Assassin’s Creed and the Real Italia: Roma (Part 1)
Assassin’s Creed is a franchise well known for its gorgeous design, and the Italian Renaissance of Ezio Auditore’s world has been a hit with fans. How does it compare with real life, and how have the locations transformed in the transition to the game world?
“Roma is the pillar that holds our entire enterprise aloft. She cannot waver; which means neither can you.” – Cesare Borgia (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood)
Roma, ‘The Eternal City’, is the capitol of Italy and was the center of the widespread Roman Empire (which, in addition to Italy, included many countries we know today such as Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Greece, Austria, Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Switzerland). The Tiber (Tevere in Italian) River runs through the city, separating the centre from the Vatican City and Castel Sant’Angelo.
Steve Masters, the lead game designer for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, explained to PSM3:
“We had to do a lot of historical research for this and we have historians digging up old maps for us, that kind of thing. We’re using period maps to make sure we have access to the most accurate lay of the land that we could, and of course the classic pieces of architecture there like the Colosseum or the Capital Hill – they’re so iconic and so ancient that it’s kind of hard to get them wrong. But at the same time you have to look at things like the attitudes towards the ruins at the various different time periods, and you know, some of the really old areas, the ancient ruins were actually like ghettos back then in those days. So having to dig in and do all that research – it’s time consuming but at the end we have something that’s really very high fidelity.”
Genevieve Dufour, production manager – world, told PSM3:
“Bufalini’s map of Rome (dated of 1551) was chosen as our document of reference when designing the city’s layout. We actually went to the minutia of importing the map into our engine and then scaling it until the size felt right.”
There are several hypotheses as to how Rome was founded, deduced through archaeological finds, but the Romans themselves had their own stories of how Rome came to be. One of them was the Roman myth of the Trojan prince Aeneas, son of the love goddess Venus, who – after travelling to Italy following the fall of Troy – fought with Trojan survivors for their right to stay in Italy, and won.
The Italian myth tells of a priestess of the Roman hearth goddess Vesta, a ‘Vestal Virgin’, named Rhea Silvia, who (despite being sworn to a period of chasitity for 30 years) was seduced by the war god Mars and bore him twins: Romulus and Remus. Rhea Silvia’s uncle Amulius (who overthrew his brother King Numitor from the throne of Alba Longa, an ancient Italian city), who had forced her in the first place to become a Vestal Virgin, subsequently imprisoned her and ordered the death of the boys. But the servant that was ordered to kill them instead took pity on them, and set the boys adrift on the Tiber River. The river overflowed, and washed the twins upon a riverbank where a she-wolf (who had recently lost her cubs) nursed the babies until Faustulus, a shepherd, found them and raised them with his wife. In adulthood, Romulus and Remus overthrew Amulius and regained Numitor’s rightful place as King of Alba Longa. The twins went on to found Rome, but eventually Romulus killed his brother after an argument, later taken as a symbol of the fratricidal violent and political clashes in the city.
Thus Romulus, Remus and the she-wolf became the iconic symbol of Rome, even today, as it is present in many locations throughout the city. It is Romulus that the Secta Luporum (Followers of Romulus), the “false pagan” cult, worship in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Honouring the wolf mother that nursed Romulus, the members wear wolf-skins and often make wolf sounds (howling, barking and growling at Ezio and each other). Interestingly, the lair in which Ezio first encounters the group (Terme di Traiano – Trajan Baths, in the Domus Aurea) is not far from where the Tempio di Romolo (Temple of Romulus, one of the best preserved pagan temples in Rome, dedicated to Emperor Maxentius’ deified son Valerius Romulus – even if it’s a different Romulus, the connection to the fictional cult in name is still there) is located in real life (around the Forum area of Rome, next to the Basilica di Massenzio). Not far from there either is the Casa Romuli (Hut of Romulus), where Rome was said to be founded by the twin Romulus.
Next time: the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Catacombs of Rome