Piecing Together a Fictional History of Kitezh

In Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft sets off to redeem her father’s reputation as an academic and get to grips with the concept of an immortal soul. Her journey takes her to a long-forgotten tomb in northern Syria and a remote settlement in Siberia, where she encounters the remnants of a once-great civilisation and gathers clues concerning the whereabouts of a mystical artefact known as the Divine Source, thought to be buried deep in the heart of the mythical lost city of Kitezh.

By examining the game’s collectable documents, relics, and camp-fire journals, we can begin to trace the Prophet’s arduous journey through the Caucasus region and Russia, piece together the history of the founding and downfall of this mythical city, and gain a deeper insight into the lives and livelihoods of its inhabitants.

Please note that this is not an official chronology but rather one I have compiled by reviewing all the information in the documents and relics collected throughout the course of my Rise playthrough. Many of the historical events referred to in the documents do not have confirmed dates, so I have had to make some educated guesses here and there.

Any errors in the sequence below are mine and corrections are welcome.


Spoiler warning: The following chronology contains some plot and location spoilers. Scroll down at your own risk.

Lara examines a mural depicting the Prophet
Lara examines a mural depicting the Prophet. Image credit: F8tebringer.

Prehistoric Period

The geothermal valley (one of the key locations in the game) was home to Scythian and other Eurasian nomads, whose ritual carvings, ornaments, and weapons are a testament to their presence in the area.

970 AD

Decius, a nobleman and later First Apostle to the Prophet, records the arrival of the Prophet in Constantinople and the speech he gave at the Forum of Constantine. He is initially skeptical of the tales of the Prophet’s healing miracles but is curious to learn more about him.

972 AD

Inspired by the Prophet’s words, Decius abandons his birthright and wealth to devote himself to the cause. The Prophet’s growing movement begins to attract followers from all walks of life and arouses the attention of the Church in the West, i.e. the Vatican.

977 AD

The Prophet and his followers fall out of favour when a new emperor comes into power; this would roughly coincide with the death of the John I Tzimiskes in real life. The religious paramilitary Order of Trinity dispatches a knight to silence the “heretic” Prophet, prompting him and his followers to flee Constantinople under cover of night and seek refuge in the desert of northern Syria.

The knight finds and kills the Prophet. The Divine Source, an ancient artefact that grants immortality and allegedly houses a fragment of God’s soul, is spirited away to safety by the Prophet’s followers. The body of the Prophet is transported to an oasis near Beroea (modern-day Aleppo) and his followers begin building a tomb for him there. However, the tomb is never used as the Prophet rises from the dead before its completion.

979 AD

News of the Prophet’s resurrection and growing influence in Syria reaches Trinity. The aforementioned knight is called upon again to lead an army to the hidden oasis and put an end to the heresy.

The Prophet and his followers put up a resilient defence, slaying the knight and his soldiers, but hundreds of the Prophet’s people perish in the process. The survivors flee northwards and begin their long exodus towards Siberia.

Late 10th Century

A Trinity tracker is sent to Syria to seal the tomb and pursue the Prophet. He travels through Khazar land, the Caucasus mountains, and Kievan Rus’ territory before stopping at a small village on the shore of Lake Svetloyar.**

Meanwhile, the Prophet and his followers, weakened and weary from their long journey across high plains and frozen lands, finally reach a remote mountain range in Siberia. The acoustic “Voice of God” generated by a nearby natural rock formation is taken as a sign that they have reached their promised land. The weary travellers make the decision to settle in the geothermal valley below, their new “earthly paradise”. In time, a shrine is built at the site of the rock formation to honour the scout who discovered the site.

The tracker survives an attempt on his life at Svetloyar and eventually discovers the whereabouts of the fugitives. Weary, starved, and proceeding on foot after his trusted mare dies, he loses consciousness as he reaches the Prophet’s settlement. While he is aware that the tracker is an agent of Trinity, the Prophet shows his would-be attacker mercy and nurses him back to health. Humbled by the Prophet’s words and actions, the tracker gives up his mission and joins the settlers in their quest to build a new life.

11th Century to Early 12th Century

This could be considered the Golden Age of Kitezh. With the expertise of his physician Aurora, his visionary Rus’ noblewoman and architect Rivkah, astronomer Kokkos of Nicea, time keeper Valentius, and master builder Damien, the Prophet is able to lay the foundations for a new city that would eventually rival the greatest of the west’s metropolises.

Through their efforts – and the hard labour of the settlers –  grand marble palaces and ceremonial buildings are built, heated by the geothermal vents beneath them. Art and craftsmanship flourishes. Centuries’ worth of scientific achievement is put to use to ensure the citizens of Kitezh can enjoy the same level of luxury as their Byzantine counterparts.

A golden necklace made by Kitezh artisans
A golden necklace made by Kitezh artisans. Image credit: F8tebringer.

The various records of this period suggest that life in Kitezh was not as idyllic as one might automatically assume. A number of its citizens were afflicted with incurable leprosy and cast out of the city as a result. Exorcisms were performed on the mentally ill in order to drive out the demons within them and most of them died in the process. Criminals were forced to work in the mines as a way to atone for their sins. The foreman responsible for the construction of the city’s cistern was repeatedly deceived into believing his wife and children would soon join him in Kitezh so that he would continue his work. In reality, his family had perished on their journey.

At some point during this period, Trinity appoints another of its knights, Carraldus, to take six of his men with him and travel to Siberia aboard the Maria Abdula. The unnamed captain of this Byzantine warship is coerced into taking the ship through the icy waters of the Glacial Sea, presumably somewhere along Russia’s northern coast, and up a number of shallow tributaries towards the site of Kitezh.

A Byzantine warship trapped in ice
A Byzantine warship trapped in ice. Image credit: Kelly M.

Undaunted by the less than favourable sailing conditions, Carraldus orders the captain and his crew to tow the ship across the ice on sled runners. However, as they approach Kitezh, the ship snaps in two and becomes trapped in the ice. It’s not entirely clear what happens next. Carraldus had planned to continue on foot but he and his men never made it out of the glacial cavern. His final document suggests he may have died from hypothermia but that of the Maria Abdula’s captain suggests that Carraldus may have been poisoned, punishment for dooming the ship’s crew to an icy grave.

Years pass before Trinity resumes their search for the Prophet’s far-flung city.

1238 AD

A Trinity envoy to the Golden Horde aids the ruthless army slaughter the Rus’, uncovering a map to the Prophet’s city in the process. This guides them to Kitezh, where they hope to put an end to the Prophet’s blasphemy and secure the Divine Source for the Order.

On the night of the invasion, the Prophet rallies the citizens of Kitezh to take up arms and defend the city alongside the Athanatoi, or Deathless Ones. These were former imperial soldiers who used the power of the Divine Source, which was housed in the city’s Chamber of Souls. They were granted immortality but at the expense of their own human souls.

Close to defeat and determined not to let the Divine Source fall into Trinity’s hands, the Deathless Ones are given to the order to take aim at the glacier. In doing so, they buried the heart of the city – and its hapless inhabitants – under tonnes of ice.

Exploring the icy ruins of Kitezh
Exploring the icy ruins of Kitezh. Image credit: F8tebringer.

The Mongol invaders are crushed by the falling ice but the Trinity envoy survives and swiftly takes refuge in the ruins of the citadel. Over the course of a few days, he scavenges weapons, tools, and water in order to survive. He observes the behaviour of the Deathless Ones, noting that the soldiers have become wraith-like, moving around like men trapped in a dream. His suspicion that the soldiers had undergone a radical transformation is confirmed when he kills one of them and sees the body turn into a pile of burning, hissing ashes.

The next day, he witnesses the rebirth of the slaughtered soldier and kills him a second time. The envoy comes to the conclusion that the ungodly secrets of the Divine Source should remain entombed for eternity along with those who perished in the siege. He makes no further attempt to procure the mystical artefact and begins to plan his escape.

Cut off from the outside world, the Deathless Ones begin their centuries-long patrol of the frozen city’s ruins, ready to attack any intruders and defend the source of their own immortality. The Trinity envoy succumbs to his wounds soon after.

Late 1238 to Early 1239

Those who survived the destruction of Kitezh move into the valley, where they struggle to find enough food and animal hides to keep themselves alive. It’s thought that as many as one in three did not survive the first winter after the Mongol invasion. The apparent loss of their beloved spiritual leader dealt a devastating blow to many. Attempts to search the buried heart of the city for survivors or food are unsuccessful and none of those sent there return alive.

These survivors, referred to hereafter as the Remnant, are forced to abandon any hope of reclaiming their lost city and must adapt to their new, impoverished circumstances. This new existence means living amidst the ruins of their once-great city and sustaining themselves through farming, hunting, crafting, and scavenging. They gradually lose the scientific knowledge their ancestors had brought with them from Byzantium two centuries earlier, such as the ability to produce “Greek Fire”.

Circa 1248 AD

After a decade away from his people, the Prophet returns to the valley to live amongst the Remnant. His people pledge to defend the Divine Source and the ruins of Kitezh from outside invaders in perpetuity.

There are few records in the years following the collapse of Kitezh but it is thought that the Remnant continued to live a humble life, passing their knowledge of the land and fauna down to future generations.  They lived undisturbed for the next few centuries.

Exploring the Geothermal Valley
Exploring the Geothermal Valley. Image credit: Kelly M.

Late 1950s to Early 1970s

The Soviet Union’s Red Army move into the area and establish a uranium mining facility there, code named Freedom Station. They also open gulag a stone’s throw away from the valley, bringing hundreds of prisoners with them.

The Remnant, who had lived in complete isolation for several centuries, are now faced with a new threat. They begin to take up arms once more. Some of them take the opportunity to infiltrate the enemy’s ranks to learn more about the Soviets’ motives and acquaint themselves with their modern technology.

Unable to thwart the Red Army’s attempts to control the area, the Remnant are taken prisoner and forced to mine the mountain for uranium ore and other precious metals.

1970 AD

In July 1970, mining operations uncover an ancient cavern filled with ruins and artefacts, a discovery that makes the local workers uneasy. The commander of Freedom Station vows to work the prisoners around the clock in order to excavate the ruins of the Temple of the Prophet’s Blessing.

By September 1970, the commander’s unit had analysed numerous artefacts and documents recovered from the excavation site. They had good reason to believe that they had stumbled upon the ruins of Kitezh. The commander’s curiosity to learn more about the Prophet and the Divine Source leads him to suspend all normal mining operations indefinitely.

An ID document belonging to a gulag prisoner
An ID document belonging to a gulag prisoner

Determined to put an end to the Red Army’s intrusion, the Remnant work together with some of the gulag’s prisoners to horde weapons and dynamite and plan their revolt against their captors. Two guard crews working in the cavern go missing, killed by either the Remnant themselves or the Deathless Ones. Within a month, the prisoners have turned on their common enemy, seizing control of the excavation site and surrounding facilities. Outraged, the commander orders the mass execution of the native population in a bid to regain control and put an end to the revolt.

Two final messages in December 1970 reveal that the Remnant had taken measures to sabotage the station’s power and communications systems. They had quietly dismantled the train tracks, thus foiling the commander’s plans to transport the excavated artefacts back to Moscow. They successfully cut the valley off from the rest of the world once more. It’s likely that the commander and what was left of his unit perished in their attempt to escape.

Present Day

The Remnant are now led by spiritual leader Jacob and his daughter and military commander Sofia. Once again they find themselves needing to protect the ancient city and Divine Source from their old nemesis, Trinity, whose soldiers are now equipped with 21st century technology and armed to the teeth.

And if you’d like to know more, get yourself a copy of Rise of the Tomb Raider (USA/UK) and join Lara and the Remnant in their bid to thwart Trinity’s sinister plans.

*********

** In most versions of the Kitezh myth, the city is said to have sunk beneath the surface of Lake Svetloyar in modern-day Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. The writing team took some artistic license with the myth and placed Kitezh much further east for dramatic purposes. (Source)


Related Articles:

About Kelly M

Kelly McGuire is a writer, translator, and gamer who is passionate about archaeology, language learning, travel, and wildlife conservation. She tweets under the username @TRHorizons and is the admin and chief content creator for Tomb Raider Horizons.

View all posts by Kelly M →