Was the medieval order of Assassins a real thing? – National Geographic

Did a secretive order of assassins once covertly control the Middle East? It’s a tempting legend tailor-made for video games and Crusader-era chronicles. But the word “assassin” actually derives from a pejorative term for the Nizari Ismaili state, a secretive but short-lived group of medieval Shiite Muslims.

The Nizaris’ origins go back to the original schism in Islam in A.D. 632, when an argument over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad as imam, or leader, split the Muslim community into Shiites and Sunnis. Then, in the ninth century, another disagreement over leadership arose among Shiites. Followers of a leader named Ismail broke off into their own sect, the Ismailis.