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Secret Societies of the Middle Ages

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Author Topic: Secret Societies of the Middle Ages  (Read 1860 times)
Trena Alloway
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Posts: 2386

« Reply #30 on: January 04, 2009, 11:04:39 pm »

p. 114

Sinan the Dai-al-Kebir of Syria--Offers to become a Christian--His Ambassador murdered by the Templars--Cardinal de Vitry's Account of the Assassins--Murder of the Marquis of Montferrat--Defence of King Richard.

THE person who had the chief direction of the affairs of the society in Syria in the time of Saladin was one of the most remarkable characters which appear in the history of the Assassins. His name was Rasheed-ed-deen (Orthodox in Religion) Sinan, the son of Suleiman of Basra. Like so many others of the impostors who have appeared from time to time in the east, he had the audacity to give himself out for an incarnation of the Divinity. No one ever saw him eat, drink, sleep, or even spit. His clothing was of coarse hair-cloth. From the rising to the setting of the sun he stood upon a lofty rock, preaching to the people, who received his words as those of a superior being. Unfortunately for his credit, his auditors at length discovered that he had a halt in his gait, caused by a wound which he received from a stone in the great earthquake of 1157. This did not accord with the popular idea of the perfection which should belong to the corporeal vehicle of Divinity. The credit of Sinan vanished at once, and those who had just been adoring the god now threatened to take the life of the impostor. Sinan lost not his self-possession; he calmly entreated them to be patient, descended from his rock, caused food to be brought, invited them to eat, and by the persuasive powers of his eloquence induced them to recognise

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him as their sole chief, and all unanimously swore obedience and fidelity to him.

The neglect of chronology by the oriental historians, or their European translators and followers, is frequently such that we are left in great uncertainty as to the exact time of particular events, and are thus unable to trace them to their real causes and occasions. The mention of the earthquake of 1157 would however seem to make it probable that it was about that time that Sinan put forward his claims to divinity; and as, at that very period, Hassan, the son of Keäh Mohammed, was giving himself out for the promised imam, we may suppose that it was his example which stimulated Sinan to his bold attempt at obtaining independent dominion over the Syrian branch of the Ismaïlites.

Sinan was, like Hassan, a man of considerable learning. His works are held in high estimation by the remains of the sect of the Ismaïlites still lingering among the mountains of Syria. These works, we are told, consist of a chaotic mixture of mutilated passages of the Gospel and the Koran, of contradictory articles of belief, of hymns, prayers, sermons, and regulations, which are unintelligible even to those who receive and venerate them.

The sacred books of the Christians formed, as we see, a part of the studies of the Sheikh of Massyat, and, as it would appear, he thought he might derive some advantage from his acquaintance with them. The religio-military society of the Knights of the Temple, whose history we shall soon have to record, had possessions in the neighbourhood of those of the Assassins, and their superior power had enabled them, at what time is uncertain, to render the latter tributary. The tribute was the annual sum of 2,000 ducats, and Sinan, to whom probably all religions were alike, and who had unbounded power over the

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minds of his people, conceived the idea of releasing himself from it by professing the same religion with his neighbours. He accordingly sent, in the year 1172, one of his most prudent and eloquent ministers on a secret embassy to Amalric King of Jerusalem, offering, in the name of himself and his people, to embrace the Christian religion, and receive the rite of baptism, provided the king would engage to make the Templars renounce the tribute of 2,000 ducats, and agree to live with them henceforward as good neighbours and friends and brethren. Overjoyed at the prospect of making converts of such importance, the king readily assented to the desires of the Ismaïlite chief, and he at the same time assured the Templars that their house should not be a loser, as he would pay them 2,000 ducats annually out of his treasury. The brethren of the Temple made no objection to the arrangement; and after the Ismaïlite ambassador had been detained and treated honourably for some days by the king, he set out on his return, accompanied by a guide and escort sent by the king to conduct him as far as the borders of the Ismaïlite territory. They passed in safety through the country of Tripolis, and were now in the vicinity of the first castles of the Ismaïlites, when suddenly some Templars rushed forth from an ambush, and murdered the ambassador. The Templars were commanded by a knight named Walter du Mesnil, a one-eyed, daring, wicked man, but who, on this occasion, it would appear, acted by the orders of his superiors, who probably did not consider the royal promise good security for the 2,000 ducats; for, when Amalric, filled with indignation at the base and perfidious action, assembled his barons at Sidon to deliberate on what should be done, and by their advice sent two of their number to Ado de St. Amand, the Master of the Temple, to demand satisfaction for the iniquitous

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deed, the master contented himself by saying that he had imposed a penance on brother Du. Mesnil, and had moreover directed him to proceed to Rome without delay, to know what farther the apostolic father would order him to do, and that, on this account he must, in the name of the pope, prohibit any violence against the aforesaid brother. The king, however, was not regardless of justice and of his own dignity. Shortly afterwards, when the master and several of the Templars were at Sidon, he assembled his council again, and, with their consent, sent and dragged Du Mesnil from the house of the Templars, and threw him into prison, where he would probably have expiated his crime but for the speedy death of the king. All hopes of the conversion of the Ismaïlites were now at an end.

It is on this occasion that the Archbishop of Tyre gives an account of what he had been able to learn respecting the Assassins. As what we have previously related of them has been exclusively drawn from eastern sources, it will not be useless to insert in this place the accounts of them given by the Cardinal de Vitry, who has followed and enlarged the sketch of the archbishop *.

"In the province of Phœnicia, near the borders of the Antaradensian town which is now called Tortosa, dwells a certain people, shut in on all sides by rocks and mountains, who have ten castles, very strong and impregnable, by reason of the narrow ways and inaccessible rocks, with their suburbs and the valleys, which are most fruitful in all species of fruits and corn, and most delightful for their amenity. The number of these men, who are called Assassins, is said to exceed 40,000 †. They set a captain over

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themselves, not by hereditary succession, but by the prerogative of merit, whom they call the Old Man (Veterem seu Senem), not so much on account of his advanced age as for his pre-eminence in prudence and dignity. The first and principal abbot of this unhappy religion of theirs, and the place where they had their origin and whence they came to Syria, is in the very remote parts of the east, near the city of Bagdad and the parts of the province of Persia. These people, who do not divide the hoof, nor make a difference between what is sacred and what is profane, believe that all obedience indifferently shown by them towards their superior is meritorious for eternal life. Hence they are bound to their master, whom they call the Old Man, with such a bond of subjection and obedience that there is nothing so difficult or so dangerous that they would fear to undertake, or which they would not perform with a cheerful mind and ardent will, at the command of their lord. The Old Man, their lord, causes boys of this people to be brought up in secret and delightful places, and having had them diligently trained and instructed in the different kinds of languages, sends them to various provinces with daggers, and orders them to slay the great men of the Christians, as well as of the Saracens, either because he is at enmity with them for some cause or other, or at the request of his friends, or even for the lucre of a large sum of money which has been given him, promising them, for the execution of this command, that they shall have far greater delights, and without end, in paradise, after death, than even those amidst which they had been reared. If they chance to die in this act of obedience they are regarded as martyrs by their companions, and being placed by that people among their saints, are held in the greatest reverence. Their parents are enriched with many gifts by the master, who is called the Old Man, and

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