Skip to main content.
The history of terrorism dates from the century before the common era. One of the earliest accounts of terrorism was carried out by religious fanatics two millennia ago. Terrorism was practiced by a Jewish Sect who called themselves Zealots in CE 66-73. The Zealots (sicari) were ruthless and dramatic. They relied on daggers, but effectively called attention to their cause, nonetheless. They employed very public acts of murder of Roman legionnaires or Jewish citizens they considered guilty of apostasy or betrayal. Remarkably, the Zealots took lessons from the Romans and the Punic Wars with their chemical warfare by poisoning wells, granaries, and the water supply of Jerusalem. When the Zealots captured the Roman held fortress Masada and massacred the garrison in CE 66, they essentially sealed their own fate. In CE 73 the Romans, under Titus, besieged the fortress. Just before the end, the remaining Zealots, except for two women and five children, committed mass suicide.

The Zealots had a singular effect on Jewish history. No longer could they call Jerusalem their home. From that point forward to modern times, the Jews survived in Diaspora. Middle Eastern memories are long, however, they led to Palestine as it is today. See Zionism.

The Assassins (hashahsin) held sway from CE 1090 to CE 1272 in what is now Syria and Iran. They were a radical offshoot of the Muslim Shi'a Ismaili sect who fought the Christian Crusaders. Banishing the so-called Christians was one motive; another was the promise that should the terrorist perish during an attack, he would immediately ascend to a glorious heaven. History once again is repeating this promise.

Both the Zealots and Assassins are legendary and many of their techniques and motivations are evident today. Both were motivated more by religious than by secular causes.

Maximilien Robespierre, during the French Revolution, was first to codify "terror" as the systematic use of violence to attain political ends. The reign of terror by his ruling Jacobins claimed thousands of victims without regard to gender, age, or state of health. The state sponsored terror in France to and in 1794 with Robespierre's fall from power.

Religious ritual murder was practiced in India by a Hindu sect called Thugs (Thuggee) for some 200 years before finally being suppressed in the 1830s. Their acts of random ambush and murder were designed to serve Kali, the Hindu Goddess of terror, destruction, and death. Their motive however was plunder and occasionally revenge. They comprised both Muslims and Hindus, sometimes in the same gang. They were basically land-based pirates.

State sponsored terror in the 20th Century was practiced in Russia (Lenin), Germany (Hitler), Cambodia (Pol Pot), Uganda (Amin), and Iran (Khomeini).

The classical terrorist of the 19th century assassinated kings and other prominent people with power. By the early 20th Century, middle class people were routine targets. Today, terrorism is indiscriminate as that policy evokes more mass hysteria than earlier modes did. Since the mid 20th Century, terrorism has become increasingly religious in origin and motivation. The level of violence also escalated dramatically, culminating in 9/11.

See "No End To War;; by Walter Liqueur for a definitive perspective on terrorism.

Links For Further Research

AllaahuAkbar by Scott Peterson, The Christian Science Monitor.
Books on Terror Origins
Egyptian Terrorist & Tourists Reuters
Extremist Books
Grandmasters of Terror The Naimisha Journal
Historical Context American Educational Trust
Palestine Liberation Organization, PLO Federation of American Scientists
Terror Organizations The US State Department


No comments yet

To be able to post comments, please register on the site.