Assassin Master

by James Wasserman

Coming Spring 2021 from

Ibis Press


Hasan-i-Sabah (Hassan-i-Sabbah / Hasan ibn Sabbah / Hasan Sabbah / Hassan as-Sabbah) has been idolized as a true man of God, an accomplished spiritual teacher, a revolutionary religious genius, and a brilliant political organizer. He has been conversely despised as a heretic, a murderer, and a cynical manipulator.

He.was born in  northern Persia around the year 1050 and died in 1124. He was an Ismaili missionary (or dai) who founded the Nizari Ismailis after the usurpation of the Fatimid Imamate by the military dictator of Egypt. Today, under the leadership of the Aga Khan, the Nizari Ismailis are one of the pre-eminent Muslim sects in the world, numbering some twenty million members in twenty-five different countries.

It may be said that Hasan-i-Sabah founded and operated the world’s most successful mystical secret society, while building a political territory in which to maintain his independence. In 1090, Hasan secured the mountain fortress of Alamut (the Eagle’s Teaching) in the Elburz Mountains along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. The community would survive and often flourish against the two most powerful dynasties of the Islamic world of their day: the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad and the Seljuk Sultanate in Persia. 

The small empire he created would be home to him, his followers, and their descendants for 166 years. Hasan sent missionaries to extend the teachings of his sect to Syria, India, and Afghanistan.

The medieval Nizaris were also known as Assassins or Hashishim. They were embedded in European consciousness because of their contact with the Knights Templar, and other Crusaders and visitors to the Near East. Several Europeans reported back with strange (and largely false) tales of the Assassins. In the fourteenth century, they were widely popularized by the famed Venetian traveler and writer Marco Polo in The Travels of Marco Polo. He added a whole new level of myth in his account of the sect. It is included in this volume along with extensive ccmmentary.

This book will first spend time exploring the Mesopotamian and Persian milieu out of which Hasan and his community arose. It will next explore some extremely important developmental issues in the growth of Islam, including some of the outer fringes of orthodoxy.

This publication includes the first English translation of Hasan’s biography, the Sar-Guzasht-i-Sayyidna (The Biography of our Master) as transcribed by Rashid al-Din, the fourteenth century Persian historian who worked from original source materials written at Alamut during Hasan’s lifetime. Rashid al-Din’s version is more complete and far less hostile than that published a generation earlier by Ata-Malik Juvaini.

James Wasserman is the author of The Templars and the Assassins: The Militia of Heaven; An Illustrated History of the Knights Templar; Templar Heresy: A Tale of Gnostic Illumination; and The Temple of Solomon: From Ancient Israel to Secret Societies.


Table of Contents


A Bibliographic Note

Part One: Historical Background

  1. A Brief History of Mesopotamia
  2. A Brief History of Persia
  3. A Brief History of the Development of Islam

Part Two: The Life of Hasan-i-Sabah

  1. Earliest Youth
  2. Hasan’s Conversion to Ismailism
  3. Hasan’s Purported Service in the Seljuk Court
  4. Hasan’s Travels
  5. Alamut
  6. Letter Exchange with Malikshah
  7. Expansion of the Dawa and the Early Seljuk Campaign against Alamut
  8. The Founding of the Nizari Ismaili Faith
  9. Military Campaigns and Territorial Acquisitions after the Death of Malikshah
  10. The Mission to Syria
  11. The Technique of Assassination
  12. Life Among the Medieval Ismailis
  13. The Death of Hasan and the Continuation of the Nizari State
  14. The Nizari Faith after Alamut

Part Three: The Gnosis of Hasan-i-Sabah

  1. The Doctrine of Talim or Authoritative Teaching
  2. Sufism and the Qiyama
  3. Hashish and the Derivation of the Word “Assassin”
  4. The Degrees of Initiation


  1. Marco Polo’s Medieval Legend of the Garden of Delights
  2. The Biography of Our Master (Sar-Guzasht-i-Sayiddna) by Rashid al-Din
  3. Purported Letter Exchange between Hasan-i-Sabah and Sultan Malikshah
  4. Timeline
  5. Glossary of Names
  6. Glossary of Terms



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