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Masyaf

The meaning of «masyaf»

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.

Throughout the Islamic era and until the modern day, the Arabic name of the city was pronounced in a number of different ways by the inhabitants of the region as Maṣyaf, Maṣyat or Maṣyad.[1] The Arabic name is a local pronunciation that evolved from the Assyrian name Manṣuate. The "nṣw" in Manṣuate correlates with the Arabic "nṣṣ", which means "to set up", according to orientalist scholar Edward Lipinsky.[2] Moreover, Lipinsky suggests that the Assyrian name was likely a configuration of the Assyrian word manṣuwatu which correlates with the Arabic word minaṣṣatu(n), both of which translate as "raised platform". This translation is indicative of the promontory that the Masyaf fortress occupies which overlooks the rest of the city and the surrounding area.[3]

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.[3] 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.[4]

Masyaf and its fortress were first mentioned by Crusader chroniclers in 1099.[5][6] 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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[5] In 1127, the Mirdasids sold it to the Shaizar-based Banu Munqidh family.[6]

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.[5] 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.[7][8]

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