Religion and myth played a huge role in daily Egyptian life. Assassin’s Creed Origins, set in 49 BCE during Cleopatra’s ascension, will surely have references to the many gods, cults, and beliefs of the time. Don’t know your maat from your ka or Isis from Osiris? Here’s a handy primer on ancient Egyptian religion around Cleopatra’s time, when kings and queens were thought of as gods themselves.
God Kings and Dynastic Rule
Pharaohs, the (usually) male rulers of Egypt’s vast kingdoms, were thought of as reincarnations of Horus, the falcon-headed god. Horus was born of a miracle after his father, Osiris, was killed by his brother, Set. Isis, Osiris‘ wife/sister (Ancient Egyptian rulers = Targaryens) impregnated herself on the Nile River, and Horus was born as the new sun god. Horus’ importance in Egyptian culture is much like Jesus in Christianity, and the two share some similar traits.
As the reincarnation of Horus, the pharaohs were thus gods as well as kings. This meant that they were infallible, and that their word was not only law but gospel. While this complicated politics to no end, it also made religion a large part of daily life. Cults rose around Egypt to various gods, ranging from the mother goddess Isis to the goddess of cats, Bast.
So what do these god-kings have to do with playing an ancient assassin? For starters, the rule of the pharaohs permeated every part of Egyptian life. The pharaohs helped maintain order through the religious belief of maat, the fundamental order of the universe, established when the world was created. Maat encompasses both nature and the proper behavior of people, and the most important maintainer of maat is the pharaoh.
Second, it sets up a unique power structure, where the only people as powerful as the pharaohs are priests. The Assassin’s Creed games have dealt with cults and secret societies before, so the chances of cults and priesthoods showing up in the new game are pretty likely.
Cults and Brotherhoods
Assassin’s Creed Origins gives players a glimpse into the genesis of the Assassin Brotherhood, and Egyptian cults helped play their role in its formation. We already know the assassin Amunet, who was named for the cult goddess of invisibility. Her name means “the hidden one”, and her story was discovered by Ezio in Assassin’s Creed II. The Egyptian Brotherhood of Assassins is one of the oldest in the Assassin’s Creed franchise’s cosmology, and serves as the foundation for the later brotherhood.
Just as the gods had cults, so did the pharaohs that allegedly bore their bloodline. In Origins, Cleopatra is a deposed queen trying to regain power, with agents such as Aya helping her regain rule. Cleopatra must deal with the Order of the Ancients, a cult that will go on to become the Knights Templar.
Each of the members of the Order wears a mask when meeting, so as to maintain secrecy. Many of these are animal masks that represent Egyptian gods as well, including the jackal-headed Anubis and ibis-headed Thoth.
The Cults’ Battle for Supremacy
Several hundred years before Cleopatra was born, one of the previous pharaohs, Akhenaten, attempted to shift the faith from the old gods to a new sun god, Aten. Aten was a combination of two older gods, Ra and Amun, together called Amun-Ra. Aten’s attempt to change the faith wasn’t popular, and the priesthood fought to restore worship to Ra and the old gods following Akhenaten’s death.
Worship of Amun-Ra held for a few generations, but by Cleopatra’s time had been surpassed by cults of Isis and Osiris. The Myth of Isis and Osiris was untainted by Akhenaten, and so cults devoted to Amun-Ra began to die out. Many of the members of the Order of the Ancients have ties to the old cults, especially Medunamun, the Ibis.
Interacting with the Gods
The gods were a part of daily Egyptian life because the people believed the gods were interacting with them regularly. They reincarnated as pharaohs, controlled destiny, and had to be appeased regularly with offerings and prayers. To highlight this (and make things a bit more fantastic), Assassin’s Creed Origins will have a DLC entitled The Curse of the Pharaohs that digs much deeper into mythology.
In The Curse of the Pharaohs, Bayek (the hero of Origins) will face off against undead pharaohs, gods, and mythological creatures. It’s taking a step out of history and into mythology, and will give fans a better understanding of the mythos of ancient Egypt. It also incorporates giant scorpions and mummies into, which makes Curse of the Pharaohs a totally unique entry into Assassin’s Creed’s otherwise “historical” gameplay.
It will be interesting to see if Ubisoft continues to step outside of the realm of history and into mythos as the series progresses. Some fans are already calling Origins a soft reboot, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Regardless of what comes next, staying true to the importance of myth in Egyptian life will be a vital part of Assassin’s Creed Origins.