The Destruction of the Assassins
After the death of Ogedei in 1241 the Mongols experienced a decade of infighting before a new leader, Mongke Khan, came to power. After stabilizing his empire following this period of disunity Mongke Khan looked to the west. A Caliph sat in Baghdad who possessed a competing claim to the loyalty of the Muslims in the Mongol Empire. Mongke charged his brother, Hulegu, with driving through the Middle East as far as Egypt in order to suppress this threat. Before they could challenge the Caliph, though, they would have to contend with an organization of Shia Muslims in Persia, the Assassins.
The Assassins maintained a network of fortifications in northern and eastern Persia, the most impressive of these being the castle at Alamut. They had become notorious for murdering prominent personalities who opposed their Isma’ili beliefs, so notorious in fact that they their name, Assassin, became synonymous with killer. When the Mongols began to press in on the region controlled by the Assassins they hatched a plot to send 400 men with daggers to murder Mongke Khan. The plot was betrayed, though, and Hulegu would bring his army to exact punishment.
In early 1256 Hulegu and his army crossed the Oxus river and into Persia with siege engineers, catapults, and Chinese gunpowder in tow. They made for the castle at Alamut, intent on striking the head off of the Assassin snake by taking the order’s leader Ruhk ad-Din. Still the castle, on top of a six thousand foot mountain near the Caspian Sea and surrounded by sheer cliffs, was considered by most to be impregnable. Undeterred, the Mongols dragged their catapults, along with large boulders to use as ammunition, up the mountainside. Ruhk ad-Din surrendered Alamut shortly after the catapults began to bring its walls down.
Having taken the Assassin bastion the Mongols proceeded to kill all of its inhabitants down to the women and children. They spared Ruhk ad-Din though, taking him prisoner. For the next two years the Mongols brought Ruhk ad-Din along as they subdued one Assassin fortress after another. As they approached each fortress the Mongols would trot out Ruhk ad-Din, demonstrating that they had already taken the leader of the entire order, and demand surrender. Some of the Assassin strongpoints gave in, others fought, but all eventually met the same fate as Alamut: annihilation.’