The following is the first part of a three-part series on the roles of Christ as seen in the Septim Emperors from the Elder Scrolls universe. Part 2 is HERE and a link to part 3 will be added when it is released.
Those who know me know that there are few franchises I adore more than The Elder Scrolls. I mean, Rob and I had an Elder Scrolls themed wedding, after all. I find the mythology and world of Tamriel to be extremely rich and dynamic, and I know many people agree with me. But I have a confession to make: I’ve never played the first few games.
Yes, I’m one of those scrubs who came to most video games fairly late in life, for various reasons. Perhaps the biggest was the fact that my parents weren’t too keen on me playing any games that weren’t educational when I was growing up, though their definition of “educational” did allow for such classics as the Myst franchise (which will be explored at length elsewhere in this blog), Roller Coaster Tycoon, and more Simulation and Turn-Based Strategy games than you can count. You’ll note that these are all PC games. I wasn’t raised on consoles, and, in fact, we didn’t even get a home computer until I was in the 4th grade, so in a lot of ways, I have a pretty different take on a lot of video game culture than many of my peers who played more recreationally growing up.
(Mom and Dad, I know you’ll probably read this, so I wanted to make sure you know that I’m not complaining about my childhood. I just need to establish my bias going into this topic. Love you guys!)
Also, my life as a gamer started as the life of a gamer’s girlfriend. From high school romances to my darling husband, I’ve almost exclusively dated gamers. This meant I was exposed to most of the major franchises through watching someone else play them first (and, come to think of it, that’s probably why the idea of Let’s Plays never seemed strange to me. I’d basically been watching them IRL since high school). I didn’t even try playing a lot of games myself because I was afraid I’d suck at them and get made fun of for knowing the lore better than the controls.
With these and other factors involved, I didn’t become much of a gamer myself until college, when my HP laptop came preloaded with FATE. It was love at first dungeon grind, and I never looked back. But until a few years ago, I still stuck to games I was good at: Hidden Objects, Puzzles, and the occasional Turn-Based Strategy game, with one of two outliers included (mostly Wii games, since I finally got a console of my own). That is, until my new boyfriend at the time, Rob, kept talking up Skyrim.
So I bought it. It was my first game on Steam (although I bought it on CD like an old person), and within a few weeks, I’d become so entranced with it that I pretty much spent all my free time in-game. It was amazing! I’d never seen anything like it. Finally, I understood so much of what I’d been missing out on.
I’ve now gotten all the achievements in Skyrim twice on PC, and am almost halfway through another sweep on Xbox. Once Bethesda got their teeth in me, there was no turning back. I was so hungry for more that I bought Oblivion, and promptly fell in love with a certain character we’re discussing today so hard that Rob still teases me for it.
Elder Scrolls Online, the only other game in the franchise I’ve played (besides Legends, but I won’t discuss that here since it’s not an RPG), was more of a reluctant start for me. I, like many others, blamed ESO for being the reason we weren’t getting another single player game. But I eventually bit the bullet, and now am one of those crazy people who plays daily.
Why do I bring this all up? Well, it’s important before we dive into a lore-rich franchise like this for me to admit my own biases and failings, particularly when the fans of the Elder Scrolls franchise tend to be very well-versed in the mythology and history of Tamriel. Also, a lot of the lore has evolved over the years, so it’s best for me to restrict my analysis to the three games I know best.
Now that the formality’s out of the way, let’s get to our main topic for today’s post: the last Septim Emperor, Martin, and his status as a Christ-figure.
The following contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Oblivion, but it’s been out since 2006, so maybe you should play it if you haven’t. It’s a pretty good game!
Like me, Martin starts his particular game, Oblivion, knowing way less about what was going on than one would expect from a main character. He is the illegitimate son of the previous ruler, Emperor Uriel Septim VII, and is completely unaware of this fact until the player seeks him out to tell him that his dad and half-brothers have all been murdered by cultists. Rather than being raised in the palace as a princeling, Martin grew up as an orphan, eventually joining the Mage’s Guild.
When he was a young mage, Martin was seduced by Daedric magic, and became a cultist of the Lord of Debauchery, Sanguine.
(For those who don’t know, the Daedric Princes are basically the big bad guys of the Elder Scrolls universe, powerful demon-like beings who are only loyal to their individual selves and to power. Each govern their own realm of Oblivion, and each tempt mortals in their own particular way. We’ll discuss them all at length in their own posts later.)
Eventually, as always happens when one messes around with the daedra, Martin and his buddies got in way too deep, and a bunch of his friends were killed as a result. This incident caused Martin to violently reject daedric power and become a priest of the dragon god Akatosh instead.
When the player finds Martin, he is one of the few survivors of a daedric invasion of the city of Kvatch. This is part of the larger evil incursion in Tamriel called The Oblivion Crisis, which is made worse by the fact that the emperor’s sacred gem, the Amulet of Kings, was stolen by the cultists who murdered him. They plan to use the stone, along with a few other artifacts, to bring the Daedric Prince of Destruction, Mehrunes Dagon, into the world.
The Amulet of Kings is actually a promise between Akatosh and the Dragonborn Emperors of Tamriel. When a true Emperor uses the stone, he can light and maintain the Dragonfires, a protective barrier of sorts that prevent Daedric Princes from physically manifesting. Martin, as the last member of the bloodline, is the only one who can use it.
Naturally, Martin wants to put a stop to this, so he uses his knowledge of daedric magic and his priestly duties to find a way to stop the cult from destroying the world, along with the player’s help. While still troubled by his past and the weight of a crown he never knew was his, he tirelessly works to formulate a plan, eventually realizing that the only way to stop Dagon is to follow the covenant ritual between Akatosh and the emperor and re-light the Dragonfires. So the heroes recapture the Amulet of Kings and head to the temple to perform the ritual.
But, it is too late, and Dagon enters Tamriel, burning and destroying everything in his path. Knowing that the ritual will no longer work, Martin shatters the Amulet, turns into a dragon avatar of Akatosh, and fights the giant daedra himself.
Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds.
Eventually, Mehrunes Dagon is defeated, but Martin is “killed” in the process, having sacrificed his life to save everyone. (Anyone who paid attention to the voice cast probably realized this would happen somehow, since he’s played by Sean Bean.)
The dragon turns to stone, taking the place of the old rituals and ensuring that a Dragonborn Emperor is no longer necessary to protect Tamriel from Oblivion. Which is good, you know, since Martin was the last one, so if that didn’t work, the world of Nirn would be basically doomed.
We don’t actually know what happens to Martin when the dragon becomes a statue. Some say he was actually killed. Others say that his soul remains in the statue, protecting Tamriel as long as it can. But regardless of what Martin’s final fate is, the fact remains that he was, in this act, both the Priest of Akatosh and the sacrifice offered to save the world.
It’s not hard to draw parallels between Martin and Christ, though as is always the case with translating a theological concept into a cultural touchstone, the parallels are not perfect. After all, both come from simple backgrounds. Both were tempted by the Evil One before beginning their active ministry (though Christ did not succumb to this temptation as Martin did). Both accepted the responsibility placed upon them and sacrificed themselves to save their world. But it is the lessons in Martin’s story that I think make him most worthy of being seen as a Christ-figure.
What can we learn about the priestly aspect of Christ from Martin’s journey?
First, we have to look at the covenant nature of the relationship between Akatosh and the Dragonborn Emperors. As I mentioned earlier, the dragon god vows to protect Tamriel from evil as long as the rulers of Cyrodiil remain loyal to him and perform the proper rituals. This is not unlike the covenant God made with Adam, where he promises to love and protect mankind as long as they obey his command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and these sentiments are echoed in each subsequent covenant of the Old Law that God establishes, just as Akatosh renews his promises to the people of Tamriel through each new emperor’s ascent to the throne and recreation of the ritual.
In both cases, there are a number of laws and regulations that must be followed to ensure that the mortals involved are holding up their end of the agreement. In both cases, the covenant is eventually broken when mortals are tempted by evil and sin enters the world, opening a gateway through which the end of all things may enter. Eventually, only the True Priest may set things right again.
In Oblivion, that priest is Martin, since he’s the only one with both the bloodline and the knowledge to save Tamriel from destruction. While Martin has lost his faith in Akatosh when the player initially meets him, this is due to the fact that his prayers did not spare the city of Kvatch from destruction. He is horrified that Akatosh did not intervene directly and save the city, and expresses his anger and frustration that such a terrible thing has come to pass. But once he realizes that this is because the covenant has been broken, he immediately starts working on a way to repair the damage.
In the same way, the Judeo-Christian mythos holds that God sought to repair the stain of sin brought about by Adam’s failure, promising a messiah that would save his people from destruction. Christians believe that this hero is Jesus, God Incarnate in the personhood of the Son.
While Martin is not the son of Akatosh the way Jesus is the Son of God, he is Dragonborn, which means Akatosh’s power flows through his veins, which is about as close to divine incarnation as it gets. That’s why he is able to become an avatar of the dragon god in the final battle.
Second, both Martin and Christ bear the dual archetype of priest and sacrifice. Both preform the ritual to bring about the offering to the divine, and both are consumed by it. Both sacrifices establish a new covenant with the divine that changes the way mortals interact with their gods. Thus, they establish the new rites through the shedding of their own blood.
For Christ, this New Covenant not only wipes away the stain of sin from creation, but creates a familial bond with God himself through the death and resurrection of his Son. Christ does not stay dead, and his conquering of death means that death is overcome for us as well, allowing us to receive eternal life in Heaven, provided we accept this gift and do our utmost to live moral lives. He also beats the forces of darkness once and for all, preventing Satan and his demons from destroying all but the willing.
For Martin, this new covenant undoes the need for a Septim or other Dragonborn Emperor to hold the throne, for as long as the statue remains in the Temple of the One, the world remains protected from daedric incursion. The Daedra can still tempt and torment people, but they can no longer directly manifest in the same way. They have to use lower servants and humans to do their dirty work.
Finally, both Martin and Christ fulfill the words of the prophets and eventually bring about a great change in the world. Christians believe that when Christ returns to Earth, the world as we know it will end, and a new heaven and a new earth will be born. Martin’s death, on the other hand, fulfills part of a world-ending prophecy that announces the return of the World-Eater, Alduin, and his eventual defeat by the Last Dragonborn.
Yeah. That big evil dragon you fight in Skyrim. His arrival (and that of your player character) is an eventual consequence of Martin Septim’s death and the ending of the Septim line. So, maybe Martin’s sacrifice is a bit of a mixed bag, after all. At least no huge dragons show up after Jesus dies… OH WAIT–
Ok. Now I’m just being silly. But you get the point.
There’s a lot these two Great Heroes have in common, and Martin can teach us a lot about what it means to take part in the universal priesthood that all mankind has inherited through Christ. We might not always use it well, or even realize what it means that we are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps. But characters like Martin demonstrate that humility, piety, and sacrifice can do great good in the world, even when we struggle in our faith.
You don’t have to be perfect to serve God in this way. Just be willing to answer the call when it comes, and don’t let your fears stop you from doing what’s right.
So, the Featured Image for this series has an actual Elder Scroll prop in it by Volpin Props! How cool is that? Go give them some love!