Sites & cities that bear the name of Masyaf


Today in : Syrian Arab Republic
First trace of activity : ca. 8th century B.C.E
Last trace of activity : today
Recorded names : Manṣuate, Manṣuwatu, Marsyas, مصياف‎, Miṣyāf, Maṣyat, Maṣyad

Description : Masyaf (Arabic: مصياف‎ Miṣyāf) is a city in northwestern Syria. It is the center of the Masyaf District in the Hama Governorate. As of 2004, Masyaf had a religiously diverse population of 22,000 Ismailis, Alawites and Christians. The city is well known for its large medieval castle, particularly its role as the headquarters of the Nizari Ismailis and their elite Assassins unit. Masyaf is the most probable site of the ancient Aramean city of Mansuate that existed in the 8th century BC. It later served as the administrative center of an Assyrian province by the same name in modern-day central Syria. Masyaf is also likely the site of Marsyas. Roman and Byzantine historians mentioned a city named "Marsyas" that governed the al-Ghab and Beqaa plains to the north and south of the site, respectively. Masyaf and its fortress were first mentioned by Crusader chroniclers in 1099. However, because a fortification at Masyaf likely existed prior to the 11th century, it is probable that the Aleppo-based Hamdanid dynasty built a fort at Masyaf, due to its position as an outpost overlooking the mountain roads. At that time, the fortress was a part of Jund Qinnasrin (Chalcis Province) of the Fatimid Caliphate. In the autumn of 999, Basil II, the Byzantine emperor, destroyed the fortifications at Masyaf as part of his campaign to gain control of Antioch and its environs from the Muslims. The area would later come under Seljuk rule, but in 1099, the Crusaders attempted to wrest control of Masyaf (and the more strategically important Rafania) following their capture of Tripoli. The Seljuk atabeg of Damascus, Toghtekin, launched a military campaign to prevent the loss of the area and reached a short-lived accommodation with the Crusaders whereby Masyaf and Hisn al-Akrad would remain in Muslim hands, but have to pay tribute to the Crusaders. Sometime later, Masyaf was controlled by the Mirdasid dynasty. In 1127, the Mirdasids sold it to the Shaizar-based Banu Munqidh family. Nizari Ismaili era In 1140, Masyaf was captured by the Nizari Ismailis, a sect of Ismaili Shia Muslims who had been exiled from their previous stronghold in Alamut in modern-day Iran. The fortress was being defended by a Banu Munqidh mamluk (slave warrior) named Sunqur, who the Ismaili force managed to ambush and kill. The Ismailis had chosen Syria as their new home and successively settled in the cities of Aleppo and Damascus and the fortress of Banias, each time being persecuted and massacred by the authorities or mobs of local residents incited by clerics who accused the Ismailis of being heretics or causing problems. Consequently, the surviving Ismaili leadership decided that establishing bases in Syria's cities and thus relying on the goodwill of various umara (princes) was untenable. Instead, they chose to settle in Jabal Ansariyah, a coastal mountain range dotted with fortresses, including Masyaf. Following its capture, Masyaf served as the principal fortress for the Ismailis' chief da'i. Together with other fortresses acquired at around the same time, including al-Kahf, Khawabi, al-Qadmus and al-Rusafa, the Ismailis were able to carve an autonomous territory for themselves amid hostile Crusader states and local Muslim dynasties nominally affiliated with the Abbasid Caliphate. Masyaf served as the headquarters of the Ismaili da'i Rashid ad-Din Sinan and his elite unit of fida'i who were known as the Assassins. In the mid-1170s, the Ayyubid sultan Saladin set about conquering Syria, ousting the Crusaders and uniting the Muslim world under Sunni Islam. The Ismailis considered Saladin a more dangerous threat than the Crusaders and allied with Saladin's rival in Aleppo to defeat the Ayyubids. Sinan's men launched two unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Saladin and in 1176, Saladin launched a punitive expedition against the Assassins in the strongly-defended fortress of Masyaf. Within a few days of the siege, Saladin withdrew due to an urgent need to redeploy against the Crusaders who were attacking Ayyubid territory in the Beqaa. He arranged a truce with Sinan mediated by the Ayyubid emir of Hama, Shihab al-Din Mahmud al-Harimi, Saladin's uncle. Mamluk rule A wall around the town of Masyaf was built in 1249 by the Persian leader of the Ismailis, Taj al-Din Abu'l Futuh. In 1260, the Mongols under Hulagu conquered most of northern Syria and briefly occupied Masyaf. However, following the Mongols' rout at the Battle of Ain Jalut at the hand of the Bahri Mamluks later that year, they withdrew from Masyaf. In 1262, Masyaf's rulers were ordered to pay tribute to the Mamluk sultan Baibars and some time after, the sultan had Masyaf's emir Najm al-Din Ismail replaced by Sarim al-Din Mubarak. Mubarak was later imprisoned in Cairo by Baibars and Najm ad-Din was briefly restored as emir before Masyaf was fully incorporated into the sultanate in 1270. Ismailis continued inhabiting it throughout Mamluk rule. Towards the end of the century, Masyaf became a major stopping point on the Mamluk postal route and was controlled by a commander who answered directly to the sultan due to its strategic role as a frontier fortress. In 1320, the historian and Ayyubid emir of Hama, Abu'l Fida, noted that Masyaf was a "center of the Ismailian Doctrine" and that it was "beautiful" with gardens and a spring from which flowed a small stream. According to Ibn Battuta, who passed by the town in 1355, Masyaf was the center of a district belonging to the province of Tripoli and containing the fortress villages of al-Rusafa, al-Kahf, al-Qadmus, al-Ulayqa and al-Maniqa. Masyaf was later separated from Tripoli and transferred to the authority of Damascus province. In the mid-15th century, under Sultan Barsbay, a road was built that connected Masyaf with Tripoli, but the postal route no longer passed through the town. In 1446, the historian Khalil al-Zahiri described Masyaf as "a pleasant town, with an extensive countryside".

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