Alamut Castle

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Persecuted Sect Member Infiltrates Castle and Takes it Over

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On the run as a leader of a persecuted religious minority? Why not disguise yourself as a schoolteacher, infiltrate a castle, convince the guards to support you, eject the castle commander, and make the castle your defence against your persecutors?

Following his expulsion from Egypt over his support for Nizar ibn al-Mustansir, Hassan-i Sabbah found that his co-religionists, the Isma'ilis, were scattered throughout Persia, with a strong presence in the northern and eastern regions, particularly in Daylaman, Khorasan and Quhistan. ... Hasan too, was appalled by the political and economic oppression imposed by the Sunni Seljuq ruling class on Shi'i Muslims living across Iran. It was in this context that he embarked on a resistance movement against the Seljuqs, beginning with the search for a secure site from which to launch his revolt.

Hasan too, was appalled by the political and economic oppression imposed by the Sunni Seljuq ruling class on Shi'i Muslims living across Iran. It was in this context that he embarked on a resistance movement against the Seljuqs, beginning with the search for a secure site from which to launch his revolt.

In the summer of 1090 AD, Hassan set out from Qazvin towards Alamut on a mountainous route through Andej. He remained at Andej disguised as a schoolteacher named Dehkhoda until he was certain that a number of his supporters had settled directly below the castle in the village of Gazorkhan or had gained employment at the fortress itself. Still in disguise, Hassan made his way into the fortress, earning the trust and friendship of many of its soldiers. Careful not to attract the attention of the castle's Zaydi ‘Alid lord, Mahdi, Hassan began to attract prominent figures at Alamut to his mission. It has even been suggested that Mahdi's own deputy was a secret supporter of Hasan, waiting to demonstrate his loyalty on the day that Hasan would ultimately take the castle.

Earlier in the summer, Mahdi visited Qazvin, where he received strict orders from Nizam al-Mulk to find and arrest Hassan who was said to be hiding in the province of Daylaman. Upon his return to the Alamut fortress, Mahdi noticed several new servants and guards employed there. His deputy explained that illness had taken many of the castle's workers and it was fortunate that other labourers were found from the neighbouring villages. Worried about the associations of these workers, Mahdi ordered his deputy to arrest anyone with connections to the Ismailis.

Mahdi's suspicions were confirmed when Hassan finally approached the lord of the fortress, revealing his true identity and declared that the castle now belonged to him. Immediately, Mahdi called upon the guards to arrest and remove Hasasn from the castle, only to find them prepared to follow Hasan's every command. Astounded, he realized he had been tricked and was allowed to exit the castle freely.[1]:23 Before leaving however, Mahdi was given a draft of 3000 gold dinars as payment for the fortress, payable by a Seljuq officer in service to the Isma'ili cause named Ra’is Muzaffar who honoured the payment in full. The Alamut fortress was captured from Mahdi and therefore from Seljuq control by Hasan and his supporters without resorting to any violence.

No Picture Available The lamut castle was built by the Justanid ruler Wahsudan b. Marzuban, a follower of Zaydi Shi'ism, around 865 AD. During a hunting trip, he witnessed a soaring eagle perch down high on a rock.:29 Realizing the tactical advantage of this location, he chose the site for the construction of a fortress, which was called 'Aluh āmū[kh]t' likely meaning 'Eagle's Teaching' or 'Nest of Punishment'.:29 Alamut remained under Justanid control until the arrival of the Isma'ili chief da’i (missionary) Hasan-i Sabbah to the castle in 1090 AD, marking the start of the Alamut period in Nizari Isma'ili history.

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Alamut (Persian: الموت, meaning 'eagle's nest') is a ruined mountain fortress located in the Alamut region in the South Caspian province of Qazvin near the Masoudabad region in Iran, approximately 200km (130mi) from present-day Tehran.:23

In 1090 AD, Alamut Castle was seized as a mountain fortress under the leadership of Hassan-i Sabbah, and until 1256 it was the site of intense activity for the Assassins (a Shi'a Nizari Isma'ili group), functioning as the headquarters of the Nizari Isma'ili state, which included of a series of strategic strongholds scattered throughout Persia and Syria, with each stronghold being surrounded by huge swathes of hostile territory.

Alamut, which is the most famous of these strongholds, was thought impregnable to any military attack and was fabled for its heavenly gardens, library, and laboratories where philosophers, scientists, and theologians could debate in intellectual freedom.

The stronghold survived adversaries including the Seljuq and the Khwarezmian empires. In 1256, Rukn al-Din Khurshah surrendered the fortress to the invading Mongols, who dismantled it and destroyed its famous library holdings. Afterward, the castle was of only regional significance, passing through the hands of various local powers. Today, it lies in ruins, but because of its historical significance, it is being developed by the Iranian government as a tourist destination.

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The Alamut castle was built by the Justanid ruler Wahsudan b. Marzuban, a follower of Zaydi Shi'ism, around 865 AD. During a hunting trip, he witnessed a soaring eagle perch down high on a rock.:29 Realizing the tactical advantage of this location, he chose the site for the construction of a fortress, which was called 'Aluh āmū[kh]t' likely meaning 'Eagle's Teaching' or 'Nest of Punishment'.:29 Alamut remained under Justanid control until the arrival of the Isma'ili chief da’i (missionary) Hasan-i Sabbah to the castle in 1090 AD, marking the start of the Alamut period in Nizari Isma'ili history.

Following his expulsion from Egypt over his support for Nizar ibn al-Mustansir, Hassan-i Sabbah found that his co-religionists, the Isma'ilis, were scattered throughout Persia, with a strong presence in the northern and eastern regions, particularly in Daylaman, Khorasan and Quhistan The Ismailis and other occupied peoples of Iran held shared resentment for the ruling Seljuks, who had divided the country's farmland into iqtā’ (fiefs) and levied heavy taxes upon the citizens living therein. The Seljuq amirs (independent rulers) usually held full jurisdiction and control over the districts they administered.:126 Meanwhile, Persian artisans, craftsmen and lower classes grew increasingly dissatisfied with the Seljuq policies and heavy taxes.:126 Hasan too, was appalled by the political and economic oppression imposed by the Sunni Seljuq ruling class on Shi'i Muslims living across Iran/mark>:126 It was in this context that he embarked on a resistance movement against the Seljuqs, beginning with the search for a secure site from which to launch his revolt/mark>

By 1090 AD, the Seljuq vizier Nizam al-Mulk had already given orders for Hassan's arrest and therefore Hassan was living in hiding in the northern town of Qazvin, approximately 60km from the Alamut castle.:23 There, he made plans for the capture of the fortress, which was surrounded by a fertile valley whose inhabitants were mainly fellow Shi’i Muslims, the support of whom Hassan could easily gather for the revolt against the Seljuqs. The castle had never before been captured by military means and thus Hassan planned meticulously.:23 Meanwhile, he dispatched his reliable supporters to the Alamut valley to begin settlements around the castle.

In the summer of 1090 AD, Hassan set out from Qazvin towards Alamut on a mountainous route through Andej He remained at Andej disguised as a schoolteacher named Dehkhoda until he was certain that a number of his supporters had settled directly below the castle in the village of Gazorkhan or had gained employment at the fortress itself:23 Still in disguise, Hassan made his way into the fortress, earning the trust and friendship of many of its soldiers Careful not to attract the attention of the castle's Zaydi ‘Alid lord, Mahdi, Hassan began to attract prominent figures at Alamut to his mission It has even been suggested that Mahdi's own deputy was a secret supporter of Hasan, waiting to demonstrate his loyalty on the day that Hasan would ultimately take the castle:23

Earlier in the summer, Mahdi visited Qazvin, where he received strict orders from Nizam al-Mulk to find and arrest Hassan who was said to be hiding in the province of Daylaman Upon his return to the Alamut fortress, Mahdi noticed several new servants and guards employed there His deputy explained that illness had taken many of the castle's workers and it was fortunate that other labourers were found from the neighbouring villages Worried about the associations of these workers, Mahdi ordered his deputy to arrest anyone with connections to the Ismailis:22

Mahdi's suspicions were confirmed when Hassan finally approached the lord of the fortress, revealing his true identity and declared that the castle now belonged to him Immediately, Mahdi called upon the guards to arrest and remove Hasasn from the castle, only to find them prepared to follow Hasan's every command Astounded, he realized he had been tricked and was allowed to exit the castle freely:23 Before leaving however, Mahdi was given a draft of 3000 gold dinars as payment for the fortress, payable by a Seljuq officer in service to the Isma'ili cause named Ra’is Muzaffar who honoured the payment in full:23 The Alamut fortress was captured from Mahdi and therefore from Seljuq control by Hasan and his supporters without resorting to any violence:24

With Alamut now in his possession, Hassan swiftly embarked on a complete re-fortification of the complex. By enhancing the walls and structure of a series of storage facilities, the fortress was to act as a self-sustaining stronghold during major confrontations. The perimeters of the rooms were lined with limestone, so as to preserve provisions to be used in times of crisis. Indeed, when the Mongols invaded the fortress, Juwayni was astonished to see stored countless supplies in perfect condition to withstand a possible siege.:27 Recent work by Iranian archeologists at the northern gate of the fortress revealed two interconnected cellars, likely used as private spaces or for food storage.

Next, Hassan took on the task of irrigating the surrounding villages of the Alamut valley. The land at valley's floor was arable land, allowing for the cultivation of dry crops including barley, wheat and rice. In order to make available the maximum amount of cultivable land, the ground was terraced under Hassan's direction.:27 The sloping valley was broken up into step-like platforms upon which abundant food could be cultivated. In times of need the surrounding villages were well equipped to furnish the castle with ample supplies.

The construction of Alamut's famous library likely occurred after Hasan's fortification of the castle and its surrounding valley. With its astronomical instruments an...


Wikipedia Article
  • The rock of Alamut
  • Capture of the Alamut, 15th-century Persian miniature
  • Scaffolding by Iran's Cultural Heritage Organization.
  • The 26th Nizari Ismaili Imam Ala al-Din Muhammad depicted in The Travels of Marco Polo. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)
  • Siege of Alamut 1213–1214, depicted in the Jami' al-tawarikh by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Division Orientale.
  • View of Alamut Castle.
  • View from Alamut Castle.
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