Six Moments In Egyptian History That Are Perfect For Assassin's Creed Origins

by Cody Mello-Klein on Oct 13, 2017 at 06:20 PM

Assassin’s Creed Origins winds the clock back to a time before the Assassins and Templars, putting players in the shoes of Bayek during the last years of Ancient Egypt’s Ptolemaic Period, roughly 48-30 B.C.E. With a civil war brewing between Cleopatra VII and her brother Ptolemy XIII and the Romans at the gates of the Egyptian capital of Alexandria, it was a time of upheaval and chaos in the empire. The Ptolemaic Period is full of storytelling possibilities, and features one of history’s most fascinating figures: Cleopatra. It also provides ample opportunity for stealth/action shenanigans. As a series, Assassin’s Creed embraces major historical moments and figures while playing fast and loose with the details, so we’re going to run down five of the most interesting moments in the history of Ancient Egypt’s dying days that players might witness in the upcoming installment.

The Exile of Cleopatra VII (48 B.C.E.)
The Real History: The latter years of the Ptolemaic Period, so called for the ruling family of pharaohs named Ptolemy, was defined by Egypt’s declining power and Rome’s rising presence in the world. At this point in history, Rome served as Egypt’s guardian. Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos paid vast amounts of riches and resources to Rome in tribute – then he died. His 18-year-old daughter Cleopatra VII (the Cleopatra we all know and love) and her younger brother Ptolemy XIII took over the throne, ruling together until they started to fight (as siblings do). After a series of power plays, Cleopatra’s power was stripped and Ptolemy XIII and his advisers exiled her. 

Why It’s Perfect for Assassin’s Creed: This moment is classic family drama full of betrayal and power struggles, the kind of stuff Assassin’s Creed’s historical stories are built on. In fact, we already know that this event will feature in Origins in some way, and it makes sense considering the history that Origins focuses on all starts with Cleopatra’s exile. She remains an enigmatic figure in history. Historians still have conflicting interpretations of Cleopatra. Was she a power-hungry pharaoh or a young woman thrust into perilous circumstances while trying to protect her children? This is Ubisoft’s moment to offer their own interpretation. Bayek is a warrior trained to keep the peace and protect areas of Pharaonic interest, so testing him with a civil war right at the beginning of the game would also be a unique excuse for limiting the player’s movement early on. If Bayek goes into exile with Cleopatra, it would push players out of the city and into the open world where they can experience more dynamic content. Bayek’s slow disenfranchisement with his pharaoh’s ability to protect the freedom of his people could be what leads to the founding of the Assassins. If Ubisoft pushes him out of the center of pharaonic power, it would also be a clever way to illustrate that important theme.

The Battle of the Nile (47 B.C.E.)
The Real History: What is an Assassin’s Creed game without famous historical battles? With Cleopatra and Ptolemy duking it out in Egypt, Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator, stepped in to settle the dispute that threatened to destroy Rome’s trade partner. However, Ptolemy made it easy for Caesar to decide who to support. In an attempt to suck up to the Roman leader, Ptolemy beheaded Pompey, a Roman general who had opposed Caesar during Rome’s civil war and who just so happened to be Caesar’s son-in-law. Blood is thicker than water, so Caesar didn’t take too kindly to that. Cleopatra, spotting an opportunity to take her throne back, had herself smuggled into Alexandria inside a carpet. Cleopatra struck up a relationship with Caesar that would eventually become more than a military alliance. After withstanding a siege in Alexandria, Caesar (along with reinforcements from his main man Mithradates) destroyed a Ptolemaic fort on the Nile delta. The combined force of about 20,000 men stormed Ptolemy’s camp, captured it, and forced Ptolemy to flee by sea where the boy pharaoh drowned after his ship capsized. Caesar now essentially owned Egypt, and he named Cleopatra pharaoh. She was back on top.

Why It’s Perfect for Assassin’s Creed: The Battle of the Nile would give Origins two very different set pieces. Smuggling a carpeted Cleopatra into Caesar’s camp is a scenario that’s just the right amount of ridiculous for Assassin’s Creed. It would certainly make for one of the series’ more entertaining escort missions, as Bayek would have to sneak along the Nile and into the city with a carpet slung across his back. This could all culminate in a more scripted battle sequence that ends with Bayek assassinating Ptolemy on a sinking ship – or at the very least not helping him escape. Historical documents state that Ptolemy’s drowning was never confirmed, so that gives Ubisoft the green light to mess with the details enough to place Bayek at the scene. This whole sequence would be another test of Bayek’s loyalty and could provide the first seed of doubt in Bayek’s mind that Egypt needs an order of freedom fighters.

Assassination of Caesar (44 B.C.E.)
The Real History: While the civil war had ended in Egypt, tensions between Caesar and the Roman senate were coming to a head. The Senate believed that Caesar, who they had named dictator perpetuo (“dictator in perpetuity”) was becoming too powerful and would soon assert tyranny, destroying the Roman Republic in the process. The senators’ plan was to kill Caesar en route to the gladiatorial games they had organized. Even the gladiators were in on it. Caesar’s ally Mark Antony, who would play a major role in Egypt’s final years, got wind of the plot and tried to intercept Caesar on his way to the games. However, the senators confronted Caesar on the steps of the Theatre of Pompey, stabbing him 23 times.

Why It’s Perfect for Assassin’s Creed: One of the most famous assassinations in history deserves its place in Assassin’s Creed lore. Cleopatra made many trips to Rome with Caesar and was actually in the city with her children at the time of the assassination, so there is a reason Bayek could end up in Rome for a short but tense sequence. Bayek could be involved in the assassination itself, although the motivation behind his involvement would be unclear. A great twist would be if Bayek’s actions in Rome led to the assassination, an event which could reveal the presence of the mysterious Order of the Ancients, an evil and enigmatic organization we still don’t know much about. Either way, it would be amazing to see the series return to Rome after the extended visit we took in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. 

Power Couples: Cleopatra and Caesar (47-44 B.C.E.), Cleopatra and Mark Antony (41-30 B.C.E.)
Historical context: One of the most interesting aspects of Cleopatra as a historical figure is how she used politics and romance to further her own goals, whether that was political power of protection for her family. For her, every relationship was a potential alliance. Defining the term “power couple” for centuries to come, Cleopatra had love affairs with two powerful Roman leaders: Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Although she was technically married to other Ptolemies (read: her brothers), Cleopatra’s siblings kept dying under suspicious circumstances (read: poison). She even had children with both Caesar and Antony, something she would use to expand Egypt’s control of the Mediterranean. We already know that Caesar will make an appearance in Origins, but Antony’s involvement is still uncertain. Based on how much impact they had on both Egypt’s history and Cleopatra, it seems likely. 

Why It’s Perfect for Assassin’s Creed: Watching Cleopatra wrap powerful Roman generals around her finger would be fascinating and highly entertaining. Cleopatra’s relationships would reveal the depth to her character, something Assassin’s Creed’s historical figures have often lacked. Her relationship with Antony was the beginning of the end for the Egyptian empire, so focusing on the tragic romance of two powerful figures would add complexity to an already interesting relationship. Like in the previous entry, this could also open the possibility for the series to return to Rome in some way. Cleopatra spent a lot of time in Rome with her children, so why not bring Bayek along as a bodyguard? Ubisoft has clearly gone out of its way to produce a historically authentic version of Egypt, but a moment like this would be a great change of pace, putting both the player and Bayek on their heels.

The Battle of Actium and Octavian’s Invasion of Egypt (31-30 B.C.E.)
The Real History: Antony and another Roman leader, Octavian, had been at each other’s throats since Caesar’s death. However, Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After Antony gifted important territories to the children he had with Cleopatra in 34 B.C., Octavian declared war on both Antony and Egypt. The war culminated in the Battle of Actium, a naval showdown between Octavian’s fleet and Antony and Cleopatra’s fleet off the coast of Greece, and Octavian was victorious. The loss Cleopatra and Antony faced here was one of the final nails in the sarcophagus for the Egyptian Empire. Octavian waited a year before taking Alexandria – and in the process, Egypt – by force. He handily defeated Antony’s remaining forces outside the Egyptian capital in 31 B.C.

Why It’s Perfect for Assassin’s Creed: It would be incredible to see one of the last major battles before the downfall of an empire, if Origins extends to this point in the Ptolemaic Period. Ubisoft has been vague about the scale of Origins’ naval combat, but the Battle of Actium provides the perfect opportunity to test the player’s parkour abilities within the context of a scripted naval sequence. Letting players swing across Roman warships and assassinate soldiers from the rigging would recall the best moments of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag in a completely different context. Any success the player has in this scenario is appropriately bittersweet; they’re just delaying the inevitable. No matter what the player does, Egypt falls to the Roman Empire and tragedy ensues. The Battle of Actium would strike a more fatalistic and somber tone than any other Assassin’s Creed battle, but that tone is appropriate for the fall of an empire.

The Deaths of Cleopatra and Antony (30 B.C.E.)
The Real History: With the end of the Egyptian Empire comes the end of Cleopatra. It’s a tragic scene that historians and poets alike have recounted for centuries. Antony, scared to face death at the hands of Octavian, attempted suicide by falling on his sword. He survived the suicide attempt and, somehow made his way to Cleopatra, who had locked herself and her handmaidens in her mausoleum. Antony eventually bled out at Cleopatra’s feet. If that’s not sad enough, Cleopatra decided to commit suicide as well to avoid being paraded and executed back in Rome. She and her handmaidens used the bite of a poisonous snake to end it all on August 12, 30 B.C. The Ancient Egyptian empire was finished, destroyed by a serpent.

Why It’s Perfect for Assassin’s Creed: Ubisoft could really twist the knife here, offering players a dire situation with no way out and two choices that lead to the same outcome: give Cleopatra the snake and help her escape her fate at the hands of the Romans or watch as she does the deed herself.. The emotional impact and narrative implications of this scene would provide a cathartic tragedy to Origin’s main story. More so than most entries in the series, Origins, because of its place in history, should commit to a more tragic story. If done well, it could be a real tearjerker and provide a powerful conclusion to Origins’ main narrative thread, and a great incentive for Bayek to push for an extra-political means of helping people: the Order.

Hopefully Ubisoft includes some of these historical moments in their version of Ancient Egypt. The game has the perfect historical backdrop to address the series’ themes of loyalty, political corruptibility, and the nature of power. It also gives Ubisoft the opportunity to create a strong, complex female character in Cleopatra while telling a more somber and tragic story. We don’t know the specifics of Origins’ timeline, but we’re excited to see how Bayek fits into this history. Will Origins be the story of a man slowly losing faith in the power of kingdoms and political leadership? What part will the mysterious Order of the Ancients play in the fall of Egypt? How will the Assassins emerge from all this chaos? We’ll have to wait until October 27 for the answers to these questions.

Don't forget to check out all our cover content for Assassin's Creed Origins, including how the combat system differs from other entries in the series and how Ubisoft is rethinking open world design.