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The greatest assassin in the history of the world was probably an Italian ruler during the Renaissance, Cesare Borgia (1476-1507), an illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI. The notorious prince was the subject of a letter home from the Venetian ambassador to the Vatican. “Every night, there are four or five corpses discovered. All of Rome fears for its life under the murderous Bishop Cesare.”
But of the countless assassinations suspected to be linked to him, the only one to have been clearly traced to the prince is that of the husband of his sister, Lucrezia. Cesare must have been truly ingenious because of the number of times he was not discovered. Cesare may have been the model for Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” ― cruel, treacherous and ruthlessly opportunistic.
A group of assassins that was notorious was a radical Islamic sect that was active in the Elburz mountain range of Iran in the 11th century. Working from castles in the mountains, the sect had a system that resembled a national organization, and it endured for more than 150 years. It was established by Hasan bin Sabbah of the Ismailis. The group was acting on the teaching to kill as much and as cruelly as possible, which was supposedly Allah’s will. Marco Polo wrote in his travelogue about Persia in 1273 that the group had young men take hashish before sending them off to assassinations, and that association with hashish is supposedly how the word assassin came to be used. The sect was wiped out by the grandchild of Genghis Khan, Hulagu, and his army in the mid-13th century.
In modern history, assassination has become a means of removing political enemies or waging terrorism. That was also the case in the periods of political confusion in Korea. The figures who succumbed to assassins here include Kim Ok-gyun, a 19th century politician in the late Joseon dynasty; Yeo Woon-hyung, an independence fighter; Kim Koo, an independence movement leader; Yuk Young-soo, a president’s wife and her husband, President Park Chung Hee.
In the tinderbox of the Balkans, Serbia, the prime minister was assassinated Wednesday. Remembering that a young Serb assassinated an archduke and triggered World War I, assassinations seem to be rooted in the region. In Korea, there is a lot of character assassination going around. But fortunately we have not seen a physical assassination recently, for which we can be thankful.

by Noh Jae-hyun

The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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