1. Leonardo da Vinci
Everyone loves Leonardo. Be careful in the beginning of Assassin’s Creed II - there’s a moment when you have to catch his hug quickly, and it would be very sad if you missed it. Leonardo da Vinci, obviously, was a real person, by some considered to be the archetype of the Renaissance Man. He was a painter, a sculptor, an architect, a musician, a mathematician, an engineer, an anatomist, a geologist, a cartographer, a botanist, and, of course, an inventor. His technological ingenuity and unquenchable curiosity, both historical qualities, made him very useful to Ezio in the games.
2. Lorenzo di Medici
There’s not too much of politics in Assassin’s Creed II, but Lineage, the short movie that acts as a prequel to Ezio’s story, is flooded with it. If you pay attention, you can tell Giovanni is observing several important historical events taking place. The fictional Auditore family is politically aligned with the Medici, specifically Lorenzo di Medici. The historical Lorenzo de’ Medici was a statesman and de facto ruler of the Florentine Republic and was known as Lorenzo the Magnificent (Lorenzo il Magnifico). As in the game, his principal rival was the Pazzi family, who later conspired to have him killed.
3. The Pazzi Conspiracy
Speaking of the Pazzi, let’s talk about the Pazzi Conspiracy. This is a real event that happened basically the way it did near the beginning of Assassin’s Creed II. On Easter Sunday, April 26, 1478, a group including members of the Pazzi family (with Francesco de’ Pazzi leading) and the Salviati (papal bankers in Florence), backed by Pope Sixtus IV (who gave his blessing to the mission but reportedly said, “I support it - as long as no one is killed”), attacked Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano, who was killed. The only difference between this and the game version is that in the historical version, the attack happened inside the church, while in the game it was outside, allowing Ezio to intervene and save Lorenzo.
4. The feud between the Pazzi and the Medici and the aftermath of the conspiracy
We kind of touched on this already in numbers 2 and 3, but let’s explore this rivalry some more. (There’s a lot to it. People have written books about it.) It all stems from a power struggle. The Pazzi already had roots deeply embedded in Florence when the Medici began to rise to power, swiftly becoming the banking powerhouse of Tuscany. After the semi-failed assassination attempt (Giuliano was killed; Lorenzo was not), the Pazzi were banished from the city of Florence. In Assassin’s Creed II, Ezio has to hunt down the conspirators in the Tuscan countryside, but there is no indication that they had opportunities to seek refuge there in real history.
5. Francesco Salviati
The archbishop of Pisa in 1475, the historical Francesco Salviati Riario’s role in the Pazzi Conspiracy was to go to the Palazzo Vecchio, kill the Gonfaloniere Petrucci, and seize the Palazzo della Signoria, but was actually arrested by Petrucci before he could do so and lynched by a mob. His role is not as significant in the game. The Assassin’s Creed version of Salviati merely leads the Pazzi’s troops into Florence and flees to his Tuscan villa at the sign of trouble. He is still killed, however, but at the hands of Ezio, not a mob.
6. Antonio Maffei
Personally, I will never forget the part of Assassin’s Creed II when you have to assassinate Maffei, who has barricaded himself up on the highest tower in San Gimignano and put guards on all the other ones. (There are a lot of towers in San Gimignano.) Antonio Maffei, thankfully, was a real person and did take part in the Pazzi Conspiracy.
I really love this little detail, for some reason. Indeed, florins were the currency of the realm during Ezio’s time. The Italian florin was a coin struck from 1252 to 1533 with no significant change in its design or metal content standard during that time. It was widely used, probably due to the fact that many Florentine banks were international supercompanies with branches across Europe.
8. The cities
The cities in Assassin’s Creed II are a true testimony to the determined and unintimidated work ethic of the makers of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Florence. San Gimignano. Monteriggioni. Venice. Besides recreating everyone’s favorite tourist spots (like the Duomo in Florence, the Piazza San Marco in Venice, the towers in San Gimignano, etc) with astounding details, this team really did their research. Whether looking at them from a distance or exploring them on foot or by roof, the cities of Assassin’s Creed II really give off the vibe that this is what they actually might have looked like in the 1400s and 1500s. It’s unbelievable.
9. The common people
They make themselves known, even if you’re not looking out for them, whether by impeding your progress and singing at you (if they’re minstrels), exclaiming annoying things like, “He could hurt someone!” when you do things that aren’t generally acceptable, or just being there for you to blend with. Again, like with the cities, they all produce the impression of authenticity - this is how people dressed in Renaissance Italy, this is how they talked, this is how they acted. Some things are definitely historically accurate, like the beak-shaped plague masks and black robes of the doctors.
10. Ezio’s honor
This is an interesting one. Remember in the very, very beginning of Assassin’s Creed II, when Florentine teen Ezio is giving a pep talk to his gang before a confrontation with Vieri? He says, “Do you know what brings us here tonight? Honor!” Actually, a lot of the decisions Ezio makes throughout the game are based on his own honor and that of his family. Ezio beats up Vieri for his family’s honor. The same thing goes for Duccio, but it’s more specifically for Ezio’s sister, Claudia. A little later, Ezio kills Ubertino, who betrayed his family - again, honor. Interestingly, Ezio is simply behaving the way the ideal man of the time period and location should. “Honor and Gender in the Streets of Early Modern Rome,” by Elizabeth Cohen, is a relevant reading if you want more information.
11. Caterina Sforza
Ezio’s second significant love interest (that we know of) was a real historical figure. Caterina Sforza held the titles of Lady of Imola and Countess of Forli by her marriage to Girolamo Riario and was famous (or perhaps infamous) for her boldness. As in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Caterina Sforza was taken prisoner by Cesare Borgia, historically for her resistance at Forli when he came with an army to invalidate the investiture of the feudal lords, including Sforza. After capture, she was imprisoned in Castel Sant’Angelo, like in Brotherhood.
12. House of Barbarigo
Historically, the House of Barbarigo was one of the most influential families in Venice. Two members were doges: Marco, who ruled from 1485 to 1486, and Agostino, who ruled from 1486 to 1501. In Assassin’s Creed II, Marco became doge only after the previous doge, Giovanni Mocenigo, was killed by Templar Carlo Grimaldi. Marco himself was assassinated by Ezio during the Carnevale and was replaced by his brother Agostino, who was a friend to the Assassins.
13. Venetian Doge Giovanni Mocenigo
Closely tied to number 12, above, this is an interesting tidbit. As mentioned above, Giovanni Mocenigo was poisoned by fictional consigliere Carlo Grimaldi in the game (after a historical rule from 1478 to 1485), but this was based on real speculations that Mocenigo met his end thanks to poison.
Ezio gives a marvelous speech after killing Savonarola, so let’s look at who the real Savonarola was. As illustrated in Assassin’s Creed II, Girolamo Savonarola was a Dominican friar and preacher, who was known for his prophecies of civic glory and calls for Christian renewal. He denounced clerical corruption, despotic rule, and exploitation of the poor, and defied Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) with his preaching and processions, as well as the famous Bonfire of the Vanities, another event in Assassin’s Creed II. Eventually, Savonarola was excommunicated and, upon further defiance and flashy claims of prophethood, was arrested and publicly burned at the gallows.
15. Bonfire of the Vanities
The idea of having bonfires of vanities was not Savonarola’s invention, but the one led by him in 1497 was probably the most well-known instance. Savonarola, seeing these objects as vessels of sin, collected and burned thousands of books, pieces of art, cosmetics, etc. in Florence on the Mardi Gras festival.
16. The Borgia family (overall)
Ah, the Borgia family. There’s a show about them now. Honestly, you could fill a book - many books, if you’re zealous enough - with Borgia history, but we don’t have time for that. The Borgias were from Valencia, Spain, and were, during the reign of Rodrigo as Pope Alexander VI, suspected of many crimes, including adultery, simony, theft, rape, bribery, incest, and murder (especially by arsenic poisoning). In Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood, they are the main Templar antagonists and today they are remembered for their corrupt rule, libertinism, nepotism, and treachery. Rodrigo, of course, was the father of Cesare, Lucrezia, and Giovanni (Juan).
17. Cesare Borgia
The historical Cesare, much like the Assassin’s Creed version, was an Italian condottiero, nobleman, politician, and cardinal. He conquered many lands but has been accused of killing his brother (or arranging an assassination), as his death opened up the opportunity for Cesare to have a military career, but those suspicions have never been confirmed. After Rodrigo’s death and Cesare’s falling out of favor with Pope Julius II, who was an enemy of the Borgia, Cesare was betrayed in Naples and exiled to Spain in 1504 and was eventually imprisoned in the Castle of La Mota (as in Brotherhood). Historically, Cesare escaped from the Castle of La Mota and died on the battlefield in Spain fighting for King John III of Navarre.
18. Leonardo da Vinci working for Cesare Borgia
This unfortunate turn in the artist’s life is utterly true. Leonardo was briefly employed by Cesare Borgia from 1502 to 1503 as a military architect and engineer. In return for helping him construct war machines and fortify fortresses, Leonardo received protection and full control over all construction in the domain.
19. Rodrigo’s death
Historically, Rodrigo and Cesare both dined with Cardinal Adriano da Corneto in 1503 and were taken ill a few days later. Cesare survived, though he was weakened, but Rodrigo on August 12, at 72 years old. The Brotherhood version runs parallel to this: though in actuality there wasn’t any business with Rodrigo poisoning the apples with the intent of poisoning Cesare and Cesare in turn forcing Rodrigo to eat his own poisoned apples, it does run true to fact that Rodrigo died from poisoning and Cesare weakened but survived. (Incidentally, there’s another excuse for Ezio not killing Rodrigo at the end of AC II; it would have been too early for the historical Rodrigo to die.)
Machiavelli might be my favorite character in all the Assassin’s Creed games (except Ezio), so in my opinion, I saved the best for last. Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was a historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer. He was a founder of modern political science and political ethics. His best-known book is “The Prince” (Il Principe) and it is insinuated in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood that Machiavelli was heavily influenced by Ezio in writing it.
Machiavelli: “I intend to write a book about you one day.”
Ezio: “If you do, make it short.”