The Travels of Marco Polo/Book 1/Chapter 25

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How the Old Man Came By His End[edit]

Now it came to pass, in the year of Christ's Incarnation, 1252, that Alaue, Lord of the Tartars of the Levant, heard tell of these great crimes of the Old Man, and resolved to make an end of him. So he took and sent one of his Barons with a great Army to that Castle, and they besieged it for three years, but they could not take it, so strong was it. And indeed if they had had food within it never would have been taken. But after being besieged those three years they ran short of victual, and were taken. The Old Man was put to death with all his men [and the Castle with its Garden of Paradise was levelled with the ground]. And since that time he has had no successor; and there was an end to all his villainies.[1]

Now let us go back to our journey.




  1. 1.0 1.1 The date in Pauthier is 1242; in the G. T. and in Ramusio 1262. Neither is right, nor certainly could Polo have meant the former.

    When Mangku Kaan, after his enthronement (1251), determined at a great Kurultai or Diet, on perfecting the Mongol conquests, he entrusted his brother Kublai with the completion of the subjugation of China and the adjacent countries, whilst his brother Hulaku received the command of the army destined for Persia and Syria. The complaints that came from the Mongol officers already in Persia determined him to commence with the reduction of the Ismailites, and Hulaku set out from Karakorum in February, 1254. He proceeded with great deliberation, and the Oxus was not crossed till January, 1256. But an army had been sent long in advance under "one of his Barons," Kitubuka Noyan, and in 1253 it was already actively engaged in besieging the Ismailite fortresses. In 1255, during the progress of the war, ALA'UDDIN MAHOMED, the reigning Prince of the Assassins (mentioned by Polo as Alaodin), was murdered at the instigation of his son Ruknuddin Khurshah, who succeeded to the authority. A year later (November, 1256) Ruknuddin surrendered to Hulaku. [Bretschneider (Med. Res. II. p. 109) says that Alamut was taken by Hulaku, 20th December, 1256.--H. C.] The fortresses given up, all well furnished with provisions and artillery engines, were 100 in number. Two of them, however, Lembeser and Girdkuh, refused to surrender. The former fell after a year; the latter is stated to have held out for twenty years-- actually, as it would seem, about fourteen, or till December, 1270. Ruknuddin was well treated by Hulaku, and despatched to the Court of the Kaan. The accounts of his death differ, but that most commonly alleged, according to Rashiduddin, is that Mangku Kaan was irritated at hearing of his approach, asking why his post-horses should be fagged to no purpose, and sent executioners to put Ruknuddin to death on the road. Alamut had been surrendered without any substantial resistance. Some survivors of the sect got hold of it again in 1275-1276, and held out for a time. The dominion was extinguished, but the sect remained, though scattered indeed and obscure. A very strange case that came before Sir Joseph Arnould in the High Court at Bombay in 1866 threw much new light on the survival of the Ismailis.

    Some centuries ago a Dai or Missionary of the Ismailis, named Sadruddin, made converts from the Hindu trading classes in Upper Sind. Under the name of Khojas the sect multiplied considerably in Sind, Kach'h, and Guzerat, whence they spread to Bombay and to Zanzibar. Their numbers in Western India are now probably not less than 50,000 to 60,000. Their doctrine, or at least the books which they revere, appear to embrace a strange jumble of Hindu notions with Mahomedan practices and Shiah mysticism, but the main characteristic endures of deep reverence, if not worship, of the person of their hereditary Imam. To his presence, when he resided in Persia, numbers of pilgrims used to betake themselves, and large remittances of what we may call Ismail's Pence were made to him. Abul Hassan, the last Imam but one of admitted lineal descent from the later Shaikhs of Alamut, and claiming (as they did) descent from the Imam Ismail and his great ancestor 'Ali Abu Talib, had considerable estates at Mehelati, between Kum and Hamadan, and at one time held the Government of Kerman. His son and successor, Shah Khalilullah, was killed in a brawl at Yezd in 1818. Fatteh 'Ali Shah, fearing Ismailite vengeance, caused the homicide to be severely punished, and conferred gifts and honours on the young Imam, Agha Khan, including the hand of one of his own daughters. In 1840 Agha Khan, who had raised a revolt at Kerman, had to escape from Persia. He took refuge in Sind, and eventually rendered good service both to General Nott at Kandahar and to Sir C. Napier in Sind, for which he receives a pension from our Government.

    For many years this genuine Heir and successor of the Viex de la Montaingne has had his headquarters at Bombay, where he devotes, or for a long time did devote, the large income that he receives from the faithful to the maintenance of a racing stable, being the chief patron and promoter of the Bombay Turf!

    A schism among the Khojas, owing apparently to the desire of part of the well-to-do Bombay community to sever themselves from the peculiarities of the sect and to set up as respectable Sunnis, led in 1866 to an action in the High Court, the object of which was to exclude Agha Khan from all rights over the Khojas, and to transfer the property of the community to the charge of Orthodox Mahomedans. To the elaborate addresses of Mr. Howard and Sir Joseph Arnould, on this most singular process before an English Court, I owe the preceding particulars. The judgment was entirely in favour of the Old Man of the Mountain.

    [Sir Bartle Frere writes of Agha Khan in 1875: "Like his ancestor, the Old One of Marco Polo's time, he keeps his court in grand and noble style. His sons, popularly known as 'The Persian Princes,' are active sportsmen, and age has not dulled the Agha's enjoyment of horse-racing. Some of the best blood of Arabia is always to be found in his stables. He spares no expense on his racers, and no prejudice of religion or race prevents his availing himself of the science and skill of an English trainer or jockey when the races come round. If tidings of war or threatened disturbance should arise from Central Asia or Persia, the Agha is always one of the first to hear of it, and seldom fails to pay a visit to the Governor or to some old friend high in office to hear the news and offer the services of a tried sword and an experienced leader to the Government which has so long secured him a quiet refuge for his old age." Agha Khan died in April, 1881, at the age of 81. He was succeeded by his son Agha Ali Shah, one of the members of the Legislative Council. (See The Homeward Mail, Overland Times of India, of 14th April, 1881.)]

    The Bohras of Western India are identified with the Imami-Ismailis in some books, and were so spoken of in the first edition of this work. This is, however, an error, originally due, it would seem, to Sir John Malcolm. The nature of their doctrine, indeed, seems to be very much alike, and the Bohras, like the Ismailis, attach a divine character to their Mullah or chief pontiff, and make a pilgrimage to his presence once in life. But the persons so reverenced are quite different; and the Bohras recognise all the 12 Imams of ordinary Shiahs. Their first appearance in India was early, the date which they assign being A.H. 532 (A.D. 1137-1138). Their chief seat was in Yemen, from which a large emigration to India took place on its conquest by the Turks in 1538. Ibn Batuta seems to have met with Bohras at Gandar, near Baroch, in 1342. (Voyages, IV. 58.)

    A Chinese account of the expedition of Hulaku will be found in Remusat's Nouveaux Melanges (I.), and in Pauthier's Introduction. (Q. R. 115-219, esp. 213; Ilch. vol. i.; J. A. S. B. VI. 842 seqq.) [A new and complete translation has been given by Dr. E. Bretschneider, Med. Res. I. 112 seqq.--H. C.]

    There is some account of the rock of Alamut and its exceedingly slender traces of occupancy, by Colonel Monteith, in J. R. G. S. III. 15, and again by Sir Justin Sheil in vol. viii. p. 431. There does not seem to be any specific authority for assigning the Paradise of the Shaikh to Alamut; and it is at least worthy of note that another of the castles of the Mulahidah, destroyed by Hulaku, was called Firdus, i.e. Paradise. In any case, I see no reason to suppose that Polo visited Alamut, which would have been quite out of the road that he is following.

    It is possible that "the Castle," to which he alludes at the beginning of next chapter, and which set him off upon this digression, was Girdkuh. It has not, as far as I know, been identified by modern travellers, but it stood within 10 or 12 miles of Damghan (to the west or north-west). It is probably the Tigado of Hayton, of which he thus speaks: "The Assassins had an impregnable castle called Tigado, which was furnished with all necessaries, and was so strong that it had no fear of attack on any side. Howbeit, Halooen commanded a certain captain of his that he should take 10,000 Tartars who had been left in garrison in Persia, and with them lay siege to the said castle, and not leave it till he had taken it. Wherefore the said Tartars continued besieging it for seven whole years, winter and summer, without being able to take it. At last the Assassins surrendered, from sheer want of clothing, but not of victuals or other necessaries." So Ramusio; other copies read "27 years." In any case it corroborates the fact that Girdkuh was said to have held out for an extraordinary length of time. If Rashiduddin is right in naming 1270 as the date of surrender, this would be quite a recent event when the Polo party passed, and draw special attention to the spot. (J. As. ser. IV. tom. xiii. 48; Ilch. I. 93, 104, 274; Q. R. p. 278; Ritter, VIII. 336.) A note which I have from Djihan Numa (I. 259) connects Girdkuh with a district called Chinar. This may be a clue to the term Arbre Sec; but there are difficulties.