Where Did the Word “Assassin” Come From?

Chris Klick asks: Why is someone who murders a prominent person called an “assassin”. Where did this word “assassin” come from?

Ruins of the fortress at Alamut

The word “assassin” derives from a secretive murder cult in the 11th and 12th centuries called the “Hashishin”, meaning “hashish eaters”.  While much of the origin of this cult has been lost, the original leader was Hasan Ben Sabah, a prominent devotee of Isma’ili beliefs.  Hasan’s group was a cult of the Isma’ili sect of Muslims.

The name itself is from a possibly fabricated tale (perhaps fabricated by enemies of the Hashishin, as a way to explain how Sabah got his followers to be willing to be sent to their deaths so readily) that Hasan would have men kidnapped and brought to his strong hold.  There, they were drugged up with hashish and put into a hypnotic state.  After this trance-like state was induced, the men were offered sensual pleasures- beautiful handmaidens and harem girls and made to believe they were in heaven.

When they came out of the trance, they were sent out on gangland-type missions.  The men were told that if they attempted to kill prominent targets and things went sour, they would be given a quick return trip to paradise in order to make them fearless in their mission.

The name for these Isma’ili seems to have been given to them in a derogatory sense, not unlike similar terms today such as “pot heads”, “stoners”, “junky”, “crack head”, and the like.  Basically, it was a name given to them as a way to refer to them as “rabble”, “outcasts”, or “disreputable people”.

Beyond the legend, we know that this group of assassins had their main stronghold in Alamut (in northwestern Iran). At this stronghold, Sabah ran his secret society of assassins.  The order itself had five levels, the Grand Headmaster (originally Sabah); Greater Propagandists; Propagandists; Rafiqs; and Lasiqs.

The lowest order of the group, the Lasiqs, were the ones trained as assassins.  They were not just mindless people going around trying to kill people.  They were athletic individuals, highly trained in combat and the art of disguise, and generally extremely well educated and intelligent so that they could seem in place even among the elite of society among various cultures.

The general belief among this group was that killing a few top individuals was much more agreeable than fighting wars that cost so many thousands of lives.  The followers themselves are thought to have believed they were on a jihad, with Sabah holding the master plan for their holy war.  Whatever his true plan and motives, Sabah used his assassins liberally to murder various leaders and also took money for contract killings, supposedly so long as it fit with the master plan.

This group of killers became renowned and feared as expert assassins, seemingly able to penetrate anywhere at any time.  They didn’t just kill, but also extorted money using the threat of, “Pay up or we’ll send the Hashishin!”  They weren’t always just looking for money, though, they often influenced events by doing things such as leaving poisoned daggers in the floor next to beds of sleeping leaders with notes giving them instructions on what the Hashishin (or those who paid them) wished them to do, or else the next time the dagger would be planted in their breast, and things of this nature.  There are accounts of them even doing such things with guards posted outside of the sleeping chambers of leaders, yet the Hashishin still seemed to be able to get in and out undetected.

Despite their reputation as ruthless assassins, the group generally took special care not to harm anyone but their target in their killings, and particularly avoided killing commoners or other innocent bystanders-  hence the close association with only killing prominent people, which today the word “assassin” is so closely tied to.  You murder Joe Smith and you’ll just be called a murderer.

They finally met their match when it is thought they attempted to kill Möngke Khan.  The Mongols then set about sending their forces against the various Hashishin strongholds and they were finally defeated at Alamut in 1256, though later re-took it, only to lose it again.  While their strongholds were gone and the society more or less finished, members of the cult still operated somewhat independently for another century or so after the group as a whole was crushed.

The word “assassin” first popped up in English around the 16th century via French and Italian from this Arabic word “hashishin”, meaning “hashish eaters”, which at that point was the commonly accepted name of the legendary Isma’ili group of assassins which had long been wiped out.

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  • the word assasination comes from Hashashion which means the people that sell medical herbs ,not hashish eaters,hashish in its own meaning ,means erb,

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Cyrus: please provide references to back up the claim. Thanks!

      • I doubt he has one and simply heard a different story. Unfortunately, Persians (Iranians) and Arabs have been at it for a thousand years over various issues including religion. Hard to get an accurate story. In any case, the Mongolians finished them as a force. At the time, not a good idea to get the Mongolians pissed at you.

        • i don’t know what do you mean by bringing the mongols into the subject, but the mongolians kicked everyones ass, even when they reached middle europe, the west was lucky jenkhis khan died then.

          Back to the subject : i speak arabic and the word hashish means herb and it’s means weed too… so the article is true aboyt the hashashin. hashashins really existed and i guess that’s how the word assassin came from.

        • Anyone remember that Iran “Land of the Aryans” was neutral with Germany during WW2 and was invaded by allied forces for it and became a Muslim government after that time being reliable Iran “Land of the Muslims”…. Funny how there technique of brainwashing mirrors the pattern the Nazi operation Paperclip scientist used in programs like MK Ultra… Speaking of warring for thousands of years when has America not been at war and before that when has Europe not been taking over other people’s land…. think about it….

    • Harry McNicholas

      Yes and assassin came from it mean hash eater.

    • Hassan Bin Sabah existed historically the same about the use of hashish and other alucinogenics to create the Assassins Creed.
      Mant say that the name assassin comes from Hassan, and not related to the herb used hashish or any kind of other alucinogenic like peyote. Those herbs were grown worldwide.
      Used in Egipt 2000 BC
      And in ancient Greece
      Cicuta in a combination with other herbs were used by the vigins that were used in Delfi to reveal the future or times to go to war or avoid it.
      It of course known that Socrates drunk a poison made from Cicuta.
      Much of the knowledge about the medical uses of plants or roots were burnt when the Alexandria bibliotec was burned.

    • Not to mention the word originate from the Arabic language. I know in Iran they don’t speak Arabic. Also the word was been used way before Hasan’s murder in the Arabian army.

      On the contrary to what white history or fake news your reading it was a great tactics that was observed and used from the Suffi Army.

      That’s how the Ummah spread Islam all over the world. The Romans didn’t have the intellect and the capacity that the Islam reach, and it’s still being used today.

      So please if your going to write something worth while get your fact from all kinda of sources and not just from your isolated community.

      Best regards

  • i speak arabic..hachich literally means grass but but it can also be used to refer to drugs or drug plans ..hashishin can mean crackheads or herbal healers or herb merchants

    • Actually, the word Hashishin is used as a referral to those people. They were called Hashishin as they were using Hashish to benefit themselves by giving them to children so that they can do their own crimes which mainly was killing.
      thats why they were called Hashishin, then the word assassins was derived from Hashishin.

      • You could be right but also Arabic speaking people could be right. I still hold the believe that the leader fed the new people with hash. They may have smoked it though rather than consumed it.

        • Ever smoke hashish? It is derived from marijuana…which may cause a lot of feelings or emotions but never…at least the many people that i have seen under the influence of it…any type of violence or anger. No, I think if someone kidnapped men and gave them hashish, they would sleep, eat, laugh and want to have sex but not kill people. And for being able to sneak around…HAHAH! Righhhhttt!

    • In persian script refrences hashshin means medical herb dealers, its an arabic word. They benefited themself by cultivating and selling herbs in Iran and other regions like syria, they were’nt drug sellers. They’re a branch of shite muslims known as Esmaiilieh. Also its not a legend, its history , you can visit their fortress in Qazvin provine in Iran. Btw in persian the name pronounce assasioon.

  • as its our history i know that it is originaly called (persian, chars or bang) but why we call it hashishin? because in the past, people would’v gathered round and used to smoke the drug by a shisha pipe, in a way that you hear a sound like hash…so people would’v called them hash-shisha or hashishian. i’v seen some say its arabic or turkish! these dark days many people claim our history and culture for themselves, the assassins were good or bad they are an inseparable part of our history.

    • Hashashin in Arabic means حشاش
      letter ح
      Doesnt refer to H letter directly.
      H letter linked with هـ letter in Arabic.

      So you can’t connect the begining of the word Hashashin (Hash) as the sound yoy refer to.

      Hashish is the noun of Hashashin.
      And it literally means Grass.
      But when we say Hashash, it means a person who is drug addict.

      Hashashin group is basically their leader had control over drugs market. And m used religion to strengthen his control.

      He used religion to testify his followers to obey his orders with no questions asked. Then when this strategy succeeded he started to give Assassination orders.

      Hope it helps.

      • this is absolutely correct, i speak arabic as well and i have studied the assassins backstory for ages, i have even played all the games and watched all the movies just for extra measure, the explanation you have provided i true and all people should listen to this.

  • Hashash (حشاش) means someone who sells herbal remedies. Sort of a medicine man. Hassan Sabbah (حسن صباح) was a devout and pious Ismailite. He was also a fierce enemy of Seljukid. The stories about hashish consumption and beautiful women and being totally stones while on a mission were fabricated by Seljukid who just couldn’t subdue their enemy so they resorted to propaganda. The Hashashion (حشاشيون) sect lived a very strict life. Military training morning and religious studies and practice afternoons.

    Carrying out assassination missions required and still does require tremendous amount of discipline. It would be impossible for someone indulged in drugs, alcohol and women to have that kind of discipline.

  • That’s not true. They are very brave and smart their name came from smaeiliye not hashish they fight with grabs and Mongolian to save Persian culture.

  • I think you are all wrong.
    Their grand master Hassan-i Sabbah tended to call his disciples Asāsiyyūn, (أساسيون, meaning “people who are faithful to the foundation [of the faith]”), but some foreign travellers like Marco Polo misunderstood the name as deriving from the term hashish.
    The leader was often referred to as the ‘Old Man of the Mountain’ and the sect was mainly interested in setting right the wrongs of other Muslim tribes by taking out the leaders so as to avoid war and the death of many innocents. Contrary to popular belief they had little interaction with the Nights Templars, both kept away from each others business as the Assassins helped to defuse a lot of the warring Muslims and take the focus off of the crusaders. But on occassion they did come in conflict with the Templars and both sides took losses.

    • Howard, you are 100% right. Assassioon had nothing to do with the word Hash, the users of it, or the dealer of it. Assass, means fundamentals, and assassioon means fundamentalists. The word Assassin most definitely is derived from Assass (اساس).

  • Watch John Wick – Chapter 3: Parabellum and you will know where the word ‘assassin’ came from…

  • Very interesting information. Like most this g’s there is probably some truth to the origins of the word but the cult was real nonetheless.

  • Assas-sein translate to : essentials, fundemntalists, originals and it was thought that they have named themselves likewise because they were following the nizari faith or branch and they were delivering a massege that their faith is the right one

    The hash story was debunked since it was traced to a historian who lived way after the assassins ended

  • Assas-sein translate to : essentials, fundemntalists, originals and it was thought that they have named themselves likewise because they were following the nizari faith or branch and they were delivering a massege that their faith is the right one

    The hash story was debunked since it was traced to a historian who lived way after the assassins ended

  • John Paul Baptiste

    I first came across this “history” of the assassin’s reading the Illuminati Trilogy by Robert Sheath and Robert Anton Wilson excellent books from the 70’s.
    I know a lot of it is invented, but Robert Anton Wilson was heavily involved with the occult, and there is much fun madness and wisdom within the books.
    I often find I learn more from “novels” than text books.
    Glad I found this discussion, plenty food for thought. Is there one true answer or many?