Dragon Age: Art Imitating Life

I’m quite a sucker for in-universe lore. I love learning more about the history of characters and the worlds they inhabit. One franchise where this is especially true is that of Dragon Age, the high fantasy RPG series from Bioware.

I bought the original game, Origins, upon release after being totally excited for it by the various magazine articles and videos that I saw. I even bought the Collector’s Edition of the game, something I did for its two sequels as well, including the huge Inquisitor’s Edition of the third title. I fell in love with the game and became obsessed with its world. As such, I’ve picked up every piece of extended universe media that Bioware has released and while some are better than others, I have enjoyed them all.

Recently, I read the Boudicca graphic novel, based upon the revolt of the Celtic queen of the same name against the Romans around 60 AD. I was surprised to learn that before one of the many battles she took part in Boudicca invoked the goddess Andraste. The reason for my surprise is that “Andraste” is also the name of the main – or at least most prominent – divine figure in Dragon Age. Intrigued, I decided to see what might tie these two goddesses together.

The statue Boadicea and Her Daughters in London

The Celtic Andraste was a warrior goddess. It is thought that she was the goddess of victory and thus invoked on the eve of battle to ensure success. She was also the goddess of ravens and divination and so would have been called upon to help predict the outcome of battles. It is believed that her name meant “the invincible one” or “she who has not fallen.” Historians believe that Andraste’s symbol was a hare, as Boudicca reportedly released one before one of her battles with the Romans. However, the exact reason for this is not clear. Some believe it was an act of propitiation – currying favor with Andraste to ensure victory; while historic novelist Robert Graves believe this was done with the hope that the Romans would slay the hare which, as the Celts believed, would infuse them with cowardice and thus the Romans would flee without any battle being fought.

The Andraste of Dragon Age (whom I’ll refer to as “AndrasteDA” herein) is also a warrior goddess. However, before her godhood (goddesshood?) she was an every day woman. AndrasteDA was born the daughter of the chief of a powerful tribe in the early history of Thedas, the continent on which the Dragon Age story takes place, just as Boudicca had been before marrying the chief of the Iceni tribe.

Again similar to Boudicca, AndrasteDA had a powerful foreign force bearing down on her people. At this time in the history of Thedas the largest kingdom was known as Tevinter. Shadowing all other nations in Thedas, Tevinter looked to ever expand its boarders by either placating the native people or taking their lands by force. Sound familiar? 😉

At one point, AndrasteDA was taken prisoner by Tevinter and enslaved. Her people rallied support, demanding their king – AndrasteDA’s husband – negotiate her release. During this time, AndrasteDA began to see herself as a messenger for the Maker (Dragon Age‘s version of God) who would help her people free themselves from the tyranny of Tevinter. While Boudicca was never captured by the Romans she clearly inspired the Iceni people to fight for their freedom, just as AndrasteDA did hers.

A shrine to Andraste from the Dragon Age: Inquisition

As with Boudicca, AndrasteDA lead her followers into a great battle against their enemies. However, again as with Boddicca, AndrasteDA’s efforts eventually failed. While Boudicca died by her own hand after her army was defeated by consuming poison, AndrasteDA was instead captured again, only this time to be burned at the stake.

After her death, AndrasteDA achieved a Saint-like status in Thedas, with the main religious body, the Chantry, basing itself on teachings she wrote before her death. As such, she is prayed to and honoured by many Thedasians as a goddess in her own right. This is where her similarity to the real Andraste begins. (And, one could argue that Boudicca herself is thought of in a Saint-like way by many people today, although she has never been canonised.)

Like Boudicca’s Andraste, AndrasteDA is often depicted with sword or shield in hand, showing her as both warrior and defender of the people, much like Boudicca herself. Other times she is depicted in her aspect as Herald of the Maker, shown holding the burning sun that is his symbol. Even the real Andraste’s connection with the natural world is reflected in AndrasteDA as some of Thedas’ cultures are said to honour her in her hunter aspect and that she spurs the growth of fruit and nuts as well as grants success in the hunt.

Kirsty Mitchell as Boudica from the History Channel’s Barbarians Rising

While of course it’s easy to just enjoy things like Dragon Age for its own merits, I always find it incredibly interesting to find out how the real world has inspired them, even if it is through our own myths, legends and beliefs. I think it’s pretty clear that Celtic queen Boudicca and her warrior goddess Andraste were an inspiration to Bioware’s creative team and that, for me, makes the game’s lore even more intriguing.

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