Colours in Assassin's Creed - a short review
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With the white hood and red attire, the hidden blade and a hunt for the Pieces of Eden, it’s not that far-fetched to say the Assassin’s Creed franchise is littered with symbols. Some may be in plain sight and speak for themselves, whilst others are to be found when taking a second look and digging deeper into the symbolic meanings. However, just finding the symbols doesn’t always make it clear what they mean. It’s time to take a closer look into the franchise and see what it can reveal through its symbols, statuses, clothing, attire and weaponry we’ve become all so familiar with.
For this article, the focus will be on the different colours that appear throughout the franchise, from the standard red and white, seen with the templars and assassins alike, to a brief look on the differing of colours according to game and historical setting.
Why the Red and White?
When speaking of colours, the numbers in the spectrum would take ages to describe and decode, some colours barely have names, some only numbers. They are infinite. Yet the three colours it is mainly agreed upon that all the others originate from are blue, red and yellow. Additionally, some are more human made colours like black and white, where white is defined as the absence of colour and black having all the colours combined. Through time we humans have supplemented the colours with a variety of symbolic meanings and usage. Some colours have had totally different meanings through time and place, and some have stayed the same. What then lies beneath the red and white clothing we familiarise with the Assassins?
White is the colour of the long robes we are introduced to in the first game. The Assassins, during the crusades, use the clothing to blend in with scholars as a way of disguising themselves while in big crowds or when there was a need to come close to a specific target without them knowing; in most cases simply to slip past guards without any danger. White is mostly associated with purity and peace, quite an ironic choice of wardrobe when our beloved characters dwell in the occupation of assassinations. To choose the white robe as a way of blending in is, of course, ingenious, and it is a tradition the later Assassins keep up.
Speaking of purity, wearing white attire in a dessert would keep it somewhat neat, but when rolling around in mud, blood, dust and dirt from the highest rooftop to the lowest sewers and caves, staying white would be a hazardous fulltime job. Traditionally outside of the AC franchise, when introduced to an assassin of any background, be it a ninja, a mercenary or just someone up to no good, they are, more often than not, clothed in black or dark colours to hide their identity and presence. To dress in white may as well be the Assassins way of boldly saying “we are here, and we’re not going anywhere”, as the colour white truly stands out in both night and daytime. If you want to stay hidden, don’t wear white, you’ll be seen from a mile away. Still the Assassins choose to wear it if given the chance. This can be interpreted as a way of letting the enemies know the Assassins don’t doubt their skills and presence, with no fear of being seen.
Throughout the franchise, Ubisoft manage to design each character in a way so that they keep their beloved white colour and remain hidden in plain sight. The dressing also alters with the time and place we meet the given character. After a while, it seems like the hood becomes the soul symbol of the Assassins, and the white recedes more.
Red is the colour of blood, of love, of hatred and of pulsing life. Its relation to anger, aggression and war also makes it a contradicting colour all depending on which culture the colour is viewed through. The active and masculine colour has been a symbol of both power and peace, of strength and happiness. In Egyptian mythology, the colour is linked to evil, seen as being the colour belonging to the god Seth and the chaos serpent Apep. In the Roman period however, it was a colour of the war god Ares, and was associated with strength and war in a positive way, giving courage to the soldiers. In Chinese tradition, however, the colour is a representative of luck, happiness, fertility, energy, wealth and life.
When it comes to Assassin's Creed, the colour red appears together with the main characters throughout the franchise, mostly as a piece of fabric. Its representation can be linked to the colour of blood, a colour of power and strength or a combination of both. To have red being linked to the symbolic meaning of blood isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it appears in the franchise, blood can be viewed as something cleansing. The first time we see this colour in association with an assassin is on Altaïr, as a red fabric underneath his leather belt. This tradition follows the future assassins from Ezio and all the way up to Evie and Jacob Frye. Later in the franchise with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, red is the colour of Sparta; a city and its citizens built for war.
Blue is a colour which has been represented for thousands of years. Its meaning is varied and rich. Albeit having different meanings, its foundation lies in the infinite, the divine and heavenly. Blue being the colour of the sky and the ocean, it represents that which is far away and out of reach, a cold and distant colour. This may be why it has represented gods, deities and that which can’t be reached by humans. In ancient Egypt the colour was a representation of the sky and linked to the god Amun who was often painted blue but has also been linked to death.
In Assassin’s Creed, the frequent use of blue is in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, where the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens sparks the use of both red and blue. There are no clear sources pinpointing the colour blue to Athens. This link may be a representation from modern times as it is an opposing colour to red, the colour of Sparta. Athens was also right next to the sea, so blue might be a colour they could have chosen to represent themselves. Having Athena as their chosen god could also have amplified this choice of colour, where the colour also represents both wisdom, fertility and the female gender.
Gold is a powerful colour, or more correctly speaking, metal. Although gold is not found in the colour spectrum, it is often used as a way to show power, wealth and divinity. It has throughout time been a symbol of the sun, the gods and immortality, used by many cultures from the dawn of human civilisations. The metal is also associated with hidden or illusive treasures that illustrates supreme illumination. In ancient Egypt the flesh of the gods was thought to be made out of gold, hence the gilded face masks and sarcophagus's of royals. Its representation and link to the sun god Ra was also present in the golden pyramid tops, standing as a mountain of gold. The link between golden apples and immortality is also found in both Japanese, Greek and Norse mythology.
The golden apple may have given it away, but both gilded and gold objects are to be found throughout the entire Assassin’s Creed franchise. Most notorious are the Pieces of Eden, powerful objects inhabiting great scientific knowledge, history, illusions and the ability to control the free will of humans. They come in several shapes and sizes, most know as apples, but additionally appear in the shape of a scepter, a sword and as the golden fleece (has streaks of gold in it).
Darkness and the absence of light, shadowy and mysterious. The colour associated with death, dark magic, temptation, grief, loss and old age, black has mainly had this meaning through both time and cultures. Before moving on, its still important to note that black has its feminine side in Yin from the Chinese tai-ji symbol of Yin and Yang, and was associated with the ancient land of Egypt and the gods Anubis and Pluto; though in the latter both are gods of the Underworld. The colour black has also been hard to dye, suggesting its status as a wealthy colour. Moving on, the colour with its grim symbolic meaning may have the larger strategical advantage.
If you want to lurk around in the dark and do things which normally would be questioned, like the occasional assassination, roof-observing or casual stalking, black is the go-to-colour. It is also noticeable through the Assassin’s Creed franchise that the colours of the in-game-characters turns to a darker point rather quickly. In this case, but not only, the truly black attire fully emerges with the Frye twins in Victorian London and its darker era. Coal and smog in the air, trains, carriages, mud and blood makes the black colour-of-choice an appropriate candidate, keeping the twins at a rather low key profile (or maybe not, I’m looking at you Jacob) giving them the blending effect and staying classy. Both the twins however also mostly have a tad of red with them, indicating a sense of tradition and salute to the old Assassin Masters.
A Colourful Franchise
As every Assassin has their own take on the traditional attire, customizing it to their need, time and place, it leaves us with a grand and astounding collection of outfits through the franchise. The traditional hood first used by the mercenaries in Greece. The white as an adaptation to the desert perhaps by Bayek and Aya.
Altaïr, Ezio and Ratonhnhaké:ton’s white robes as angels of death. Pirates, rebels, visionaries, brothers and sisters, the colours are many, the stories they tell even more.
With black as the leading colour for the more modern Assassins working their way through corrupt regimes, states and organisations, it also may be symbolically fitting to the era. If we take a brief look upon the franchise, the closer we get to today's society, the darker the attire becomes. Mostly as a way of blending in, it could also symbolise the Assassin’s mourning over civilisation. Put in context with the symbolism of black, you could almost suggest the Assassin’s role is needed as a destructive force necessary to keep the balance of civilisation in check. It doesn’t mean they enjoy it, watching society crumble to greed, it simply indicates that they’re not going anywhere for the time being, unaffected by their choice of dressing and colour.
Cirlot, J.E. (1983) A Dictionary of Symbols. 2nd edition. London and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Shepherd, R. and Shepherd, R. (2002) 1000 Symbols. London: Thames and Hudson.
Tresidder, J. (2004) The Complete Dictionary of Symbols in Myth, Art and Literature. London: Duncan Baird Publishers.
About the Author
Thea is a full time student studying archaeology at the University of Bergen in Norway. She is a huge fan of the franchise and enjoys writing both fictional and academic texts.
In her spare time, Thea is a passionate artist, creating detailed pencil sketches and watercolour/acrylic paintings. She has even created tattoos and replica historical props/ clothing before!
In Summer 2022, Thea joined TOWCB's art team, where she will have the chance to work on a variety of projects and expand her art portfolio.
Thea Marie Rivedal