Masyaf Castle, the Seat of the Assassins

Masyaf Castle, the Seat of the Assassins

(Read the article on one page)

Fans of the popular video game series Assassin’s Creed would be familiar with the castle of Masyaf in Syria. In the series, the castle of Masyaf was the headquarters of the notorious Assassins, and this is not fiction - Masyaf was indeed once home to the much feared ancient order of assassins .

During the late 11th century, an order of Nizari Ismailies was formed in Persia and Syria by a man called Hassan-i Sabbah. These were the notorious Hashshashins who captured many mountain fortresses and posed a threat to Sunni Seljuk authority in Persia. Perhaps the Hashshashin, from which the name ‘assassins’ derives, were most famous for the way they got rid of their opponents – through highly-skilled assassinations.

Based on archaeological evidence, it has been suggested that the castle of Masyaf was built during the time of the Byzantines, constructed on top of a natural limestone hill that rose above the surrounding plain and village. This gave the castle a strategic position which allowed its occupants to oversee and control the region. The Assassins first occupied the castle in A.D. 1141 when they captured it from the Sanqur, who held it for the Banu Munqidh of Shayzar, one of the petty Islamic dynasties in the region during the 12 th century A.D.

The castle of Masyaf - Assassins

The castle of Masyaf as it stands today. Source: Wikipedia

The Assassins were notorious throughout the region for their efficiency at dispatching their enemies. This gave them a degree of political power that some of the bigger powers in the Middle East were not comfortable with. Thus, Masyaf became a target for those who were brave enough to make an attempt at breaking the power of the Assassins. This endeavour was undertaken by no less an illustrious character as Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty.

Saladin’s siege of the castle in 1176 A.D., however, ended in failure. According to legend, while Saladin was asleep beneath Masyaf, an Assassin managed to infiltrate his tent. Saladin awoke to catch a glimpse of this figure as he was leaving the tent. A poisoned cake or hot scones with a poisoned dagger were left on the side of Saladin’s bed. This pastry was accompanied by a note warning Saladin that he would be killed if he did not withdraw. Fearing for his life, Saladin chose to make peace with the Assassins.

‘Saladin the Great’

‘Saladin the Great’ by DanarArt

Nevertheless, the Assassins were not invincible. In 1260 A.D., Masyaf and three other Assassin fortresses surrendered to the invading Mongols. The Mongol victory was short-lived, however, as they were defeated by the Mamelukes at the Battle of ‘Ayn Jalut in the same year. Once the Mongols were expelled from Syria, the Assassins were back in control of Masyaf. Ten years later, the Mamelukes under their sultan, Baibars, took control of Masyaf. Whilst the Assassins eventually disbanded, the castle remained a part of the landscape.

In 2000, conservation work began on the castle of Masyaf. This project, completed in 2006, has consolidated and restored the crumbling structure. Moreover, it has provided us with a much better understanding of the Assassins when they occupied the castle. For instance, the project discovered a tunnel that is believed to have been a secret escape passage. In addition, a system of channels designed to carry rain water into cisterns beneath the castle was also uncovered. This is further evidence that the castle was designed to withstand long periods of enemy siege. Yet, the castle is not without its luxuries, as attested by the finding of a traditional bath house.

Tunnel inside Masyaf Castle

Tunnel inside Masyaf Castle. Image source: TripAdvisor

It may be worth pointing out that the castle of Masyaf does not exist as an isolated point in the landscape, but co-exists with the neighbouring old city of Masyaf. Thus, the conservators, who took into account the urban context of the castle, made an effort to conserve and enhance the old city, upgraded the markets and pedestrian areas and created more attractive facilities for tourists. By taking these measures, the local population would benefit from the tourism industry, and would probably work to preserve the castle, as they have a stake in it. Thus, by involving the local population, such ancient monuments may be protected for future generations to come.

Featured image: ‘Masyaf’ by Raphael-Lacoste

By Ḏḥwty


Atlas Obscura, 2014. Musyaf Castle. [Online]
Available at:

Perry, T., 2007. Secrets of Assassins' Fort Unearthed in Syria. [Online]
Available at:

Submissions, 2012. Historical Accuracy of Video Games: Assassin’s Creed’s Masyaf. [Online]
Available at:


Tsurugi's picture

Fascinating. I love the Assassin's Creed games, it's good to see old Masyaf getting fixed up. Involving the locals is brilliant, I hope it works. The problem is, there aren't a lot of tourists willing to go to Syria right now.

And you can thank the number one terrorist regime (USA) for that

Tsurugi's picture

No I'm pretty sure it's Islamic hardliners actually.

Well I believe there wouldn't be any or as many if America (and the West)
had stayed out of their countries and not raped murdered their women and children and and pillaged the natural resources

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Ancient Technology

Grinding stone, Dendera Temple, Egypt.
Most people know of the great construction achievements of the dynastic Egyptians such as the pyramids and temples of the Giza Plateau area as well as the Sphinx. Many books and videos show depictions of vast work forces hewing blocks of stone in the hot desert sun and carefully setting them into place.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article