Located in the fertile and well-fortified region of Elburz just south of the Caspian Sea, Alamut was a medieval fortress city inhabited by Nizari Ismaili Muslims. Upset with the Sunni Seljuk governance which dominated the Middle East in their day, Ismailis gradually migrated toward Persia, finding refuge with the Shiite rulers there. Some developed a policy of assassinating government officials with whom they did not agree. Nizari leader Hasan-i-Sabbah gained control of the fortress of Alamut in 1090. He used Alamut as a training ground for political assassins. These assassins killed many government officials, including the vizier of the Seljuk empire, Nizam al-Mulk.
For nearly two centuries, Alamut was an impregnable fortress of military power. Therefore, when the Mongols began their conquest of the Middle East, defeating Alamut was a definite priority. In fact, the Great Khan specifically instructed Hulegu, commander of the Mongol troops, to destroy Alamut. In 1256 Hulegu laid siege on Alamut, offering safe passage out of the city to anyone who surrendered. The Nizari Imam, leader of the fortress, stalled and offered instead the destruction of his many castles. Hulegu refused and the Imam finally had no choice but to surrender on the condition that Alamut’s inhabitants would live. He and his family were sent to the Mongol capital, but were killed en route. The citizens of Alamut, including Ismaili scholars, were murdered, in violation of the terms of surrender. The Mongols pillaged the city and destroyed many manuscripts from the great library, salvaging only a few.
After capturing Alamut, Hulegu and the Mongol army continued to capture and destroy other Nizari fortresses and Shiite strongholds, including the great city of Baghdad.
Today, the story of Alamut is quite popular in entertainment media. The fortress of assassins which remained autonomous and produced great scholarly works is an enticing tale. Several books have been written about Alamut, and there are even movies and video games based on the fortress.
The archaeological remains of the Alamut Fortress as it stands today.
This is a fictionalized portrayal of the Alamut fortress as seen in the popular video-game “The Prince of Persia.”