The Real History that Inspired Assassin’s Creed

So I, like you probably feel pretty powerless
these days. It’s as if we’re tiny players who can’t
make a dent against an overwhelming opposition to our goals. I imagine a lot of people feel this way from
time to time. But what does this have to do with Assassin’s
Creed? Well, it all fits into the story of a group
of people who lived in the middle east back in the middle ages. This organization, later immortalized in culture
as the Assassins, were the inspiration for the secret Assassin organization in Assassin’s
Creed. How many more times can I say assassin in
one paragraph? So, let’s talk about this small group of
Shi’ite Muslims who faced overwhelming enemies on all sides, and how they still managed to
take down powerful rulers, build a legendary reputation which echoes to today, and how
their example can show something a tad uplifting and constructive for social movements or even
in your life? I know it sounds like a stretch, but hang
on to find out how it all works. Assassin’ s Creed, a game which has long
enjoyed a prominent place on my unplayed Steam list, mostly because it’s a bad console
port, begins its long epic series documenting a highly fictionalized battle between the
Templars and the Assassins. This story, while not the globe-spanning espionage
war continuing today is rooted in one particular conflict during the ages of the Crusader Kings. No, not that Crusader Kings… Well, yes that Crusader Kings but in real
life. So, let’s go to the medieval Middle-East
and learn about who these Assassins really were. The word assassin comes from the Arabic term
word asaseen, which is the plural word for “people of principle”. There’s a longrunning myth it comes from
the word hashashin, which is a word for someone who smokes hashish. It was a myth I believed before I started
researching this video. See? I am learning alongside you! The Assassins were Shia Muslims, which says
a tonne about their position in society in the 11th century when they formed. Shiites belong a branch distinct from the
most populous form of Islam, the Sunnis. These sects have a tonne of doctrinal differences
and a history of division which results in unrest in the Islamic world to this date. To give it a fair shake, I would need to make
it its own video (WHICH YOU CAN SUGGEST BY GOING TO THIS WEBSITE) but to glaze over and
give the bare basics, they’re divided over a dispute over who was the right person to
succeed Muhammad. Was the caliph the religious ruler of the
Islamic world a religious title passed on through piety like a pope or something or
is it a rulership title which should pass down through Muhammad’s relatives? Sunni’s go the piety route, Shiites go the
legal route, and they tend to put a higher value on things like legal rulings and following
rules and legal decisions, BUT MOVING ON. In this period, authority was dominated by
Sunnis who to varying degrees wanted to destroy the Shiites. One movement within the Shiites was the Ismailis,
and within that movement was the Nizari Islamilis, which is the word the Assassins used for themselves. Not much survives about the founding of the
Assassins, but it seems to trace an origin to the year 1094 to northern Iran. They began as a cult formed around a powerful
charismatic leader named Hassan-i Sabbah Why he began the assassins is unknown, but
he was able to leverage his power as a popular celebrity within the Ismaili movement to gain
fanatic followers. The likely reason is he wanted to become a
powerful political leader in a world where so many were hostile to the Shiites. The Assassins were surrounded by enemies on
all sides. Not only did they face Sunni rulers who wanted
their order destroyed, but there was another new thing disrupting the politics of the region
[crusader kings clip] Yes, the European Crusaders were coming to
spread the peaceful word of Jesus at the tip of the spear. Among them, the special order of the Knight’s
Templar, who might be a good video subject of their own, and are surrounded by myth and
mystery. There are still more than a few conspiracy
theories about them, and so just enough vaguery to make it into Assassin’s Creed. The Assassins settled in a mountain fortress
in Alamut, which would today be in Iran. There, they began to train some of the deadliest
warriors in history. These were fanatics who would go on suicidal
missions, and fight using daggers. Often they would spend years infiltrating
orders to accomplish their goal, and were like medieval commandos. I can’t say for sure, but I’ll bet the
Fremen from Dune were inspired by this, and of course, their legendary prowess at infiltration
and murder led to the creation of the popular video game I’m ruthlessly milking for sweet
sweet search traffic. But hey, we’re learning something right? So Assassin’s Creed fans don’t judge me
too harshly. Anyway, we have lots of story to go. The Assassins were outgunned and outmanned.[clip
from hamilton] They wouldn’t be able, even with their badass commandos, take on the armies
of the vindictive Sunnis or smelly Crusaders. They needed to be clever, use their force
carefully, surgically, and only when it will move their cause forward. They wanted a Nizari Ismaili state. The Assassins were the masters of…. Assassination. Through murder and psychological warfare (read
terrorism) they were able to hold their own against a superior foe. I say terrorism, but they typically tried
to terrorize individuals through intimidation and seemed to have a distaste for indiscriminate
killing. Today, we call this method of fighting asymmetric
warfare. It’s why groups use terrorism at all; it
works. It led the Americans to victory over the British
in the American revolution… then ironically it led the Vietnamese to victory over the
Americans almost 2 centuries later. These weren’t fly by night assassinations
either. The Assassins killed their marks in broad
daylight, and made their escape, though likely not by jumping into a wagon full of hay. Yeah I know something about the games, I’m
not that out of tune. At their peak, the Assassins took down two
powerful Caliphs and even the soon to be Crusader King[CK2 music] of Jerusalem Conrad of Montferrat. Many tried to take down the Assassins, but
they managed to hold on to their defences for almost 2 centuries. They didn’t fall until the thing which took
down the entire Islamic golden age did… the Mongols.[Crash course clip.] However, their use of scare tactics and infamous
murders turned the Assassins into the stuff of legends. Stories spread around the Middle-East and
Europe about fanatic warriors who were masters of infiltration, disguise, and murder at daggerpoint. It’s this legend which inspired Ubisoft,
and countless other artists ranging all the way back to Dante. I mean, if the series wasn’t a dud this
would likely be the Know Your Fantasy video for the Rogue. It’s powerful stuff, and its what makes
games like Assassin’s Creed so fun. But I think there’s a lesson to learn from
them. In a world where we feel so overpowered by
forces, we have no control over, think of these people, and realize the rules we’re
supposed to follow when fighting typically were put in place to keep those overwhelming
forces in power. If you want to succeed despite the power imbalance,
you’ll have to be creative and unorthodox, strategic, and surgical. By the way, before this gets taken the wrong
way, I am in no way advocating murder and terrorism. Or am I? No I’m not… Or am–
Thanks to 12tone for the theme as well as Don and Kerry Johnson, Michael Kirschner,
Martin King, Scott Smith, Luis Eneas Guarita, Mary D’Onofrio, James McNeice, and Garrick
Kwan. Like, Share, Subscribe, step back.

Maurice Vega

36 Responses

  1. The history of the Islamic World is full of amazing stories. Watch a playlist on Islamic history here:

  2. where did the get food when they were in that "mountain fortress"? why couldn't one of their enemies just go there and siege it?

  3. I'm disappointed that you decided against the title "The real life Assassins who will make you say "Holy Shi'ite!""

  4. The SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) will be wanting to know what exactly is your relationship with Lady Glitterhoof.

  5. I feel like calling what they did "terrorism" is kind of misleading, given how the term is typically used. Yes, they struck fear into their enemies to forward political aims, but it wasn't the same generalized terror inflicted by modern day terrorists. They didn't, for example, slaughter civilians to create a general fear in the public, but rather publicly killed powerful individuals who directly threatened their sovereignty/oppressed shi'ites, in order to set an example for other powerful people as to why acting similarly would be a bad idea. To me, "Terrorism" implies a more general sense of destructiveness that the Nizari didn't really employ. If anything, they were less destructive than most actual armies, since they primarily killed the people giving orders, instead of slaughtering hundreds of soldiers on the battlefield to get their way.

  6. I miss the old Assassin's Creed. Everything went down the toilet after the 3rd installment. Awesome video, as always. I'll be waiting anxiously for that Templar Video. I remember fangirling when Jacques De Molay appeared in Assassin's Creed Unity. The Dante's Inferno game takes place around the same time as the first Assassin's Creed game. Imagine a battle between those Dante and Altair.

  7. I'd like to remark that the use of "terrorism" in this video is the more flexible one that could conceivably be deployed against anybody. Philosophy Tube briefly went over the more technical def in a video I can't find rn.

    In short, terrorism must concern targets who are only symbolically related to the crime. Wikipedia opens with a definition involving indiscriminate violence. Olly says "targets are fungible". Targeted assassination of strategically implicated personnel doesn't really meet that definition.

    The reason I care is I find the word "terrorism" is more often used as a cudgel against virtually all asymmetric tactics (even those that don't harm any person, for instance, in the '00s, the term "eco-terrorist" was deployed against indigenous people who physically disabled resource extraction infrastructure), which makes it more of a scare word than something which can coherently be said to refer to something bad.

  8. The ASMRtist The French Whisperer has an EXCELLENT video on the Knights Templar, as well as the Teutonic Knights.

    Check it out!

  9. The actual story of the hashashin is actually why I hate assassin's creed. Their story is an inherently religious one, The Shias were a religious minority who were hated both by other[mainly sunni] muslims & christians alike and the hashashin would do anything to protect their faith from those who wanted to keep them beaten down.

    on the other hand, the assassin's creed 'assassins' are just a generic hollywoodized secular humanist group out to fight "the ebil templar illuminati controlling everything"[and the templar themselves weren't even a neccesairly evil organization, maybe it's just because I'm catholic myself but fuck, they were like, mostly innocent]. The Assassins in the AC Games not only completely fail to aknowledge anything about history but also completely ignore the very religious side of their factions that were integral to their entire existance and the far better lesson their story teaches us of 'Stand up for yourself, no matter who is trying to take you down'.

    CK2's Version of The Hashashin is waaaay better tbh

    EDIT: Also I feel that calling the Hashashin 'terrorists' is rather dumb. They mostly killed people who directly threatened shiites and brought threat & "terror" to them in revenge for thinking they can basically commit religious genocide in a 'Don't fuck with us' way, modern terrorists are more 'I'm going to fucking murder your wife and kids who have no actual relation to my politics to to get you into our control'. that's definetly not what the Hashashin really was.

  10. i really like that we got to help you with this title
    because the video is way better and more important, but we helped spread it out to more people

  11. Fantastic video. Always admired your ability to tie in relevant current events with historical lessons and turn it into an easily understood video that still has great educational value πŸ‘

  12. Your Arabic needs work…
    I'm sorry if I sound harsh, but I can't help it.
    Anyway, great video. Keep it up!

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