Assassin’s Creed has been a hugely successful franchise – but was there REALLY ever a major battle between the Knights Templar and the Assassins? Did they hate each other to the extent that the game suggests? And in fact – who were they in reality?
Well, to start with we better re-cap on Assassin’s Creed. To crunch down the storyline and probably not do it complete justice – Desmond Miles is a young American brought up by a family who come from a long line of Assassins. He gets away from his Assassin family in South Dakota to become a bartender in New York city. But while there, he is kidnapped by the Templars – sworn enemies of the Assassins – and forced into a machine called the Animus which sends him back in time.
The machine is owned by Abstergo Industries, a Templar run enterprise. The Templars are using Desmond to get hold of “Pieces of Eden” that are in different locations, of course. The Pieces of Eden are part of a device used by the First Civilisation on our planet to control early humans. The First Civilisation was run by god-like creatures of superior intelligence called the Precursors or Isu, who had created the human race and were initially worshipped by their creations.
Human beings were mind controlled slaves at the outset but then bred with the Isu over time and this eroded the ability of the First Civilisation to control their creations who eventually rebelled. This coincided with a cosmic calamity to befall the earth reducing humanity to a few thousand. The recovering race of humans comprised those who wanted to restore some kind of order – Templars – and those who valued free will more – Assassins.
Desmond, therefore, is being manipulated by the Templars to bring the world back to a more disciplined path while the Assassins try and stop him giving away the location of Pieces of Eden that would allow this to happen. And this is battle between Templars and Assassins has been raging for thousands of years.
It’s a fun story and encompasses elements of Greek mythology, Scientology, gnosticism, philosophy and so on. But it’s not very historical. There was a Knights Templar order of militarised monks. And there was a fanatical sect called the Assassins. They did exist at the same time in the Middle East during the 12th and 13th centuries.
The Assassins were Shia Muslims and fought both the Sunni Muslim kingdoms of medieval Asia and the Christian crusaders who had come as invaders to the region. Their tactic was to assassinate leaders on both sides, which they did with horrific success. But their attitude to the Templars was more ambiguous.
The historian Dan Jones writes that they tended to avoid battling the Knights Templar. That may have been out of respect but also an awareness that if you killed one or ten or a hundred Templars, there were always others to take their place. The Templars could, basically, regenerate rapidly. Killing a king or a sultan could cause chaos. But the Templars took the death of their own warriors in their stride.
So in reality, far from being engaged in an eternal life or death struggle – the two forces seem to have sidestepped each other. Rather a different story then!