp of Hoolagoo and notified the submission of his brother, orders to the following effect were transmitted to the mountain-chief:—"Since Rukn-ed-deen has sent his brother unto us, we forgive him the offences of his father and his followers. He shall himself, as, during his short reign, he has been guilty of no crime, demolish his castles and come to us." Orders were sent at the same time to Baissoor to give over ravaging the district of Roodbar. Rukn-ed-deen began casting down some of the battlements of Alamoot, and at the same time sent to beg the delay of a year before appearing in the presence of Hoolagoo. But the orders of the Mongol were imperative; he was required to appear at once, and to commit the defence of his territory to the Mongol officer who was the bearer of Hoolagoo's commands. Rukn-ed-deen hesitated. He sent again to make excuses and ask more time; and, as a proof of his obedience, he directed the governors of Kuhistan and Kirdkoh to repair to the Mongol camp. The banners of Hoolagoo were now floating at the foot of Demavend, close to the Ismailite territory, and once more orders came to Maimoondees, where Rukn-ed-deen and his family had taken refuge:—"The Ruler of the World is now arrived at Demavend, and it is no longer time to delay. If Rukn-ed-deen wishes to wait a few days he may in the mean time send his son." The affrighted chief declared his readiness to send his son, but, at the persuasion of his women and advisers, instead of his own, he sent the son of a slave, who was of the same age, requesting that his brother might be restored to him. Hoolagoo was soon informed of the imposition, but disdained to notice it otherwise than by sending back the child, saying he was too young, and requiring that his elder brother, if he had one, should be sent in place of Shahinshah. He at the same time dismissed Shahinshah with these words:—"Tell thy brother to demolish Maimoondees and come to me; if he does not come, the eternal God knows the consequences."

The Mongol troops now covered all the hills and valleys, and Hoolagoo in person appeared before Maimoondees. The Assassins fought bravely, but Rukn-ed-deen had not spirit to hold out. He sent his other brother, his son, his vizir Nasir-ed-deen, and the principal persons of the society, bearing rich presents to the Mongol prince. Nasir-ed-deen was directed to magnify the strength of the Ismailite fortresses in order to gain good terms for his master; but, instead of so doing, he told Hoolagoo not to regard them, assuring him that the conjunction of the stars announced the downfall of the Ismailites, and that the sun of their power was hastening to its setting. It was agreed that the castle should be surrendered on condition of free egress. Rukn-ed-deen, his ministers, and his friends, entered the Mongol camp on the first day of the month Zoo-l-Kaadeh. His wealth was divided among the Mongol troops. Hoolagoo took compassion on himself, and spoke kindly to him, and treated him as his guest. Nasir-ed-deen became the vizir of the conqueror, who afterwards built for him the observatory of Meragha.

Mongol officers were now dispatched to all the castles of the Ismailites in Kuhistan, Roodbar, and even in Syria, with orders from Rukn-ed-deen to the governors to surrender or demolish them. The number of these strong castles was upwards of one hundred, of which there were forty demolished in Roodbar alone. Three of the strongest castles in this province, namely, Alamoot, Lamseer, and Kirdkoh, hesitated to submit, their governors replying to the summons that they would wait till Hoolagoo should appear in person before them. In a few days the Mongol prince and his captive were at the foot of Alamoot. Rukn-ed-deen was led under the walls, and he ordered the governor to surrender. His command was disregarded, and Hoolagoo, not to waste time, removed his camp to Lamseer, leaving a corps to blockade Alamoot. The people of Lamseer came forth immediately with their homage, and a few days afterwards envoys arrived from Alamoot entreating Rukn-ed-deen to intercede for the inhabitants with the brother of Mangoo. The conqueror was moderate; he allowed them free egress, and gave them three days to collect and remove their families and property. On the third day the Mongol troops received permission to enter and plunder the fortress. They rushed, eager for prey, into the hitherto invincible, now deserted, Vulture's Nest, and rifled it of all that remained in it. As they hurried through its subterrane recesses in search of treasure they frequently, to their amazement, found themselves immersed in honey, or swimming in wine; for there were large receptacles of wine, honey, and corn, hewn into the solid rock, the nature of which was such that, though, as we are told, they had been filled in the time of Hassan Sabah, the corn was perfectly sound, and the wine had not soured. This extraordinary circumstance was regarded by the Ismailites as a miracle wrought by that founder of their society.

When Alamoot fell into the hands of the Mongols Ata-Melek (King's-father) Jowainee, a celebrated vizir and historian, craved permission of Hoolagoo to inspect the celebrated library of that place, which had been founded by Hassan Sabah and increased by his successors, and to select from it such works as might be worthy of a place in that of the khan. The permission was readily granted, and he commenced his survey of the books. But Ata-Melek was too orthodox a Mussulman, or too lazy an examiner, to make the best use of his opportunity; for all he did was to take the short method of selecting the Koran and a few other books which he deemed of value out of the collection, and to commit the remainder, with all the philosophical instruments, to the flames, as being impious and heretical. All the archives of the society were thus destroyed, and our only source of information respecting its doctrines, regulations, and history, is derived from what Ata-Melek has related in his own history as the result of his search among the archives and books of the library of Alamoot, previous to his making an auto da fe of them.

The fate of the last of a dynasty, however worthless and insignificant his character may be, is always interesting from the circumstance alone of his being the last, and thus, as it were, embodying in himself the history of his predecessors. We shall therefore pause to relate the remainder of the story of the feeble Rukn-ed-deen.

When Hoolagoo, after the conclusion of his campaign against Roodbar, retired to Hamadan, where he had left his children, he took with him Rukn-ed-deen, whom he continued to treat with kindness. Here the Assassin prince became enamoured of a Mongol maiden of the very lowest class. He asked permission of Hoolagoo to espouse her, and, by the directions of that prince, the wedding was celebrated with great solemnity. He next craved to be sent to the court of Mangoo Khan. Hoolagoo, though surprised at this request, acceded to it also, and gave him a corps of Mongols as an escort. He at the same time directed him to order on his way the garrison of Kirdkoh, who still held out, to surrender, and demolish the fortress. Rukn-ed-deen, as he passed by Kirdkoh, did as directed, but sent at the same time a private message to the governor to hold out as long as possible. Arrived at Kara-Kooroom, the residence of the khan, he was not admitted to an audience, but the following message was delivered to him:—"Thus saith Mangoo: Since thou affectest to be obedient to us, wherefore has not the castle of Kirdkoh been delivered up? Go back, and demolish all the castles which remain; then mayest thou be partaker of the honour of viewing our imperial countenance." Rukn-ed-deen was obliged to return, and, soon after he had crossed the Oxus, his escort, making him dismount under pretext of an entertainment, ran him through with their swords.

Mangoo Khan was determined to exterminate the whole race of the Ismailites, and orders to that effect had already reached Hoolagoo, who was only waiting to execute them till Kirdkoh should have surrendered. As the garrison of that place continued obstinate, he no longer ventured to delay. Orders for indiscriminate massacre were issued, and 12,000 Ismailites soon fell as victims. The process was short; wherever a member of the society was met he was, without any trial, ordered to kneel down, and his head instantly rolled on the ground. Hoolagoo sent one of his vizirs to Casveen, where the family of Rukn-ed-deen were residing, and the whole of them were put to death, except two (females it is said), who were reserved to glut the vengeance of the princess Boolghan Khaloon, whose father Jagatai had perished by the daggers of the Assassins.

The siege of Kirdkoh was committed by Hoolagoo (who was now on his march to Bagdad to put an end to the empire of the khalifs) to the princes of Mazenderan and Ruyan. The castle held out for three years, and the siege was rendered remarkable by the following curious occurrence:—It was in the beginning of the spring when a poet named Koorbee of Ruyan came to the camp. He began to sing, in the dialect of Taberistan, a celebrated popular song of the spring, beginning with these lines:—

When the sun from the fish to the ram doth return, Spring's banner waves high on the breeze of the morn.

The song awoke in the minds of princes and soldiers the recollection of the vernal delights they had left behind them; an invincible longing after them seized the whole army; and, without reflecting on the consequences, they broke up the siege, and set forth to enjoy the season of flowers in the fragrant gardens of Mazenderan. Hoolagoo was greatly incensed when he heard of their conduct, and sent a body of troops against them, but forgave them on their making due apologies and submissions.

The Ismailite power in Persia was now completely at an end; the khalifat, whose destruction had been its great object, was also involved in its ruin, and the power of the Mongols established over the whole of Iran. The Mongol troops failed in their attempts on the Ismailite castles in Syria; but, at the end of fourteen years, what they could not effect was achieved by the great Beibars, the Circassian Mamlook sultan of Egypt, who reduced all the strongholds of the Assassins in the Syrian mountains, and extinguished their power in that region.

The last intercourse of the Assassins with the western Christians which we read of was that with St. Louis. William of Nangis relates—but the tale is evidently apocryphal—that in the year 1250 two of the Arsacidae were sent to France to murder that prince, who was then only twenty-two years of age. The Senex de Monte however repented, and sent others to warn the French monarch. These arriving in time, the former were discovered, on which the king loaded them all with presents, and dismissed them with rich gifts for their master.

Rejecting this idle legend, we may safely credit the account of Joinville, that in 1250, when St. Louis was residing at Acre, after his captivity in Egypt, he was waited on by an embassy from the Old Man of the Mountain, the object of which was to procure, through his means, a remission of the tribute which he paid to the Templars and the Hospitallers. As if to obviate the answer which might naturally be made, the ambassador said that his master considered that it would be quite useless to sacrifice the lives of his people by murdering the masters of these orders, as men as good as they would be immediately appointed to succeed them. It being then morning, the king desired them to return in the evening. When they appeared again, he had with him the masters of the Temple and the Hospital, who, on the propositions being repeated, declared them to be most extravagant, and assured the ambassadors that, were it not for the sacredness of their character, and their regard for the word of the king, they would fling them into the sea. They were directed to go back, and to bring within fifteen days a satisfactory letter to the king. They departed, and, returning at the appointed time, said to the king that their chief, as the highest mark of friendship, had sent him his own shirt and his gold ring. They also brought him draught and chess-boards, adorned with amber, an elephant and a giraffe (orafle) of crystal. The king, not to be outdone in generosity, sent an embassy to Massyat with presents of scarlet robes, gold cups, and silver vases, for the Ismailite chief.

Speculative tenets will continue and be propagated long after the sect or society which holds them may have lost all temporal influence and consideration. Accordingly, seventy years after the destruction of Alamoot, in the reign of Aboo-Zeid, the eighth successor of Hoolagoo, it was found that nearly all the people of Kuhistan were devoted to the Ismailite opinions. The monarch, who was an orthodox Soonnee, advised with the governor of the province, and it was resolved to send a mission, composed of learned and zealous divines, for the conversion of the heretics. At the head of the mission was placed the pious and orthodox sheikh Emad-ed-deen of Bokhara; the other members of it were the sheikh's two sons and four other learned ulemas (Doctors of law), in all seven persons. Full of enthusiasm and zeal for the good cause which they had in hand, the missionaries set forth. They arrived at Kain, the chief place of the province, and found with grief and indignation none of the ordinary testimonies of Moslem devotion. The mosks were in ruins, no morning or evening call to prayer was to be heard, no school or hospital was to be seen. Emad-ed-deen resolved to commence his mission by the solemn call to prayer. Adopting the precaution of arraying themselves in armour, he and his companions ascended the terrace of the castle, and all at once from its different sides shouted forth, "Say God is great! There is no god but God, and Mohammed is his prophet. Up to prayer; to good works!" The inhabitants, to whom these sounds were unusual and offensive, ran together, determined to bestow the crown of martyrdom on the missionaries; but these good men, whose zeal was of a prudent complexion, did not, though armed, abide the encounter. They took refuge in an aqueduct, where they concealed themselves till the people had dispersed, when they came forth once more, ascended the terrace, and gave the call to prayer. The people collected again, and again the missionaries sought their retreat. By perseverance, however, and the powerful support of the governor of the province, they gradually accustomed the ears of the people to the forms of orthodoxy. Many years afterwards sultan Shahrokh, the son of Timoor, resolved to send a commission to ascertain the state of religion in Kohistan. At the head of it he placed Jelalee of Kain, the grandson of Emad-ed-deen, a man of learning and talent and a distinguished writer. Jelalee deemed himself especially selected by heaven for this purpose, as his grandsire had headed the former mission, and the Prophet had appeared to himself in a dream, and given to him a broom to sweep the land, which he interpreted to be a commission to sweep away the impurity of infidelity out of the country. He therefore entered on his office with joy, and, after a peregrination of eleven months, reported favourably of the faith of the people of Kohistan, with the exception of some dervishes and others, who were addicted to Soofeeism.

At the present day, nearly six centuries after the destruction of the Ismailite power, the sect is still in existence both in Persia and in Syria. But, like that of the Anabaptists, it has lost its terrors, and the Ismailite doctrine is now merely one of the speculative heresies of Islam. The Syrian Ismailites dwell in eighteen villages around Massyat, and pay an annual sum of 16,500 piastres to the governor of Hama, who nominates their sheikh or emir. They are divided into two sects or parties, the Sooweidanee, so named from one of their former sheikhs, and the Khisrewee, so called on account of their great reverence for Khiser, the guardian of the Well of Life. They are all externally rigid observers of the precepts of Islam, but they are said to believe in the divinity of Ali, in the uncreated light as the origin of all things, and in the sheikh Rasheed-eddeen Sinan as the last representative of God upon earth.

The Persian Ismailites dwell chiefly in Roodbar, but they are to be met all over the east, and even appear as traders on the banks of the Ganges. Their imam, whose pedigree they trace up to Ismail, the son of Jaaffer-es-Sadik, resides, under the protection of the Shah of Persia, at the village of Khekh, in the district of Koom. As, according to their doctrine, he is an incarnate ray of the Divinity, they hold him in the utmost veneration, and make pilgrimages from the most distant places to obtain his blessing.

We have thus traced the origin, the growth, and the decline of this formidable society, only to be paralleled by that of the Jesuits in extent of power and unity of plan and purpose. Unlike this last, however, its object was purely evil, and its career was one of blood: it has therefore left no deeds to which its apologists might appeal in its defence. Its history, notwithstanding, will always form a curious and instructive chapter in that of the human race.