Book of Ser Marco Polo


Show Summary


The Old Man of the Mountain


The Old Man had caused a certain valley between two mountains to be inclosed and had turned it into a garden, the largest and most beautiful that ever was seen. It was filled with every variety of fruit. In it were erected pavilions and palaces the most elegant that can be imagined, all covered with gilding and exquisite painting. And there were conduits too, flowing freely with wine and milk and honey and water; and numbers of the most beautiful damsels in the world, who could play on all manner of instruments, and sang most sweetly, and danced in a manner that it was charming to behold. For the Old Man desired to make his people believe that this was actually paradise. So he had fashioned it after the description that Mohammed gave of his paradise, to wit, that it should be a beautiful garden running with conduits of wine and milk and honey and water, and full of lovely women for the delectation of all its inmates. And sure enough the Saracens of those parts believed that it was paradise!

Now no man was allowed to enter the garden except those whom he intended to be his Assassins. There was a fortress at the entrance to the garden, strong enough to resist all the world, and there was no other way to get in. He kept at his court a number of the youths of the country, from twelve to twenty years of age, such as had a taste for soldiering, and to these he used to tell tales about paradise, just as Mohammed had been wont to do, and they believed in him just as the Saracens believe in Mohammed. Then he would introduce them into his garden, some four, or six, or ten at a time, having first made them drink a certain potion which cast them into a deep sleep, and then causing them to be lifted and carried in. When therefore they awoke, and found themselves in a place so charming, they deemed that it was paradise in very truth. . . . With their own good will they never would have quitted the place.

Now this prince, whom we call the Old Man, kept his court in grand and noble style and made those simple hill-folks about him believe firmly that he was a great prophet. And when he wanted to send one of his Assassins on any mission, he would cause that potion whereof I spoke to be given to one of the youths in the garden, and then had him carried into his palace. So when the young man awoke, he found himself in the castle, and no longer in that paradise; whereat he was not well pleased. He was then conducted to the Old Man’s presence and bowed before him with great veneration, believing himself to be in the presence of a true prophet. The prince would then ask whence he came, and he would reply that he came from paradise, and that it was exactly such as Mohammed had described it. This of course gave the others who stood by, and who had not been admitted, the greatest desire to enter therein.

So when the Old Man would have any prince slain, he would say to such a youth, "Go thou and slay so-and-so; and when thou returnest my angels shall bear thee into paradise. And shouldst thou die, nevertheless even so will I send my angels to carry thee back into paradise." So he caused them to believe; and thus there was no order of his that they would not face any peril to execute, because of the great desire they had to get back into that paradise of his. And in this manner the Old Man got his people to murder anyone whom he desired to get rid of. . . . Now it came to pass in the year 1252, that Alaü, Lord of the Tartars of the Levant, heard tell of these great crimes of the Old Man and resolved to make an end of him. So he took and sent one of his barons with a great army to that castle, and they besieged it for three years, but they could not take it, so strong was the place. But after three years, the defenders, having run short of food, were obliged to surrender. The Old Man was put to death with all his men, and the castle with its garden of paradise was leveled with the ground. And since that time he has had no successor; and there was an end to all his villanies.

1 , bk. i, chs. 23–25.


Related Resources

Journals of Great Journeys

Download Options

Title: Book of Ser Marco Polo

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Book of Ser Marco Polo

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: "The Old Man of the Mountain," Book of Ser Marco Polo in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 468–469. Original Sources, accessed May 25, 2024,

MLA: . "The Old Man of the Mountain." Book of Ser Marco Polo, Vol. i, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 468–469. Original Sources. 25 May. 2024.

Harvard: , 'The Old Man of the Mountain' in Book of Ser Marco Polo. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.468–469. Original Sources, retrieved 25 May 2024, from