The Arab influence over Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Markuz: July 6th, 2020
Translated by: Stefania

Warning: this article was mainly written before the recent allegations against several developers working at Ubisoft; the article may contain spoilers from across the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

It’s been quite some time since I wrote a full-on theory article. Years, really. Maybe even before Access The Animus was founded. There are quite a handful reasons for that, but I mostly narrow them to two main ones.

The first one is that it’s been clear for years, possibly since the end of the “Desmond Era” with the release of Assassin’s Creed III, that the Assassin’s Creed franchise as a whole, and its main games in particular, isn’t being (or doesn’t seem to be) planned in advance
The 43 39 19 N 75 27 42 W coordinates
(Source: Assassin’s Creed Wiki)
with a unifying narrative in mind. I have a vague feeling that wasn’t necessarily the case for the Desmond games as well, but for whatever reason beyond a few inconsistencies here and there, those stories (and the transmedia related to them) did come out as a larger than life narrative arc that involved several main characters (Altaïr, Ezio, to a degree Ratonhnhaké:ton, Desmond) who were all interconnected in some shape or form.
Because of that, those releases were scattered with hints, open doors, cliffhangers (and some dead ends too) that gave fans food for thought and actual in-lore material to base their theories on in order to try and have an idea of what might come next or maybe some sort of insight as to the motivations of a specific character. I’m thinking, for example, of the 43 39 19 N 75 27 42 W coordinates showcased in the historical ending of The Da Vinci Disappearance DLC for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, which actually pointed at the modern day location of Assassin’s Creed III. Another example is the mention on the Abstergo
The revelation about
Project Siren in... Revelations
Industries website, in January of 2011, of “Project Siren”, the plan by Warren Vidic to have Lucy Stillman re-infiltrate the modern day Assassins in order to gather information about the Apple of Eden from Desmond Miles – a plan that was actually revealed in Assassin’s Creed Revelations’ The Lost Archive DLC, which was released one year later. In the most recent years this game of “cat and mouse” between fans and devs has been greatly reduced if not removed completely, with most games and transmedia being developed mostly as self contained stories. This surely gives more freedom to the writers and more entry points to new fans, but at the same time, for me and several other fans, basically dulled down the wonder of putting together bits and pieces of information from specific releases, especially since those were rarely picked up on or had some actual payoffs in the subsequent installments of the franchise.

Obviously I’m not diminishing anyone who still likes coming up with theories. As a team, here at Access The Animus, we worked for quite some time behind the scenes in order to get on board none other than the queen of theories herself, lady Sorrosyss, and her articles and posts have been successful ever since. What I am saying is just that theories haven’t been my personal cup of tea in the recent years for the aforementioned reasons.

Such motivations led me to focus on something else, which is also the second reason why I haven’t dealt with theories in so much time, and that is trying to analyze or even just explain in detail the events, characters and stories of the franchise that have already appeared, both for hardcore and new fans alike. I love doing that, not only because this kind of content is usually based on more solid grounds than the average theory, but also because it gives me the chance to give my take on the most recent Assassin’s Creed releases and maybe highlight some of the meanings and information that might not always be obvious or visible (cough Quantum Physics in an Assassin’s Creed related article cough – yeah, I might have taken it a little too far with that one #notsorry).

And yet, despite this approach that I’ve solidified over the years, all the information surrounding Valhalla, the mostly positive feeling about it within the community and the presumed sense of care that the team seems to be putting towards hardcore fans and not just new ones did the unthinkable.

Here I am, writing somewhat of a theory article.

Don’t fret, this didn’t originate from me. The actual basic idea laying the ground for this piece came from a friend and fan called Arcangelo (and to a degree this has already been discussed throughout the community), but I did like the premise and since he pitched the idea to me, a few other breadcrumbs and pieces of information have been released so I did my best to connect the dots.

Thus, let’s start with what we have gathered so far, before trying to get the bigger picture.

Exhibit A

“Vikings and Arabs had connections in the 9th century”

As many of you might know already, this quote was actually a tweet from former Creative Director Ashraf Ismail and acted as an answer to the question “Will we see arab lands and people in the game?”. This is obviously not a random answer, as he could have just answered with a “no comment”, and thus it might hide some interesting information about potential events and / or stories featuring Arab characters or environments in Valhalla.

Exhibit B

“You mentioned the Hidden Blade and I guess the gems [on it]. Yes, there are some clues as to… let’s say about the whereabouts of where that blade comes from – that’s a little hint for people”

This is another quote from Ismail, this time from the interview with the Washington Post, which was further clarified by him as a comment about the overall design of the Hidden Blade.
Following this statement I did some research – I have to be honest here, I was a bit biased because of the statement about the Vikings and Arabs connection – and I did find some examples of weapons metal engraving / gilding concerning the so-called Damascus sabres or Damascene swords that are indeed pretty similar to the one used over the various examples of the Hidden Blade shown throughout the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla marketing assets.

Source for the Damascus Sabre picture: NY Times

For those who might not know, the famous Damascus steel was a type of steel recognizable by the wavy pattern of the metal of swords and blades (visually similar to flowing water) that were fabricated in the Near East for centuries and originated from the so-called Wootz steel which, in turn, was a steel alloy developed in Southern India and Sri Lanka since the 6th century BCE.

The Damascus steel swords were renowned for being tough, resistant to shattering, with a sharp and resilient edge and were named after Damascus, the capital of Syria which was featured in the first Assassin’s Creed game.

Page 13 of the Codex and the
“White Damascus” mentions (Source for
the picture: Assassin’s Creed Wiki)
The most hardcore fans among you might even remember that the Damascus steel was actually mentioned in Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad's Codex, more precisely at page 13. Whilst the page itself describes in general the improvements that Altaïr added to the Hidden Blade, the reference to the Damascus steel is actually in the Arabic text within the page’s picture. In fact, as confirmed to us by our friend Assassins_M, the picture references three times the metal, referring to it as “White Damascus”, hinting at Altaïr using the steel’s technique while creating the metal of the Hidden Blade for the Levantine Assassins.
Whether there’s an actual connection between the Hidden Blade in Valhalla and the Arab Peninsula, Syria or Damascus remains to be seen, though some elements sure seem to align at this point.

Exhibit C

“In our journey Eivor does meet with Assassins. Now Eivor doesn’t necessarily know what that means but there is some kind of common ground that they have. These are people that Eivor will work with. At some point Eivor will receive a Hidden Blade. That’s something that happens in the journey early on.”

Screenshot from the Assassin's Creed
Valhalla Trailer Breakdown
Another quote by Ismail, coming from the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Trailer Breakdown and this time it is mentioned that Eivor will meet the Assassins – or, to be more specific, as mentioned in several interviews, the Hidden Ones – and receive the Hidden Blade early on in the game. The former Creative Director didn’t directly state in the trailer breakdown that the two events are connected or that Eivor would receive the Hidden Blade from the Hidden Ones but he did confirm that in a pre-reveal interview with Jorraptor, as mentioned in this video.

Exhibit D (or C-2, really)

Narrative Director
Darby McDevitt

“Very early on, though, in the game, Eivor does meet an Assassin and starts to learn about the Brotherhood, and starts to learn about The Order of the Ancients as well”

This time the quote is by Narrative Director Darby McDevitt from Official Playstation Magazine UK and it’s basically similar to the “Exhibit C” one… with a small but very important detail. McDevitt states that it is an Assassin (or Hidden One) that Eivor meets at the beginning of the game – and supposedly learns about the Hidden Ones and the Order of the Ancients from.

Exhibit E

“On a very personal level, when I was 12 years old I read a novel by Michael Crichton which was about Vikings. And the lead character was a guy from the Middle East, so you have this Arab interacting with Vikings. The story was about their journey, but I’d never seen something like that before; I’d never seen Vikings painted in that light. I found a personal connection to it, and ever since then, I’ve loved Norse history and the time period.”

Yet another quote by Ismail from an Eurogamer interview, and while it may not seem to be relevant because it was meant to be about something personal rather than the game, it does hide some very poignant and interesting elements.

The book that Ismail was referring to is “Eaters of the Dead” and I am sure of that not only because it’s the first result that comes up while googling “Michael Crichton novel Viking Middle East”, but also because it was indirectly confirmed by another interview by Spanish Youtube channel Zoom Net.

Quoting Wikipedia, Eaters of the Dead: The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in AD 922 is a 1976 novel by Michael Crichton whose story deals with a 10th-century Muslim Arab - Ahmad ibn Fadlan - who travels with a group of Vikings towards the so-called kingdom of Rothgar in order to rid them from the human-like 'mist-monsters', or 'wendol'. The novel, which among other things is a loose retelling of the tale of Beowulf, also shows how Ibn Fadlan’s beliefs and Muslim faith initially clash with the Viking habits, before he realizes that there are several similarities between them. Eventually Ibn Fadlan maintains his Muslim faith but also adopts many Viking ways, even getting to fight with his Viking companions, before returning to his native land (in case you are interested, you can find a more detailed synopsis of the book at this link or you can watch the book’s movie adaptation “The 13th Warrior”).

”Arrival of Ibn Fadlan’s to Volga Bulgaria”
illustration by “Wahid R.”
The character of Ibn Fadlan in Crichton’s novel is based on an actual Arab traveler named Ahmad ibn Fadlan, who was a member of an embassy of the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad and whose account is most famous for providing a description of the so-called Volga Vikings. Ibn Fadlan is actually historically famous for his self-reported travels and more specifically for a diplomatic mission he was part of in 921 A.D.. In fact, he was part of a diplomatic party that was sent from Baghdad with the purpose of explaining the Islamic law to the recently converted Bulgar peoples living on the eastern bank of the Volga River (in what is now Russia). This journey lasted around one year and the party covered around 4.000 kilometres while meeting several peoples and cultures, the most relevant of which – at least in Ibn Fadlan’s account – were the Rus’ people, otherwise known (for the sake of simplicity) as Rusiyyah, Viking Rus’, Volga Vikings or Varangians, who were based on the Volga trade route. Ibn Fadlan describes the Vikings as perfect physical specimens, tall as date palms, blond and ruddy, tattooed from the tips of their toes to their neck with dark blue or dark green "designs", all the while all men are armed with an axe, a sword and a long knife.

Ibn Fadlan also described very thoroughly the funeral of one of the Viking Rus’ chieftains, which involved a ship burial and human sacrifice. Curiously enough, such funeral was discussed in one of his videos by Jackson Crawford, the Director of Nordic studies at the University of Colorado who is collaborating in the development of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla:

It’s obviously unclear at the moment whether elements of Ibn Fadlan’s actual story or of his fictional representation by Michael Crichton will feature in the game. Vikings and Arabs had connections in the 9th century though, so…

Exhibit F

The rock of Alamut (by Alireza Javaheri
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)
“McDevitt describes the game as the “bridge” between the Hidden Ones and The Order of The Ancients, as set up in Origins and Odyssey, and the Templars and Assassins as we know them in later games. This ensures within the broad sweep of the series the origins of these factions are historically consistent, “but it’s also why we’ve spent a lot of effort trying to fill our world with lore that has really meaningful connections to a lot of these titles before and after. Some things that are happening are starting to set the stage for what comes in the games that follow”

The first headquarters of the Templars on the
Temple Mount, Jerusalem (Source -
Creative Commons Attribution
Share Alike 3.0 Unported)
Switching gears and moving to a statement by Narrative Director Darby McDevitt, again from Official Playstation Magazine UK, we now know that Valhalla will bridge the Hidden Ones with the Assassin Brotherhood, and the Order of the Ancients with the Knights Templar, while ensuring that the origins of the actual Assassins and Templars are consistent with their historical counterparts.

As a matter of fact, historically the Assassins – or hashashin – were a sect that was founded in 1090, when missionary Hassan-i Sabbah, along with his followers, captured Alamut Castle, marking the beginning of the Nizari Isma'ili State and the Order of Assassins, which later developed in Persia, Syria and the Middle East in general until 1275. As for the Templars, their order was historically founded in 1119 through French knight Hugues de Payens, King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and was active until 1312, when it was formally disbanded, with its last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, being burnt alive at the stake in 1314.

Thus not only Valhalla will still feature the Hidden Ones and the Order of the Ancients, making them organizations that literally lasted for over a millennium (10 centuries for the Hidden Ones, who were founded in 47 BCE, and 24 centuries for the Order of the Ancients, founded in 1334 BCE) but it might also feature events and characters that lay the ground for the creation of the Assassin Brotherhood and the Order of the Knights Templar, taking place two centuries after the events of the game.

Vikings, Arabs, Assassins

“Good day Markuz. Listen, the people that can be seen in the trailer seem to be Rus’ Vikings.”

That’s what Arcangelo told me when he reached out to share his idea / theory. He was talking about the inaptly named “Gameplay Trailer” for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which shows some scenes of the interiors of a Viking building during a feast, and to be honest the headgear of the characters shown in those scenes are actually similar to the depictions of the hats worn by the Rus’ people during the Dark Ages.

Top: Screenshots from the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla First Look Gameplay Trailer
Bottom left: Ukranian banknote depicting Vladimir The Great, leader of the Kievan Rus’ from 980 to 1015
Bottom center and right: Rus’ (Viking) hat recreations by and user DonQuixote

Arcangelo came to me hypothesizing that Valhalla might be showing some sort of connection between the Rus’ Vikings and the Islamic world, citing Ashraf Ismail’s words about the origins of the Hidden Blade and Wikipedia’s “The economic relationship between the Rus and the Islamic world developed quickly into a sprawling network of trading routes”.

Thus I asked myself if there was some bigger context and purpose to Arcangelo’s idea and to the various statements previously exposed and what follows is what I came up with.
There does seem to be some sort of substantial Arabic influence over the events shown in Valhalla. Ismail wouldn’t have mentioned the connection between Vikings and Arabs by chance, especially when being asked about Arab lands or characters being in the game.

The various designs of Eivor's Hidden
Blade shown up until now
If the design of the Hidden Blade is meant to be hinting at its original whereabouts, as stated by the former Creative Director, and if the assumptions within this article are to be correct (regarding the Damascus sabres / steel), then Eivor’s Hidden Blade would lay its origins in Damascus, or more generally Syria / the Arabian Peninsula, which is pretty interesting considering the meaning of that area for the Assassins and their history.

This might imply that around the 9th century BCE a branch or at least some members of the Hidden Ones were established in Syria and produced the Hidden Blade that ended up in Eivor’s hands.
Also, considering that Viking and Arabs had connections in the 9th century, it might be that these potential Hidden Ones from Syria traveled to Norway (or England?) for their own motivations and at some point encountered Eivor, gave them the Hidden Blade and collaborated with (used?) them in order to further their goals.

Moreover, we have the tale of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan. If we were to factor that in, considering his story as somewhat of an influence on the game (why mentioning it in so many interviews otherwise?) we could lay down some story hypotheses. At first glance Ibn Fadlan could appear in the game as himself… but his journey took place in 921-922 A.D., which is probably too far from the events of the game, which will start in 873 A.D.. Plus, Ibn Fadlan’s journey took him to the Volga trade route, not Norway or England. Thus, maybe the influence of his story on Valhalla could be less direct and more “inspirational”.

Even though in several interviews Ismail said that Eivor will “meet with Assassins”, in his Official Playstation Magazine interview Darby mentioned that he/she will meet an Assassin who will teach them about the Hidden Ones and the Order of the Ancients. If this single Assassin were to be inspired by Ibn Fadlan and his story, then we might already imagine some story traits in the game: the Assassin coming from the Arabian Peninsula, maybe under the cover of a diplomatic mission (like Ibn Fadlan’s), bringing a Hidden Blade created in that area (possibly in Syria), following his own or his organization’s agenda. He (or she?) meets Eivor, they find some common ground, he gives them the Hidden Blade and they collaborate on some missions. Maybe he even takes part in Eivor’s settlement and initially belittles the Viking traditions and customs, like Ibn Fadlan did, before changing his mind as he lives with them.

And if it’s a single Hidden One interacting with Eivor and not a group of people, what is to stop us wondering if he’s the hooded man from Valhalla’s CGI trailer?

After all, well, he is wearing a hood and robes with runes (not the most Arabic of traits, I know) and a red sash, he is following Eivor in battle, and the moment he sees him Eivor feels like the tide of the battle is changing. It’s probably a long shot, considering that this is more likely to be a mythology-oriented moment tied to the Viking belief in omens and signs from the gods (hence the “Odin is with us”), but then again it’s been clear throughout several interviews that the game will have a more grounded approach, even for what concerns the Norse mythology. In the Playstation Magazine UK interview McDevitt stated that the gods will exist in the game’s world only through the belief of characters, so unless the hooded figure in the trailer is something in Eivor’s mind or has a different nature (like a First Civ hologram or the product of Bleeding Effect), he should be a tangible and real character… maybe?

Furthermore, Darby stated that Valhalla will act as a bridge between the Hidden Ones VS Order of the Ancients conflict, and the Assassins VS Templars one and attempt to keep the origins of these factions historically consistent. As stated by the Narrative Director, it will also “set the stage” for the games that follow, and this would mean that Valhalla might actually lay the ground for the Levantine Assassin Brotherhood that we have seen in Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed Revelations (while trying to keep it historically accurate with its real Hashashin counterpart). If that were the case, it might strengthen the idea of this Assassin coming from the Arabian Peninsula, maybe from Syria itself, who after dealing with Eivor in the events shown in Valhalla, might go back to their home country to lay the basis for the Levantine Brotherhood of Assassins, ensuring that it can then be founded by Hassan-i Sabbah in 1090 A.D. as stated in Assassin’s Creed: The Essential Guide.

Mash-up of information from different pages of Assassin's Creed: The Essential Guide

So there it is, those are my few hypotheses for Valhalla based on an idea by a friend and the breadcrumbs left by the developers here and there. What do you think of these assumptions? Do you agree with them or do you have different opinions or expectations about what might happen in Valhalla?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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