exact origin of chess is a great mystery. There are few ancient
texts referring to the very beginning of chess, and fewer chess
pieces left as physical evidence of the game's early existence.
But myths, theories and opinions abound! Most historians believe
it started in India, Persia, or China.
But there is much that we do know. The form of chess
which finally arrived in Europe was already being played in Persia
some 1,350 years ago, when that area of the world was conquered
by Muslim armies in the mid 7th century. The game became very
popular in the Muslim world, and it was carried back, throughout
Islam, across North Africa and eventually into Europe.
earliest known abstract chess set, Persia,
different from the chess we play today, the ancient game has
striking similarities to the modern game. It
is easy to learn the ancient rules of play, and to get a feeling
for chess as it was experienced by Persians and Arabs long ago.
Let's look at the old game, known throughout ancient Islam as
shatranj, starting with features that are familiar to
a modern chess player. The game was played on a board of 8 by
8 squares, just as our game is, but the board was not checkered.
The pieces were arranged like ours are, but some of their identities
were a little different.
reproduction of the early Persian chess set
ancient and modern kings, ancient and modern
The king of the old game was a king, like our king, and had the
same move. No change there in over 13 centuries. The rook was
called "rukh" which meant "chariot."
It's interesting that we maintain essentially the same word in
English, although the meaning of "rook" or "rukh"
has long been lost to us. The ancient rook also had exactly
the same move as our modern rook.
modern knight also retains its ancient move and is still depicted,
as it has been for centuries, as a horse. And the ancient pawn,
although it could move only one space forward (never two spaces
like our modern pawn), was always considered to be a foot soldier.
His forward move and forward-diagonal capture were the same then
as they are today.
ancient and modern knights, ancient and modern