"a vivid account of the pernicious influence of secret societies under weak governments, and of the hideous abuse of religion"

Hammer-Purgstall, Joseph von. Die Geschichte der Assassinen aus morgenländischen Quellen.

Stuttgart & Tübingen, J. G. Cotta, 1818.

8vo. VIII, 341, (3) pp. Contemporary half calf with gilt spine and labels in red and black; covers and edges marbled.


First edition.

The first extensive history of the medieval Muslim sect of the Assassins, a radical group from whose name the English term for a political or religious killer is derived. A fanatical branch of the Ismaili Muslims who viewed themselves as martyrs, the Assassins specialised in political murder (usually carried out with a dagger), often conducted in broad daylight and in full view of the public, so as to instill terror in their foes. Contemporaries found it incomprehensible that they entirely accepted the fact of their own death as a consequence, as they made no attempt to escape and exposed themselves to the revenge of the victim's followers. Acting from a strong ideological conviction, the Assassins aimed to re-establish a theocracy, the basic Islamic order bequeathed by the Prophet, as they felt their contemporary world order to be usurped by tyrants. Most of their victims were Sunni Muslims, especially the Seljuk rulers of the 12th and 13 centuries.

For this history, Hammer-Purgstall draws from a wide variety of mainly oriental sources (Ibn Khaldun, Jihannuma, Abulfeda, Persian and Turkish chronicles, with a small number of western studies included), all of which he lists at the beginning, and ultimately compares the mediaeval sect to the modern fanatics of his own day, particularly the Jacobin party of the French Revolution. Among the goals which he wishes to have achieved with his book, he writes, is to have "given a vivid account of the pernicious influence of secret societies under weak governments, and of the hideous abuse of religion for purposes of committing atrocities of unscrupulous ambition and unfettered despotism".

Slight browning, but a good, finely bound copy. Provenance: from the Thun-Hohenstein library in Decín (Tetschen) with their armorial stamp "Tetschner Bibliothek" on the reverse of the title page. When the castle was requisitioned by the Czechoslovakian army in 1933, the library was transferred to Prague and dispersed to the trade.

Goedeke VII, 762, 47. Wurzbach VII, 274, I B 1. FRA 70 (1940), p. 572. Cf. Atabey 556; Blackmer 787 (English ed.).

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