Who is Alessia?

Alessia in Brief

Alessia was the first empress of Cyrodiil. She’s also known as the Slave-Queen, because she rose up against the Ayleid rulers of the Heartland in 1E 242, who had enslaved the Nedes who were living in Cyrod at the time. Alessia’s rebellion succeeded within a year, thanks to her appeals to the gods and various other kinds of supernatural help, and she founded the first mannish empire.

She went on to create the pantheon of the Eight Divines, and thereby shape a lot of human culture for many centuries to come. She also founded the Imperial line in a decidedly non-human fashion. During the year-long rebellion against the Ayleids, she found time to fall in love with Morihaus the winged bull, Kyne’s son, and the next emperor of Cyrodiil after her was Belharza, the Man-Bull. Whether he’s the first minotaur is debatable, but Alessia is certainly responsible for the Imperial line. She potentially also goes on to influence generations of emperors through the Amulet of Kings, which we’ll discuss in a bit more detail towards the end of this cast.

Alessia’s Origins

I’ve touched on the origins of men before in this podcast, but I want to dig into Alessia’s origins specifically a bit more. She is a Nede, and is noted in The Adabal-a as the following:

Perrif’s original tribe is unknown, but she grew up in Sard, anon Sardarvar Leed, where the Ayleids herded in men from across all the Niben: kothri, nede, al-gemha, men-of-‘kreath (though these were later known to be imported from the North), keptu, men-of-ge (who were eventually destroyed when the Flower King Nilichi made great sacrifice to an insect god named [lost]), al-hared, men-of-ket, others; but this was Cyrod, the heart of the imperatum saliache, where men knew no freedom, even to keep family, or choice of name except in secret, and so to their alien masters all of these designations were irrelevant

This makes Alessia both Nedic and from the area of the Niben, essentially a precursor to the Nibenese Cyrodilic peoples. She also engaged in a fair bit of travelling. She grew up in Sard, on the southern banks of the Niben, and the next thing we hear is that she’s in Sancre Tor, which is in the foothills of the Colovian Highlands. It’s about half the length of Cyrodiil away from Sard. It’s not explicitly said, but I think the most reasonable assumption is that she ran away at some point. Given that The Legendary Sancre Tor notes that the Nordic conquests that would eventually reach Morrowind and High Rock began 2 years before Alessia’s rebellion, it’s possible that she headed north with the explicit goal of bringing the Nords into Cyrod to overthrow the Ayleids. I’d suggest even probable, but we don’t have any evidence for that.

Cyrod vs Cyrodiil

I’ve been using the term Cyrod to refer to the land, rather than Cyrodiil. Most of the documents of Alessia’s time refer to it as Cyrod, which is part of the reason I’m doing it, but there is also this great post by /u/TheInducer that points out that Cyrodiil probably means “people of Cyrod”. Exactly what Cyrod means, I’m not sure, but “heartland” is tentatively proposed. Either way, talking about the land, we talk about Cyrod. The people, it’s Cyrodiil or “the Cyrodiils”.

Alessia’s Name

That’s about all we really know about Alessia before her rebellion, and it’s that conflict that defines pretty much everything. We don’t actually even know her name. We have part of the Adabal-a, attributed to Morihaus, unpacking what her name actually means:

“In your tales you have many names for her: Al-Esh, given to her in awe, that when translated sounds like a redundancy, ‘the high high’, from which come the more familiar corruptions: Aleshut, Esha, Alessia. You knew her as Paravant, given to her when crowned, ‘first of its kind’, by which the gods meant a mortal worthy of the majesty that is killing-questing-healing, which is also Paraval, Pevesh, Perrethu, Perrif, and, in my case, for it is what I called her when we were lovers: Paravania.”

I think the second part may be a hint here at some of the thematic intent – the variety of P-names sound increasingly like Percival, which I’ve also heard as Parsifal in German, and Peredur in Welsh. Percival was an Arthurian knight, who was associated with the Holy Grail in the earliest Arthurian tales. I associate this with Alessia because of the name, and the mention of “killing-questing-healing”, which feels moderately like the idea of a questing knight. While we’re in the realm of knights, I was half-tempted to see if there are links to Spenser’s Britomart from The Fairie Queene, but I’m not sure she’s particularly relevant here.

Alessia as a Prisoner

The reason I’m being so wrapped up in knights and knight imagery is the idea of “killing-questing-healing”, which feels quite a bit like what knights do. For those of you that are sceptical on the “healing” bit, remember the Hospital of St John (now St John’s Ambulance Service) was a knightly order originally. As to what healing Alessia did, she synthesised a lot of things, most particularly Cyrodilic men, Ayleids and Nords, which we’ll get to that later.

While killing-questing-healing is what knights do, it’s also what player characters do in The Elder Scrolls. I’ve seen it mentioned, most particularly by /u/TheInducer in this comment, that Alessia could have been a Prisoner in the mystical sense in The Elder Scrolls. One who sees their bonds of imprisonment within reality, and then escapes them, changing things forever before fading into obscurity and the unknown. I’ve done a cast on the Prisoner before if you want to go back and check it out in detail, but the key point that TheInducer makes is that all Alessia’s names are titles. We don’t know her name, like every other protagonist in The Elder Scrolls. We do have a defined gender for her, which would break the pattern a little, and she doesn’t fade into obscurity in quite the same way as player characters, but there are certainly some interesting parallels there. She certainly brought about enough change to have broken existing patterns.

Alessia’s Pact(s?)

The biggest change, of course, was the shift in power in Cyrod from mer to men, thanks to Alessia’s pact with… someone? Exactly who or what Alessia made a pact with wasn’t really clear, from the text that we have. There seem to be multiple pacts going on here, doing different things. To start with what I think is probably the closest thing we have to authentic texts about Alessia, The second volume of the Song of Pelinal says this:

[And then] Perrif spoke to the Handmaiden again, eyes to the Heavens which had not known kindness since the beginning of elven rule, and she spoke as a mortal, whose kindle is beloved by the Gods for its strength-in-weakness, a humility that can burn with metaphor and yet break [easily and] always, always doomed to end in death (and this is why those who let their souls burn anyway are beloved of the Dragon and His Kin) and she said: “And this thing I have thought of, I have named it, and I call it freedom. Which I think is just another word for Shezarr Who Goes Missing… [You] made the first rain at his sundering [and that] is what I ask now for our alien masters… [that] we might sunder them fully and repay their cruelty [by] dispersing them to drown in the Topal. Morihaus, your son, mighty and snorting, gore-horned, winged, when next he flies down, let him bring us anger.” … [And then] Kyne granted Perrif another symbol, a diamond soaked red with the blood of elves, [whose] facets could [un-sector and form] into a man whose every angle could cut her jailers and a name: PELIN-EL [which is] “The Star-Made Knight” [and he] was arrayed in armor [from the future time].

The Handmaiden here is Mara, the Handmaiden of Kyne according to the Nords, and it’s Kyne who does the sending here, not Mara. Interestingly, Pelinal is described as a “another symbol”, and this is where I’d love to know the rest of the lost Song text, because we have the language of symbols and visions for Alessia in another text, which has a different spin on things. The Catechism of Saint Alessia says she prayed to Akatosh, who grants her visions:

Saint Alessia, through her purity and wisdom, earned the love of all good beings, mortal and immortal. At Sancre Tor she prayed to Akatosh for the liberation of her people, and the Time Dragon granted her Three Visions to guide her in this task. Though the road was long and filled with hardship, her faith sustained her. When at last all three visions had come to pass and her people were freed of Elven domination, her purpose was fulfilled and she was called to Apotheosis.

This is another retelling of the same event we get in the Song, from what I can tell – both talk about freedom, in some shape or form, and Alessia’s initial appeal. It also says about three visions which are fulfilled during the Rebellion. Pelinal is described as a “symbol” in the Song, so he’s one. I think it’s possible that Morihaus is another, but I’m at a loss for the third. Maybe that vision was freedom itself and the empire of Cyrodiil? I’m not sure on that one, but it seems to fit.

I’m a little inclined to disagree with the Catechism that it was Akatosh that was prayed to, if I’m honest. The text has no author, but it’s a catechism, a religious teaching. That, and that it is focused on Akatosh where the Song just refers to “the Dragon”, says to me that it’s likely to be a product of the Alessian Order, which was very keen to bring Akatosh to the fore and diminish other gods. They also claim that she was “called to Apotheosis” once the Ayleids were defeated. It smells a bit like Tiber’s official account, someone just “given” godhood at a convenient point in the narrative, while the truth is likely a bit more messy. Given that she’s also down as being the progenitors of the minotaurs in some quarters through a relationship with Morihaus, the Alessian Order, which On Minotaurs notes may have wanted to expunge minotaurs and other non-humans from the historical record, so removing the possibility of Alessia’s relationship with a non-human seems a perfectly characteristic piece of revisionism for the Order. That there were three visions is actually about all I’d trust about that piece, to be honest, because it’s one of the few things that the Order has no real motivation to tamper with. Plus, if it did happen, it’d have to happen really quickly; Alessia’s revolt starts in 1E 242, and ends a year later. Assuming a normal human gestation period for Belharza, that’s only a few months for the relationship between Alessia and Morihaus to form.

Despite all these inconsistencies, there has to have been a deal with Akatosh at some point, because Akatosh kept a barrier between Oblivion and Mundus sealed. This action is never associated with anyone else, so I think we can be fairly certain that there was a pact between Akatosh and Alessia at some point, we’re just not sure when or entirely in what circumstances.

Alessia also seems to have been quite the diplomat, bringing in Nords, Nedes and even some Ayleids into her cause, as well as having a good dose of either luck or planning with regard to her timing. The Last King of the Ayleids notes that:

The first two centuries of the First Era saw increasing strife between the great Ayleid lords of Cyrodiil. Alessia appears to have taken advantage of a period of civil war to launch her uprising. Imperial historians have traditionally attributed her victory to intervention from Skyrim, but it appears that she had at least as much help from rebel Ayleid lords during the siege of White Gold Tower.

If this is true, then Alessia took advantage of an already fractured Ayleid polity to secure human dominance over Cyrod. Whether she meant any ill will towards the Ayleids who aided her is unclear, as their persecution came later. Her actions elsewhere (such as the pacts with the Nords, and various entreaties to the gods, making her just as much a diplomat as a conqueror.Alessia & Mythopoeia

Part of that diplomacy and compromise is her founding of the Eight Divines pantheon. This happens after the end of the rebellion. Shezarr and the Divines puts it like this:

When Skyrim lends its armies to the Slave-Queen of the South, the revolution succeeds. The Ayleid Hegemonies are quickly overthrown. Shortly thereafter, White Gold Tower is captured by Alessia’s forces, and she promptly declares herself the first Empress of Cyrodiil. Part of the package meant that she had to become the High Priestess of Akatosh, as well.
Akatosh was an Aldmeri god, and Alessia’s subjects were as-yet unwilling to renounce their worship of the Elven pantheon. She found herself in a very sensitive political situation. She needed to keep the Nords as her allies, but they were (at that time) fiercely opposed to any adoration of Elven deities. On the other hand, she could not force her subjects to revert back to the Nordic pantheon, for fear of another revolution. Therefore, concessions were made and Empress Alessia instituted a new religion: the Eight Divines, an elegant, well-researched synthesis of both pantheons, Nordic and Aldmeri.

This is the only text that states that Akatosh was an Aldmeri god; all other texts put Auri-El in that slot, and say it’s the Elven name for Akatosh, but never say that Akatosh is merish. Part of me wonders whether Auri-El became Akatosh with the renaming and rebranding of some Nordic gods into the Divines (Kyne is demoted and becomes Kynareth, Orkey becomes Arkay, Jhunal becomes Julianos etc), as the other part of the synthesis. I’ve heard some people say that this is a possible moment where Akatosh was created, rather than Auri-El being reshaped, the other possible moment of reshaping being when the Marukhati Selectives danced on the Tower. However, I’m not 100% convinced of that; I’d expect some serious sorcery to be undertaken as part of that, and Alessia was far more about appealing to the gods and dealing with them than manipulating them. It’s a possibility, though.

Rather, I think what Alessia did was something a bit more potent. She told stories. Different stories than had been told before, which reshaped reality in the telling, maybe? I’ve said before in a previous cast that I’m not convinced that Mythopoeia is “power gained from worship” in the sense of you believe something and it happens, but maybe if you tell the same story over and over, the universe believes it? It feels like a loose connection, but close to one that I’ve made before, which seems to make some sense.

Alessia’s Possible Inspiration

It also vaguely chimes with a possible inspiration for Alessia, and I have to thank one my patrons for pointing this out, so my thanks to Owain for noticing this parallel. He pointed out that Enheduanna may have been a possible inspiration for Alessia, which I think is closer than the more obvious Joan of Arc. Born in ancient Sumeria, daughter of Sargon of Akkad, Enheduanna was not a slave, but her father was supposedly born the son of a palace gardener. Enheduanna herself was a priestess and the first named author in history (“first of its kind” title, anyone?). She may have also engaged in a degree of religious syncretism, as ancient Mesopotamia’s pantheons lived on and shifted between different empires for quite a while. As MK has noted Gilgamesh as an inspiration for Pelinal, I think that Owain may be on to something with this particular parallel.Alessia’s Death

After the foundation of the Eight Divines and birthing Belharza, we hear little of Alessia before her death, and even that’s contested. We’ve already spoken about the Alessian Order’s attempts to claim that she ascended after the war. For all we know about her, she might well have done – my objection to that is the timeline of Belharza’s life, more than anything we know about Alessia. And the Catechism isn’t the only source to hint at a death that wasn’t quite a death. The last volume of the Song of Pelinal says this:

[Let us] now take you Up. We will [show] our true faces… [which eat] one another in amnesia each Age.”

Beyond having some interesting implications about the relationship between Lorkhan and Akatosh which I won’t go into here, being “taken up” suggests an ascension of sorts. We also have this from The Amulet of Kings:

In token of this Covenant, Akatosh gave to Alessia and her descendants the Amulet of Kings and the Eternal Dragonfires of the Imperial City. Thus does Alessia become the first gem in the Cyrodilic Amulet of Kings. The gem is the Red Diamond in the middle of the Amulet.

This implies that Alessia became the Amulet of Kings upon death. It makes it rather interesting as to what the Amulet of Kings actually is. Trials of Saint Alessia claims that:

Akatosh drew from his breast a burning handful of his Heart’s blood, and he gave it into Alessia’s hand, saying, ‘This shall also be a token to you of our joined blood and pledged faith. So long as you and your descendants shall wear the Amulet of Kings, then shall this dragonfire burn — an eternal flame — as a sign to all men and gods of our faithfulness.

This is the more traditional telling, that the Amulet is Akatosh’s blood, given as token of the pact to keep Oblivion shut. Then there’s Chim-El Adabal: A Ballad, which claims that it was blood from Lorkhan’s heart that had been turned into a gem by the Ayleids and then given by Akatosh after it existed. So there’s a good amount of confusion as to what the Amulet actually is. If we go by the forum thread Amulet, Amulet, Who Put Her in the Amulet, originally on the Bethesda Forums, it’s meant to be ambiguous to imply that, as we started this podcast, Shezarr and Akatosh are the same being.

Alessia being made into part of the Amulet of Kings seems to make sense in some ways, as, according to The Legendary Sancre Tor, her burial site is unknown, so it’s possible she doesn’t actually have a burial place.

Alessia as Saint and Symbol

Normally, I’d end things with a character’s death, but Alessia is one of the few where there’s a substantial carrying on of stuff after death. Alessia was revered as a saint by the Cyrodiils some time after her death, which in Elder Scrolls terms feels something like ancestor worship smashed into Catholic saint veneration. Various forms of it existed throughout Cyrod’s history, but nothing exactly clear that I can find apart from acts of commemoration. Saint Alessia, though, got more than this, thanks to the Alessian Order. The Order used the notion of sainthood as a way to keep but diminish other gods in their canon of worship, if you believe the first edition Pocket Guide. Here, Alessia was used as a symbol of proper hatred of the elves, an example to follow and venerate, despite her accommodation with the Ayleids that made the success of her rebellion possible.

It also feels like Alessia gets identified with the soil fo Cyrodiil itself – she’s called the Queen-ut-Cyrod in quite a few places, and gets equated with the land by the Prophet in the Knights of the Nine expansion to Elder Scrolls 4, who says this when talking about Reman:

I AM CYRODIIL COME, he said, Old Reman, born from the earth that IS Al-Esh, and yet he would scorn this country now!

This is referring to the event in the Remanada where King Hrol chases the spirit of Alessia and makes love to both it and a hillock at the same time.

And the spirit fled from them, and they split among hills and forests to find her, all grieving that they had become a villainous people. Hrol and his shieldthane were the only ones to find her, and the king spoke to her, saying, I love you sweet Aless, sweet wife of Shor and of Auri-el and the Sacred Bull, and would render this land alive again, not through pain but through a return to the dragon-fires of covenant, to join east and west and throw off all ruin. And the shieldthane bore witness to the spirit opening naked to his king, carving on a nearby rock the words AND HROL DID LOVE UNTO A HILLOCK before dying in the sight of their union.

Alessia and the land of Cyrodiil are therefore considered one and the same. This is why Reman and his propagandists linked Reman to both the land and the bloodline of Alessia. Beyond her death, she becomes a part of the makeup of Cyrodiil, a part of it that must be appeased in order to claim legitimacy. I was looking for references for Tiber claiming Alessian descent as well, but can’t see anything beyond his deliberate conquest of Sancre Tor to claim the Amulet of Kings.

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