Like the Assassin’s Creed Origins Setting? Try These Works Set in Ancient Egypt
If you like historical fiction, the Assassin’s Creed Origins setting of Ancient Egypt during the Ptolemaic Kingdom is worth exploring in depth.
In some ways, historical fiction can be a gateway drug. People get a little taste of the past (usually through rose-tinted glasses), and they are often interested enough to go looking for more. One day it’s a period TV show, the next it’s a non-fiction book about the era. It’s a slippery slope, and one of the most dangerous of these historical fiction starter drugs is video games.
Historical settings are ripe for game adaptations, every bit as much as films, TV shows, and books. And while games tend to need to radically adapt history to fit the action-oriented mentality of most titles, the best historically set games are grounded in real events. It’s more compelling to fight in the trenches of WWI when you know that the battle you are recreating actually happened, and it frequently sends people looking for more info on the era.
Sure, historical fiction, especially games, tend to skip over the less appealing aspects of the real stories and focus on the romantic side of things. It’s thrilling to take up the flag of the Jolly Roger like in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and engage in a bit of piracy next to historical figures, but no one wants to see their protagonist come down with scurvy or lose half their teeth because toothpaste hasn’t been invented yet. Baby steps.
In the best cases, the games will inspire people to seek out more. That’s where this list comes in.
The Assassin’s Creed games have always been built around historical fiction – that’s arguably their defining characteristic – and the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Origins is no exception. The game is set during the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, which also means it is set during the birth of the Roman Empire. You’ll meet Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, and witness the arrival of the centurions marking a new period in Egyptian history. It is one of the best documented times from the ancient world (relatively) – the only problem is that most of the focus was on the Romans rather than the Egyptians. That gives the developers of Assassin’s Creed Origins plenty of room to breathe, but it also means most of the existing historical fiction of the era is more centered on the Italian peninsula than the Nile.
Still, if you are interested in the era, if Assassin’s Creed Origins has you googling “Ancient Egypt” for more info, we have a few suggestions you may want to check out.
The Ancient Egypt Series by Wilbur Smith
Author Wilbur Smith’s “The Ancient Egypt Series” consists of six books, five of which are set during the Pharaoh Memnon’s time, with one set in the present but discussing the previous era. They are historical fiction with only the loosest of historical threads to tie onto, and later books in the series aren’t nearly as well regarded as the earliest. With that said, if you’re looking for a fun, interesting look at life in Ancient Egypt, this series might be just what you’re looking for.
One minor note for those hoping for a companion to Assassin’s Creed Origins, Smith’s books are set nearly 1500 years before the game takes place. So consider it a prequel.
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
It’s extremely difficult to separate the fact from the fiction of Cleopatra. Few women throughout history have been as reinterpreted and even reinvented over the years/centuries, with each new take being more about making a point than creating an accurate biography.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff offers a look at the real woman and queen, with a fact-based biography peppered with legends to help fill some of the many gaps. The result is a balanced and yet exciting look at one of the most important women of all time, as well as a look at the time that saw the end of one era and the beginning of another.
The Rise of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson
If you want a real, deep cut look at Ancient Egypt, look no further than Toby Wilkinson’s historical non-fiction look at Ancient Egypt spanning thousands of years. The style of Wilkinson’s book is one part textbook one part traditional storytelling, and it tells an epic tale.
If you really are curious about the era – and not just the brief few years that Assassin’s Creed Origins occupies – then this might be the book for you. Just prepare for a long trip into the past.
Although set a few hundred years after Rome has gone from a republic to empire, Agora gives audiences a look at Roman-controlled Egypt that tries to show life as it might have been at that time. It also focuses on the rise of Christianity, with a heavy dose of philosophy thrown in.
It’s a bit of a departure if you’re looking for something with more of an action, but if you want to know more about life during that era – or a few hundred years after, but essentially still the same – Agora is a good film to check out.
Famous at the time of its release for its extravagance, Elizabeth Taylor’s 1963 Cleopatra is not exactly a great source for an accurate look at the queen, but it is an interesting one with just enough truth in it to keep viewers interested. Then throw in the lush, epic scope of a Hollywood film from the 50s and 60s and you have a three-hour spectacle that gives an almost dreamlike view of Ancient Egypt.
Fair warning though: there is some deep, deep white-washing at work here, and the performances are all larger-than life, as was the style at the time. Modern sensibilities have also once again forced our views on Cleopatra the person to pivot, but Taylor’s opulent queen has her charms.
Exodus: Gods and Kings
This film makes the list for one reason and one reason only: it looks great. Exodus is not a great movie – it’s not terrible, but it’s definitely not great. Ridley Scott’s theatrical retelling of Moses and his conflict with Egypt was considered a flop with critics and audiences, with the story failing to connect and the characters never endearing themselves. One area where it did excel, however, was in the depiction of life in Ancient Egypt.
Exodus showed a world inhabited by actual people, not just plot contrivances. That wasn’t enough to really hold up the entire film, but if the setting and the life depicted in Assassin’s Creed Origins appeals to you, you may want to add this film to your list.
The Ancient World
If you want to go deep into the history of the ancient world, including Egypt, then look no further than Scott Chesworth’s The Ancient World podcast. The podcasts cover a huge swathe of history and they range in scope. Episodes can focus on individual families or huge events in history. At first glance, it can be hard to find a jumping on point, but once you do, they can be addictive.
If you are interested in history from the ancient world, check out this podcast.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: Death Throes of the Republic
If podcasts and real stories from history are your thing – and if you are reading this article presumably they are – then you should check out Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcasts. Each podcast tells a true story, with some of the subjects spanning multiple podcasts over several hours. They are all told like expertly crafted stories and are worth listening to, but the “Death Throes of the Republic” is perfect for someone interested in the era depicted in Assassin’s Creed Origins.
The story focuses on the Roman side of things, specifically the events leading up to Caesar’s rise to power. That inevitably led him to a fateful meeting with Cleopatra that would have lasting consequences. This series will take you several hours to get through, but it is told in such a way that you won’t care and you’ll still be left wanting more.
The History of Egypt Podcast
If you are really into the history of Egypt – specifically Ancient Egypt – then the Egyptian History Podcast is the podcast for you. Topics range from general eras in Egyptian history to specific topics like the Egyptian Underworld or the discovery of individual tombs. There are also connected podcasts that make up large story arcs over several episodes.
If you like the setting of Assassin’s Creed Origins and you want to really dive into the rise and fall of Ancient Egypt, as well as the various kingdoms at their height, then start on episode one and settle in for a long, but fascinating journey.
One part documentary, one part re-enactment, the six-episode BBC series Egypt delved into some of the most famous stories from Ancient Egypt, including the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, unearthing the tomb of Tutankhamun (and the subsequent “curse”), the secrets of hieroglyphs, and more.
If you enjoy documentaries but want a touch of traditional TV thrown in to boot, Egypt is a great way to jump into the history of the region. It is a bit laser focused on a handful of events rather than the larger picture, but it will give you a better understanding of the region, and it does so in an entertaining – and factual – way.
If you want to dive into one of the best fictional accounts of the era, complete with high production values and stories that merged fact and fiction artfully enough that you won’t care where the line is, then look no further than the TV show Rome. Although it lasted just two seasons on HBO (due in large part to the production costs), Rome won several awards and helped launch numerous careers. It also gave us a compelling and nuanced look at the time period.
As the name suggests, Rome focuses on the city of Rome as it transitions from Republic to Empire. Most of the show is centered on the namesake city, but there is a lengthy story arc involving Egypt and Cleopatra. Fans of the queen may not like the depiction, but it is always interesting. And if you like the setting, Rome is a must watch.
The 2015 miniseries Tut tells the story of, well, King Tut, aka the Pharaoh Tutankhamun, possibly the most famous pharaoh of all-time – even though he didn’t really do much in his life. Tut’s greatest claim to fame is that his tomb remained undisturbed for centuries, leading to archaeologist Howard Carter’s discovery in 1922. To this day, it is considered one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in history, and has inspired countless stories of treasure hunters… and curses.
But while Tut may be better known for his golden sarcophagus, the real Tutankhamun ruled Egypt nearly 1300 years before Julius Caesar walked on the banks of the Nile. His reign was short, just nine years or so, but it was tumultuous. The miniseries captures that, and gives an intriguing look at life in Ancient Egypt centuries before any fictional assassins were active.