In the 7th century, the nomadic desert tribes of Arabia rallied around a charismatic prophet and established one of the most far-reaching and vibrant religious cultures that the world has ever seen. Lead swift cavalry and tough camelry to conquer from Iberia to India, construct strong navies to prowl the seas, and foster rich scholarship and religious contemplation. Your well-trained Mamelukes, fearsome and fearless warriors, are the only warriors strong enough to halt the advance of the dreaded Mongol hordes!
The term "Saracen" has a disputed etymology, and historically has meant different things; most relevant here is the medieval European exonym for Arabs. The first significant Saracen kingdoms were the Ghassanids and Lakhmids, which were proxy states of the Byzantine and Persian Empires, respectively. In the 7th century, starting with the rise of Islam and the campaigns of the Rashidun Caliphate, the Saracens became a dominant power in Western Asia and North Africa.
Under the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, the Saracens expanded their territory immensely. In that time, they presided over the largest empire ever to exist - larger than Rome, and unmatched until the Mongol invasions. In Saladin's campaign, they represent medieval Egypt, specifically the Ayyubid Sultanate. Their in-game design thus seems like an amalgamation of various Arab groups from different time periods.
Situated in the crossroads of the world, they were most notable for initiating the rise of Islam and starting the Arab conquests. To reflect their achievement as a powerful desert civilization and for founding one of the major religions of the world, their unique technologies benefit their Monks and camel units. They also gave importance to their navy to protect their shores from Byzantine assault, which is reflected with their naval bonus which gives their Galleys a higher firing rate and also gives them the best Transport Ships with more hit points and a bigger carry capacity.
The Saracens were also active traders being located at the crossroads of the world. As a result, their Markets are cheaper, and their commodity trading fee is only 5% as opposed to 30% (the standard fee for all other civilizations).
Saracens also several times used incendiary weapons such as naphtha bombs, which is essentially reflected in their team bonus that increases foot archer attack against buildings.
The Saracens are classified as a cavalry and naval civilization. Their cavalry is indeed excellent despite missing even the Cavalier, because they get all other upgrades and a very threatening unique unit from that branch: the Mameluke. On the sea, they get excellent Galleons that fire faster. Their Transport Ships get usable boosts as well, though it must be noted that the Fast Fire Ship and Shipwright are missing. Their foot troops on land do not leave much to be desired. Their archers get every single upgrade, and only the Halberdier upgrade is missing in the infantry department. Also, all gunpowder units are at the Saracens' disposal. Overall, the siege weapons are strong as they lack only the Heavy Scorpion and so are their Monks which get every single upgrade which is very rare. Madrasah furthers the Monks' effectiveness as it, in the long run, effectively makes Monks cheaper. The defensive structures are rather average, and so is their economy, although the greatly reduced commodity trading fee can be a great asset when going for a rush or in the very late game.
Initially, all Archers (except Skirmishers) deal +3 bonus damage vs. Buildings. In update 34055, all Archers (except Skirmishers) deal +1 bonus damage vs. standard buildings per age starting in the Feudal Age.
When playing a random map game against the computer, the player may encounter any of the following Saracen AI characters:
Al-Mu'tasim (المعتصم): The eighth Abbasid caliph, ruling from 833 to his death in 842.
Atabeg Zangi(أتابك زنكي): A Oghuz Turkish atabeg who ruled Mosul, Aleppo, Hama, and Edessa. He was the namesake of the Zengid dynasty.
Baibars (بيبرس): The fourth Sultan of Egypt in the Mamluk Bahri dynasty which is of Cuman origin. He was one of the commanders of the Egyptian forces that inflicted a defeat on the Seventh Crusade of King Louis IX of France. He also led the vanguard of the Egyptian army at the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260, which marked the first substantial defeat of the Mongol army and is considered a turning point in history.
Caliph Abu Bekr (خَلِيْفَة أَبُو بَكْر): A senior companion (Sahabi) and—through his daughter Aisha—the father-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He ruled over the Rashidun Caliphate from 632 to 634 CE when he became the first Muslim Caliph following Muhammad's death.
Caliph Muawiyah I (خَلِيْفَة معاوية): was the founder and first caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate.
Caliph Yazid (خَلِيْفَة يزيد): name of three Umayyad caliphs.
General Khalid (خالد بن): Khalid ibn al-Walid, a companion of Muhammad. He is noted for his military tactics and prowess, commanding the forces of Medina under Muhammad and the forces of his immediate successors of the Rashidun Caliphate, Abu Bakr and Umar ibn Khattab.
General Shirkuh (شيركوه): A Kurdish military commander, and uncle of Saladin. His military and diplomatic efforts in Egypt were a key factor in establishing the Ayyubid family in that country.
Kala'un (قلاوون): The seventh Bahri Mamluk sultan; he ruled Egypt from 1279 to 1290.
Kerboga (كربغا): Atabeg of Mosul during the First Crusade and was renowned as a soldier. In 1095 he served under the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mustazhir in his attempted reconquest of Aleppo.
Nur-ed-din (نور الدين): A member of the Oghuz Turkish Zengid dynasty which ruled the Syrian province of the Seljuk Empire. He reigned from 1146 to 1174.
Saladin (صلاح الدين يوسف بن أيوب, An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub): The first sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. A Sunni Muslim of Kurdish ethnicity, Saladin led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria, Upper Mesopotamia, the Hejaz, Yemen and other parts of North Africa.
The Saracens are one of the two civilizations to get all seven technologies introduced in The Conquerors, the other being the Magyars.
The Saracens are one of five civilizations with access to all Monastery technologies.
They, alongside the Japanese, are also the only civilization that have access to all Archery Range units and technologies.
Before the Definitive Edition, the Saracens were extremely weak on open maps in the early game because, while their Market bonus helped them at that point, they lacked a strong military option for raiding in the Feudal Age, as their team bonus was in most cases less effective and their true military strengths only shone in the late game. However, their new bonus of archers dealing more damage against buildings was extremely effective to the point that it was adjusted in update 34055. Despite that, many competitive players thought that having extra attack against buildings for archers wasn't healthy for the game, as archers are supposed to be stopped by buildings, which led to the removal of that new bonus. Their identity as a camel civilization wasn't solid, because it only shined in the very late game, behind an expensive unique technology, which explains the changes in update 44725.
The name Saracen applied originally to nomadic desert peoples from the area stretching from modern Syria to Saudi Arabia. In broader usage the name applied to all Arabs of the Middle Ages. These desert nomads erupted suddenly in the seventh century and established a far-reaching empire within a century and a half. Their conquest was fueled by faith and high morale. Following the teachings of the prophet Mohammed, their intent was to change the religious and political landscape of the entire planet.
By 613 the prophet Mohammed was preaching a new religion he called Islam. Largely ignored in his home city of Mecca, he withdrew to Medina, built up a strong following there, and returned to attack and capture Mecca. Following his death in 632, his teachings were collected to form the Koran, the Islamic holy book. In 634 his followers began their jihad, or holy war. Within five years they had overrun Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. Their tolerance of Jews and Christians eased their conquest because these people had been suffering some persecution under the Byzantines.
In the next 60 years, both North Africa to the west and Persia to the east fell to Islam. In the early eighth century, Saracens from Tangiers invaded the Iberian Peninsula and conquered the Visigoth kingdom established there after the fall of Rome. In Asia they took Asia Minor from the Byzantines and attempted to capture Constantinople with a combined attack from land and sea. The great walls of the city frustrated the land attack and the Saracen fleet was defeated at sea. In the west, Charles Martel of the Franks stopped a Saracen invasion of modern France in 732 at Poitiers.
Frustrated in the west, the forces of Islam turned east. By 750 they had conquered to the Indus River and north over India into Central Asia to the borders of China.
In 656 the Muslim world fell into civil war between two factions, the Sunnites and the Shiites. They differed on several points, including who should be caliph and interpretation of the Koran. The result of the 60-year war was that the Islamic state broke into pieces, some governed by Sunnites (the Iberian Peninsula) and others by Shiites (Egypt and modern Iraq). The new Islamic states acted independently, thereafter.
Muslim Spain developed into one of the great states of Europe during the early Middle Ages. Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in relative harmony, and a rich culture rose out of these multiple influences. There was a flowering of the arts, architecture, and learning. By 1000, however, Muslim Spain had divided into warring factions. This civil war facilitated the slow reconquest of the peninsula (the Reconquista) by the emerging states of Castile and Aragon, completed finally in 1492.
Asia Minor and the Middle East were conquered by Muslim Turks in the early eleventh century. In response to a call for aid from the Byzantines, a series of Crusades was launched from Europe to regain Palestine from the Turks. The independent Muslim states in the area lost Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean coast to the First Crusade. In the last part of the twelfth century, the great Saracen leader Saladin succeeded in uniting Egypt, Syria, and smaller states, and he retook Jerusalem.
The Muslim states remained independent long after the Middle Ages and eventually developed into the modern Arab nations of the Middle East and North Africa. They went into economic decline, however, when the European nations opened trade routes of their own to Asia in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.