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As far as I am aware, assassin comes from the Arabic حشاشين‎ (Ḥashshāshīn). Clearly, the concept of murdering someone for either political or religious reasons was not invented by the Ḥashshāshīn. So, prior to the first crusade, what were assassins called in Latin/Greek?

The Oxford dictionary defines assassin as the action of assassinating someone and to assassinate as [To] murder (an important person) for political or religious reasons.

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This might be better suited to a classic.se if that existed... But I think there's enough historical scope for this to remain here. If am I wrong, please let me know how to improve the question. Thanks. –  Sardathrion Oct 25 '13 at 8:02
    
If an answerer can provide some historical background, that would be nice. As the raw question could in theory be answered by the English Usage stack exchange. –  LateralFractal Oct 25 '13 at 8:30
    
The easiest way to find this out would to be find out what Julius Caesar's killers were called. –  LateralFractal Oct 25 '13 at 8:32
    
@LateralFractal: english.se was my first port of call but then I thought that English as in now did not exist pre-first crusade and I was more interested in the Latin/Greek which I suspect would be off topic for english.se .... –  Sardathrion Oct 25 '13 at 8:43
    
That's right. As someone who hangs out there, I don't think this would be on topic on the English stack since it is asking about Latin and Greek words, not English ones. –  T.E.D. Oct 25 '13 at 15:15

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

"Assassin" doesn't really mean somebody paid to kill. It rather means somebody who kills a prominent person by surprise attack. (1, 2, 3)

Latin seems to have had a word for this: sicarius. I don't know if ancient Greek did.

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Not just "prominent person", but an important political leader. I'm not a huge believer in the ultimate authority of dictionaries, so for those who don't want to just take my word for it, here's Chris Rock on the subject. :-) –  T.E.D. Oct 25 '13 at 12:30
    
In Italian now we have both words: "sicario" and "assassino". "Sicario" is a person paid to kill someone, while "assassin" is a wider term, basically meaning "murderer". –  Lohoris 24 mins ago

This is not exactly the answer in your question but in Greek the word assassin was not used as in western languages. So, although Ασασίνοι exists (it means Assassins of course) the word assassin meaning killer (with a specialized meaning) does not.

There is not any exact corresponding word for Assassin in Greek. The most close word would be δολοφόνος meaning murderer with intent but it's also the most common word for simply murderer. The word φονιάς is the exact word for murderer but it's less common.

So, your question is at half part (the Greek part that is) ill-phrased.

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The origins of the Assassins can be traced back to just before the First Crusade, around 1080. There has been much difficulty finding out much information about the origins of the Assassins because most early sources are either written by enemies of the order or based on legends, or both. Most sources dealing with the order's inner working were destroyed with the capture of Alamut, the Assassins' headquarters, by the Mongols in 1256. However, it is possible to trace the beginnings of the cult back to its first Grandmaster, Hassan-i Sabbah (1050s–1124).

Hassani (pronounced Assane) was the first to start this practice. Assassins were a group of people not just a title. Assassins are sometimes (but not always) paid for their work.

It doesn't have to be a special person, an assassin could kill Joe Shmo for cash. There has to be a reason, usually political or religious or even social.

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Good answer, as it goes. However, I have an English.SE type quibble (I'm not sure if it relates to your usage or not). In common English usage, paradoxically there is a bit of a meaning gap between the words "assasin" and "assasinated". This is why we often prefer the words "hit-man", "sniper", or "shooter" for people with more mundane targets. –  T.E.D. Oct 25 '13 at 17:56
    
@T.E.D. "hitman" is a word to describe a "job" on someone's life. A Hitman can be an assassin or just a hired killer. –  Young Guilo Oct 25 '13 at 20:08
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Assassins as both a political and economic activity were not a new invention of the Arabic caliphates, and I suspect we know of Hassan-i Sabbah as much as we do because it suited Europeans to propagate the idea of "The Other". So in any case, it wouldn't have been the Latin or Greek word as asked in the question; predating the Crusades by at least a millennia. –  LateralFractal Oct 26 '13 at 0:00
    
-1 as this does not answer the question. –  Sardathrion Oct 27 '13 at 10:17

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