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Rashid ad-Din Sinan

Rashid ad-Din Sinan
Born 1131/1135
Basra, Iraq
Died 1192 (aged 57-61)
Masyaf, Syria
Known for Leader of the Ismaili religious sect, important figure in the Third Crusade

Rashīd ad-Dīn Sinān (Arabic: رشيد الدين سنان‎), also known as the Old Man of the Mountain (1132/1135-1192), was a leader of the Ismaili religious sect (Nizari branch) in Syria, and a figure in the history of the Crusades. Latin sources from the Crusader states call him Vetulus de Montanis, derived from the Arabic title Shaykh al Jabal (شيخ الجبل), which means "wise man or elder of the mountain".


Rashid ad-Din Sinan was born in Basra, Iraq between the years 1132 and 1135. According to his autobiography, of which only fragments survive, Rashid came to Alamut, the centre of the Hashshashins, as a youth and received the typical Hashshashin training. In 1162, the sect's leader Ḥassan ʿAlā Dhikrihi's Salām sent him to Syria, where he proclaimed Qiyamah, which in Nizari terminology meant the time of the Qa'im and the removal of Islamic law. Based on the Nizari stronghold Masyaf, he controlled the northern Syrian districts of Jabal as-Summaq, Maarrat Misrin and Sarmin.

Rashid ad-Din Sinan, the Grand Master of the Assassins at Masyaf, successfully convinced Saladin not to assault the realms of their sect

His chief enemy, the Sultan Saladin (1137/1138 – 1193), ruled over Egypt and Syria from 1174 to 1193. Saladin managed twice to elude assassination attempts ordered by Rashid and as he was marching against Aleppo, Saladin devastated the Nizari possessions. In 1176 Saladin laid siege to Masyaf but he lifted the siege after two notable events that reputedly transpired between him and the Old Man of the Mountain. According to one version, one night, Saladin's guards noticed a spark glowing down the hill of Masyaf and then vanishing among the Ayyubid tents. Presently, Saladin awoke from his sleep to find a figure leaving the tent. He then saw that the lamps were displaced and beside his bed laid hot scones of the shape peculiar to the Assassins with a note at the top pinned by a poisoned dagger. The note threatened that he would be killed if he didn't withdraw from his assault. Saladin gave a loud cry, exclaiming that Sinan himself was the figure that left the tent. As such, Saladin told his guards to come to an agreement with Sinan. Realizing he was unable to subdue the Assassins, he sought to align himself with them, consequently depriving the Crusaders of aligning themselves against him.

Rashid's last notable act occurred in 1191, when he ordered the assassination of the newly elected King of Jerusalem Conrad of Montferrat. Whether this happened in coordination with King Richard I of England or with Saladin remains unknown.

Rashid enjoyed considerable independence from the Nizari centre in Alamut and some writings attribute him with a semi-divine status.

He died in 1192 in Al-Kahf Castle in Masyaf, Syria.[1] He was succeeded by men appointed from Alamut, which regained a closer supervision over Masyaf.

Appearances in fiction

Umberto Eco's novel The Prague Cemetery briefly mentions Rashid ad-Din Sinan as "the infamous Old Man of the Mountain".[2]


  1. ^ Willey, Peter (2005), Eagle's Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria, Institute of Ismaili Studies, I.B.Tauris, p. 234, ISBN 978-1-85043-464-1 
  2. ^ Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery (Boston and New York 2011), 55.


  • Halm, Heinz, Die Schia, Darmstadt 1988, pp. 228f.
  • Runciman, Steven: A history of the Crusades Volume 2: The kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East pp. 410