“Saracen” was a generic name that medieval Europeans gave to all Arab-speakers (and sometimes all Muslims) regardless of their background. While it could make sense in the early centuries of Islam, when a huge empire was dominated by the same tribes from Arabia, things quickly got more complicated and diverse, local cultures developping from the fusion of conquering Arabs with the autochtons. Therefore, AoE II “Saracens” was mostly an umbrella-civilisation compressing many different cultures ranging from Mesopotamia to the Iberian peninsula.
Imagine that Franks, Britons, Teutons, Spaniards, Italians, etc. were all packed into one single civilisation named “Europeans”, “Latins” or even better “Ifranji” (the name medieval Arabs gave to Western Europeans) on the pretext that they shared a same civilisation, state roots (mainly Roman & Germanic), religion (Catholicism), scholarly language (Latin) and were considered the same by foreigners.
It would have been a shame, right?
Well, that is precisely what was done to medieval Arab-speakers with that nonsensic “Saracens” civ. Not only was it unfair by comparison to other world areas better represented, but it also deprivated the game from the diversity of the medieval world, both in terms of gameplay and visuals.
IMO, Arab-speaking world should be split into:
- Andalusians (Arabs from Spain)
- Egyptians (Fatimids, Mamluks…)
- Syrians/Levantines (Ayyubids, etc.)
- Iraqis (Abbasids, etc.)
- Beduins (who could well represent those early Arabs/“Saracens”)
- Yemenis (this latter is debatable)
Here I am not including non-Arab-speakers found within that world such as Kurds, Armenians or the different Berber and Turkish people but they could (and should) have their own civilisations of course. Also I didn’t include Arabs from North Africa because they were not that important and could well be portrayed by Andalusians (cities such as Tlemcen, Tunis, etc.) and Beduins (conquering Arabs, Banu Hilal, etc.).
Note how I avoided any dynastic or state name (“Abbasids”, “Cordoba Califate”, etc.) - which often make little sense culturally-wise - so as to stay within the AoE spirit, in which civilisations are named with ethnonyms or demonyms. On that point developpers often fail when it comes to civilisations outside of Europe (AoE IV “Delhi Sultanate” is good example of this issue - I would rename it Hindustanis).
Finally, don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that all the aforementioned civilisations should be included in the game. But better to make a few precise civilisations and let gaps between them (which could eventually be filled with add-ons or mods) rather than making a terrible unfair umbrella-civilisation like “Saracens” was.
By the way, same goes for “Turks” and “Slavs” civilisations.