From the old Arabic word "hashshshin," which meant,
"someone who is addicted to hash," that is, marijuana.
Originally refered to a group of warriors who would
smoke up before battle.
Aaron White adds:
You may want to explore the fact that the hashshshins were
somewhat of a voodoo-ized grand conspiracy scapegoat cult (the very fact
of their existence is impossible to confirm). They supposedly were a
secret society (a la the FreeMasons) which was influential in every middle
eastern court from Persia to Bangladesh. They were supposedly a
brotherhood of assasins, devoted to their caballa and its secrecy,
protected by an unlimited number of fanatical followers and unlimited
material wealth. Assassination was their favorite method of instituting
their power (see the Zoroastrian lore of the eunich priest Arachmenes and
his assistance to Darius and Xerxes in their rise to/fall from power).
Rumor has it that only the hashshshins were able to survive the hordes of
mongol invaders that massacred all people, governments, instituions, etc.
in its path, and this only because they were able to infiltrate the asian
army's ranks as it surged east and threaten the lives of many important
officers and virtually every general (no small feat for an organization
that does not exist from several subjugated countries). Usually their
threat of death to anyone who opposed them, no matter how powerful, was
enough to ensure anyone's complicity with their plans, especially when
considering their influence and thus the impunity with which they could
act. Also cross-reference that Persian was a mystical, legendary form of
marijuana/hashish, rumored to be of unparalleled quality. It is so
powerful as to become hallucinogenic and surreal and is said to be on of
the ways to attain full-blown buddha-like enlightenment. Even Jerry
Garcia and the Grateful Dead had a worhipful reverence/fear for Persian.
This substance was used by the hashshshins in their intiation rites as a
narcotic to overwhelm and produce complacency in their recruits. Also,
having an army of fanatics was even better if they were all addicted to a
potent intoxicant of which you are the only source.
Paul Graham adds:
The assassins were a sect of warriors who controlled
a number of fortified towns in Persia for about 200 years.
On 19 Nov 1256 their leader, Rukn ad-Din, negotiated
a surrender with the besieging Mongols. (He was killed
soon after.) I know of no evidence that the Assassins
infiltrated the Mongol armies and intimidated the commanders.
In fact it is hard to see how it would work to threaten
a commander of an army in the field. The Mongols did
not stay that much longer in Persia anyway.
-- a nickname for the silver coins that were minted from the
ore found in Joachimsthal ("Saint Joachim's Valley" in German), Bohemia
(part of the current Czech Republic)
-- which gained "currency" (pun not intended)
shortly after the lode's discovery
in 1516. At that time,
Bohemia was part of the Holy Roman Empire and that with the assumption
to the throne of Charles V of Austria (and I of Spain), the territories
of the Holy Roman Empire were united with those of Spain (including the
Spanish New World possessions), Burgundy, and the Low Countries until
This fact leads to the second half of the story: the Joachims'
"thaler" was one of the major coins in use not only in the Old World but
also in the New World as well, at least until the major silver strike at
San Luis de Potosi (Bolivia) and the major gold strike at Zacatecas
(Mexico). Furthermore, throughout the rest of the Colonial era, the
nickname "thaler" (which eventually became "dolar" in Spanish and
"dollar" in English) would remain in use as the nickname for any silver
coin that represented exactly one piece of eight (By the way that is
where the symbol for the dollar "$" came from--it is the number "8"
broken up with a slash down the middle). The term also later made its
way into the United States in 1803 when President Thomas Jefferson
sought to create a national currency to supplant the various state,
local and private currencies then in use. At the time the United States
had trade deficits with almost every nation with whom it traded, except
for one: Mexico. Due to a sizeable trade surplus with Mexico, the
United States government found itself with a sizeable quantity of
Spanish Colonial silver "thalers" which it then proceded to use as the
basis for the new currency: the U.S. dollar.
The dollar sign came from the back of the
Spanish Colonial dollar you mention on your page: the pillars on
the back (representing the Pillars of Hercules, the land beyond to
which the Spanish owed their wealth) with a banner that wove
around them in an "S" shape.
R. Dickerson adds/corrects:
Your site has two different explanations for the origin of the
dollar sign: the first one wrong, the second one correct but
incomplete. The proposal that the dollar sign comes from drawing a line
down the figure "8" to divide it into "pieces of eight" is totally off
base. Instead, Medieval Spaniards were quite proud of the idea that
they sat at the very far end of the civilized world, which to them meant
the Mediterranean. The narrow straits leading from the Mediterranean to
the Atlantic ocean were flanked by mountains, and these were known as
the "Pillars of Hercules" after a story from Greek mythology. The
Spanish royal coat of arms of the time had a shield, flanked by two
pillars. These pillars had decorative ribbons around them, wound in
opposite directions, with the legend "Ne Plus" at left and "Ultra" at
right. "Ne plus ultra" meant "Nothing beyond". But then Columbus came
along and expanded everybody's world. Spain became even prouder of the
fact that they now were the portals to a new world. So the "Ne" was
dropped from the ribbon at the left of the coat of arms, and the
inscription read "Plus ultra", or "More beyond". The ribbons were wound
around their pillars just like the "S" in the dollar sign is wound
around its uprights.
This full royal coat of arms flanked by pillars, whether inscribed
"Ne plus ultra" or the later "Plus ultra", was the obverse of the
dollar-sized 8 Reales coin, with the king's head on the reverse. I was
formerly a serious coin collector, and still have a couple of examples
of these 8 Reals, which served as the model in size for our dollar
coin. The 8 Real coins circulated widely in Florida and the Caribbean
prior to the Revolusion, and would have been familiar to American
colonials. It is my feeling that the new nation elected to pattern its
monetary unit after the Spanish 8 Reales rather than the British Pound,
as a sign of independence from the mother country.
The One-Real piece was a small silver coin, also called a "bit".
That is why our quarter-dollar has come to be known as "two bits".