All about that Relic: The History Behind an Overlooked Bonus in Microsoft’s “Age of Empires II”

By Patrick Johnson


Age of Empires II has been noted by many as one of the best RTS games ever written, a gem among many from the large gallery of 1990s PC games. It even got an updated re-release just this year for modern PC gaming. It stands as a relic in its own right.

But I’m not here to brag about how awesome the game is. Instead I wanted to help gamers understand relics, where they come from, and why they play such a big part in not just actual game play, but hold a much more central role in Empires‘ structure than most people realize.

By the time gamers are able to advance to the Third Age, or Castle Age, they’re able to gain control over the little golden square boxes floating around the map known as relics. As far as gamers are concerned, they help build the money supply at an ever increasing rate after being stored in a monastery. And the more relics you have, the more money you make. It’s a never ending supply of money. Great! But there’s actually a lot more behind this little relic than meets the eye. And that’s the role relics play in real history, which the game is based off of.

In the late 1000’s C.E., the Roman Catholic Church began to build cathedrals (churches) and it became a regional “whose cathedral is bigger and better” contest. In order to help these cathedrals gain visitors, they would offer pilgrims and other travelers a chance to look at various holy relics, which ranged from the body parts of Catholic Saints to even the bits and pieces of the wooden cross of Christ, among other things. But they could only view these objects for a small fee, which brought more and more money to the cathedral, and soon it became the great race for the best relics among local churches.

It’s an interesting tidbit of history, and helps one appreciate one of the finer details of Age of Empires II, and it surprising was implemented really well. May your empire grow as you torpedo your enemies! Happy Aging!

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Marshall Garvey is a graduate of UC Davis in history, and a gamer since third grade. He has many favorite games, among them “Batman: Arkham City,” “Zelda: Majora’s Mask,” “Resident Evil 4,” “All-Star Baseball 2001,” “Banjo Kazooie,” “Silent Hill 2,” “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,” and “Fallout: New Vegas,” among many others. His other interests include baseball, football, boxing, politics, music, movies, jogging, playing trombone, and writing, and he is a devoted fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Twins, and Oakland Athletics. He recently finished two tenures at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, CA, the first being as an intern at the National Archives wing and the second as a staff writer for the Nixon Foundation. Right now, he’s working on two books for the Sacramento Historical Society, one about the history of baseball in the city and the other about the Governor’s Mansion. He is also the creator of his own trading cards franchise, the United States Presidents Baseball Club, which can be visited at: You can also see his writing about baseball at:

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