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What is Alamut?

People often ask me about the name of this site. When they do, I inevitably tell them the story of a mountain fortress situated in the barren wilderness of northwestern Persia and the community that lived there from the end of the 11th century to the middle of the 13th century (from 1090 AD to 1256 AD--a total of 166 years). The name of the fortress was Alamut. The community that lived there had embraced a school of philosophy that was thought by the rest of the world (at that time) as heretical and dangerous. Alamut posed a threat and many attempts were made to destroy it.

The special thing about Alamut, or so I tell people, was that it was able to maintain its culture and autonomy and hold off its powerful enemies by its clever use of 'information'. You could say that Alamut practiced a medieval form of 'information warfare'. The community developed a reputation of being able to secretly place its agents anywhere in the world. An agent of Alamut might become a trusted servant or friend of the Caliph or one of his ministers. The agent would be perfectly 'concealed' and happy for years. Until the order to strike arrived.

I've always liked this story as an example of one of the ways a small culture could maintain its autonomy and defend itself. Information alone does the trick, it does not matter whether or not it is true.

I've been using the term Alamut for the last four or five years. In 1995 in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, Jouke Kleerebezem and I made an artwork called Kiosk de Combat/Safe Haven where we created a small garden for a live baby lion and live baby lamb. In the garden was a large cardboard tower painted with the slogan (in Lithuanian and English):

If Heaven is on Earth, it is Here, it is Here!

This slogan typified the philosophy of Alamut, or what I thought it to be at the time.

Recently I've been wondering about how appropriate the name Alamut is for my web site. When I was younger I went through an period of being intensely interested in Islam and Sufi thought. That was twenty years ago. Now-a-days I don't much like Islam. In addition, it is quite certain that Alamut was never a 'Bastion of Peace and Information', it was more likely a 'Bastion of Blood and Secrecy'. Time and writers have turned it romantic.

Today typing 'Alamut' into a search engine returns a large number of hits--pages that have been created by modern magicians and role-players, Hasan-i Sabbah cultists, readers of Burroughs and TAZ anarchists. Alamut is part of late 20th century fringe culture.

And then I heard from my friend Arjen Mulder that he had written a text on the original Alamut for the 'Secret Agent' issue of Mediamatic. Which I still must read--but somehow anticipating his text started me off on my own research. This page and its satellites developed over the last few days are the product of that labor.

Reading the pages I'm surprised. I did not know for example about the connection between Alamut and the Aga Khan. But somehow it makes sense. I can feel there is a deeper connection (by displacement) between my genes (I'm Anglo-Indian), my upbringing as a Catholic in Canada, my familiarity with concealment and camouflage, my confusion, my cultural and political interests.

Alamut collapsed in 1256, exactly 700 years before I was born.

Paul Perry
the 20th of July 1998, Rotterdam

Document Index

The Assassins by Philip K. Hitti
A summary of the Assassins and Alamut. This particular page is widely distributed across the net. It may have been originally copied from Hitti's The Arabs, A Short History.

The Assassins by Hakim Bey
A poetic invocation of Alamut by Hakim Bey, anarchist author and theoretical alter-ego for a well known islamic scholar.

Alamut in literary & anarchist theory
Excerpts from a site created by a Brown University student, Steve Cook for a 'hypertext and literary theory class' that he took 1996. The URL of his complete site is:

The Secret Doctrines of the Assassins
A chrestomathy (a collection of quotes) over Alamut, the assassins and their secret doctrines assembled by Richard Shand. Shand maintains a large site which collates gnostic, kabbalistic and masonic teaching at:

The Theme of Paradise
A chrestomathy on the origins of the paradise gardens found in Christian and Islamic thought. There are several quotes from Burman's book on the assassins. Assembled by Richard Shand.

The Brethren of Sincerity
A few quotes (mainly from Burman) about this school of philosophy which appears to have influenced the assassins--assembled by Richard Shand.

Hasan-i Sabbah by Shaykh Muhammad lqbal
This is the only online biography that I've been able to find on the famous First Grand Master of Alamut. It is a rather partisan account by an Isma'ili 'Shaykh'--who denounces the allegation that Alamut housed a 'paradise' and that its inhabitants drank alcohol. Written in high subcontinent english (and slightly edited in order to take out the worse bumps).

Kiya Buzurg by Dr. A. M. Rajput
An Isma'ili biography of Kiya Buzurg, the commander of Lamasar who later became the Second Grand Master of Alamut.

Rashid al-Din Sinan by by Dr. Naseeh Ahmed Mirza
A well researched essay on Rashid al-Din Sinan, the leader of the Syrian assassins who was feared by the Crusaders as the 'Old Man of the Mountains'. It appears that Sinan (more than Hasan-i Sabbah) is responsible for the infamous reputation of the order in the western world.

Rashid al-Din Sinan on 'Qiyamat'
Two epistles attributed to Rashid al-Din Sinan concerning the 'Qiyamat' or 'Great Resurrection'.

Tarikh-e-Imamat by Al-Wa'ez Hasan Nazar Ali
Excerpts from the book Tarikh-e-Imamat or 'A Brief Historical Survey of our Holy Imams' by a Canadian Isma'ili. Simply written (for children?) the story is forced to contort itself at times to provide for the 'unbroken chain of succession' of the Imams from Ali to the present Aga Khan--the proof of which is of vital importance to the doctrine of the Agakhanis.

For this archive I've re-published the preface to Tarikh-e-Imamat and chapter 5 which covers the Alamut period. Make sure to watch Mowlana Ala Zikrihis-Salam (Hasan II)...

The complete book can be found at

The Mathematician al-Tusi
A page with a few quotes concerning the scholar/mathematician Nasir al-Din Tusi. Al-Tusi was apparently 'kidnapped' by the Isma'ilis and kept at Alamut. Legend has it that it was he who betrayed the defenses of Alamut to the Mongels. Isma'ilis call him a 'Sunni', Peter Lamborn Wilson describes him as a "Twelver" Shiite. Everyone agrees Tusi was an opportunist. Wilson goes on to say, "He was hired to write on Isma'ilism by the hierarchs of Alamut, but after the sect was nearly destroyed by the Mongels, Tusi hired out to them instead, like a true professional scientist of our own days."

Etymology of Assassin
A page debunking the myth that the term 'assassin' is derived from 'smoker of hashish'.

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This page was first created on --> 17/7/98; 7:35:39 CET
This page was last modified on --> 6/8/98; 7:58:19 CET

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