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An agent of the Assassins (left, in white turban) fatally stabs Nizam al-Mulk, a Seljuk vizier, in 1092 AD. (14th-century AD manuscript) Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul (Public Domain)

History Of Assassins: When Human Hunter-Killers Began Hunting Humans

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For at least 200,000 years Homo sapiens were hunter-gatherer-fishers and at the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, they flipped from being the number one prey food on the planet to being the apex predator. One would expect that having dominated every animal on the planet, the global overlords would have evolved from their hyper-violent past, but this is not the case. Rather than working together as hunting teams trying to fell huge megafauna, since the dawn of ‘civilization’ about 3,000 years ago, history is replete with endless records of highly-trained factions of human hunter-killers.

Thuggees strangling a traveler on a highway in India in the early 19th century. ( Public Domain )

Assassins, and gangs of them, have appeared throughout history in many formats from inspired political activists to gold-hungry, cold-hearted killers. Killing their targets for a host of reasons, but most having a financial benefit, most of history's renowned specialized killers had deep political affiliations and military allegiances. What they all had in common was the practice of recruiting young members and brainwashing them into the ways of the skilled-murderer. In remote hilltop forts, new recruits were taught the arts of deceit and misdirection so as to become professional manhunters, and in some cases, womanhunters.

In the year 70 AD the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army during the First Jewish-Roman War by Francesco Hayez (1867) (Public Domain)

In the year 70 AD the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army during the First Jewish-Roman War by Francesco Hayez (1867) ( Public Domain )

Beware Of Crowds: The Sicarii Are On The Loose

The Sicarii were a splinter group of the Jewish Zealots who were active around 70 AD. The name Sicarii is the plural of the Latin ‘ Sicarius’ (dagger man) and it was because of the actions of these Jewish freedom fighters (assassins) that the term later became associated with assassins and murderers. The Sicarii began their reign of terror in Jerusalem under the leadership of Menahem, the grandson of Judah, a former Jewish dissident. Unlike most other groups of assassins before them, the Jewish Sicarii were overtly motivated by religion and politics with the prime goal of driving the Roman invaders and their Jewish collaborators from the lands of Judea. Achievement of this goal meant training new recruits on how to conduct various guerrilla operations against Roman convoys and legions in Judea, which differed from all of the other provinces to the east of the Roman Empire in that it never submitted to Roman rule.

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Ashley Cowie  is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history .   www.ashleycowie.com

Top Image : An agent of the Assassins (left, in white turban) fatally stabs Nizam al-Mulk, a Seljuk vizier, in 1092 AD. (14th-century AD manuscript) Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul ( Public Domain )

By: Ashley Cowie 

 

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