|This article is about the siege of 1176. You may be looking for the attack of 1191 or siege of 1257.|
- "Yes. Salah Al'din's army. He came to lay siege to Masyaf, to defeat the Assassins. Eighty years ago, a bright day in August. A day very much like today..."
- ―Niccolò Polo to his brother Maffeo, 1256[src]
The Siege of Masyaf was an invasion of Masyaf, the stronghold of the Assassins under command of Al Mualim, conducted by the Saracen armies of Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria in the August of 1176. Though conceived as a siege, the attack lasted only a couple of days, as Saladin was intimidated into retreat after the Assassins proved with Umar Ibn-La'Ahad that a lone agent could easily kill him in his sleep at their discretion no matter his defences.
- "Do we wish to find ourselves at their mercy? Do we wish to find ourselves unwilling allies against the sultan? We are the Assassins, Faheem. Our intent is our own. We belong to no one."
- ―Al Mualim to his Master Assassins, 1176[src]
Prior to the invasion of Masyaf, Sultan Saladin of Egypt had recently conquered almost the entirety of the Levant, assuming the title Sultan of Egypt and Syria as a consequence. During this campaign from 1174 to 1176, he and his forces were at odds with the Assassins. Following two failed attempts on his life, the Saracen warlord was unwilling to allow another and so brought together a force of 10,000 Saracen warriors to descend upon the fortress of Masyaf, one of the nine Assassin citadels in the An-Nusayriyah Mountains.
Saladin's uncle, Shihab Al'din, taking part in the campaign, attempted to convince his nephew to ally himself with the Assassins, believing that this was wiser than having the Order against them. The Sultan, however, was too infuriated by the assassination attempts to be shaken from his resolve, determined to exact retribution and kill the Assassin leader Al Mualim.
Arriving before Masyaf, the Saracen army refrained from pillaging the village before the citadel while most of the villagers had already withdrawn into the fortress for refuge. Camp was established, but no words were exchanged between the two belligerents; the Saracens merely began the construction of siege engines for the assault the following day.
In the meantime, Al Mualim called a conference with all his Master Assassins to discuss how best to handle the situation. While Faheem Al-Sayf pushed for Saladin's assassination, asserting that in the wake of his death the Saracen army would collapse, Al Mualim was skeptical of this course, predicting that Shihab would simply take his place. Faheem countered that Shihab lacked the capabilities of Saladin anyways, yet Al Mualim maintained they needed the Saracens to be strong enough to resist the Crusaders and therefore decided on a more subtle approach than assassination.
Battle of Masyaf
The morning after the Saracens first arrived at Masyaf, they launched what would be their only attack of the campaign. Having completed at least one ram and one siege tower, they pushed these up the slope to the fortress gate and commenced their assault. Archers on both sides traded arrows while the defenders poured burning oil and dropped rocks on the besiegers from their towers. The villagers taking refuge in the fortress were not idle, and many of them contributed to the defence in whatever way they could, pelting rocks and dousing any fires that alighted. Whenever Saracen soldiers attempted to set fire to the wicket gates for entry, Assassins sortied out to repel them. The battle continued all throughout the day, but by evening, the Saracens had been repulsed and retreated to their camp to repair their siege engines and construct more.
That night, the Assassins hatched their plan: as ordered by Al Mualim, the Master Assassin Umar Ibn-La'Ahad infiltrated the Saracen camp, not to kill Saladin, but to issue a warning to him. Relying on information provided by the Assassin spy Ahmad Sofian, Umar was able to bypass the camp's defences and evade its traps. In particular, he was aware that the conspicuous, extravagant pavilion at its centre was actually not Saladin's tent, but a decoy, and that the real tent had salt and cinder strew around its perimeter. This was a measure employed by Saladin in the hopes it would amplify the sound of an approaching Assassin's footsteps and alert his guards, but in this, it failed entirely.
Umar entered Saladin's tent without issue while the sultan laid asleep. As instructed, the Assassin left behind a feather and pinned a letter on Saladin's pallet with a dagger; the letter threatened that should Saladin refuse to withdraw immediately, the next dagger would find his genitals. While Umar had performed his mission perfectly up until that point, the sultan awoke just as he was leaving the tent. Saladin immediately screamed for his guards, and in his escape, Umar was forced to kill a general who was also a nobleman. Not long afterwards, the Saracens discovered Ahmad's duplicity and seized him hostage.
- Envoy: "Let your man take his place, and his life will be spared and the peace treaty honored. If not, he dies and the siege begins and your people starve."
- Shihab: "Do you want that on your conscience, Umar Ibn-La'ahad?'"
- —Shihab Al'din and his envoy delivering their ultimatum to the Assassins, 1176[src]
The following day, Saladin indeed wasted no time in withdrawing from Masyaf with a majority of his forces, but his uncle remained behind with two hundred soldiers to negotiate the terms of peace. Through his envoy, Shihab initially expressed the Saracens' consent to the "offer of peace", only to suddenly retract it by proclaiming that there was one condition for the agreement: the head of their fallen general's killer.
Despite Umar's resignation, Al Mualim announced his refusal, but the Saracens had one more card to play: they brought out their hostage, Ahmad, and threatened to execute him and resume hostilities unless Umar was brought forth. At that point, Shihab shouted above directly to Umar, revealing that he had learned his name from torturing Ahmad. Although Al Mualim was reluctant to allow Umar to take Ahmad's place on the executioners' block, it was through Umar's insistence, desperate to avoid further bloodshed, that he eventually relented.
Umar descended the castle towards his death, requesting as a final will to Al Mualim that his master should take care of his son Altaïr and induct him into the Brotherhood as he was. As agreed, Ahmad was released back to the Assassins, and Umar was decapitated in front of all the Master Assassins. As Ahmad entered the castle, the young Altaïr, having just witnessed his father leave for his death, screamed at him in grief that it was all his fault. Following Umar's execution, the Saracens withdrew from Masyaf, and the campaign ended, a mere two days after they had arrived at the village.
- Al Mualim: "We have his assurance that our sect can operate without further hostilities and no further interference in our activities?"
- Saracen envoy: "As long as interests allow, you have that assurance."
- —Al Mualim negotiating with Shihab's envoy, 1176[src]
Though the siege itself was relatively uneventful in the larger schemes of Saladin, its casualties had long-lasting repercussions for the Assassins. Following Umar's sacrifice, Ahmad was overcome with guilt and shame, feeling responsible for his demise. He came to Altaïr's room in the middle of the night and apologized, before committing suicide before the young boy's eyes. A shocked Altaïr brought the news to Al Mualim, who told him to keep it a secret, even from Ahmad's son, Abbas. The death of his father would haunt Abbas for the rest of his life, and it would ultimately give rise to a decades-long grudge against Altaïr that persisted for as long as they lived. From Altaïr's ascension as Mentor of the Assassins, Abbas dogged him every step of the way attempting to undermine his efforts, eventually usurping his leadership, murdering his son Sef and friend Malik Al-Sayf, and twisting the order into no more than a sect of bandits.
The peace between Saracens and the Assassins would last for at least the rest of Saladin's life; it was maintained throughout the Third Crusade, with the two factions sharing control of Alep. Despite this, the Assassins did not cease their covert assassinations of high-ranking Saracens when they deemed them to be corrupt and oppressive, and the Saracens remained ever distrustful, at times hostile, to the presence of Assassins in their jurisdiction and did not permit them into their other major cities such as Damascus and Jerusalem.
Behind the scenes
Historically, the Assassin that sneaked into Saladin's camp and left the warning note and dagger was said to have been Rashid ad-din Sinan, the real-life counterpart of Al Mualim himself.