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Etymology and Origins
The word shatranj is derived from the Sanskrit chaturanga (chatuH=four, anga= arm). In Middle Persian the word appears as chatrang, with the 'u' lost due to syncope (e.g. in the title of the text Mâdayân î chatrang, book of Chess, 7th c.). In folk etymology, the word is sometimes re-bracketed as sad (100) + ranj (worries), i.e. a hundred worries, which may appear quite meaningful to players and their friends. The word was adapted into Arabic, and transmuted into the Spanish ajedrez, which eventually became the English chess.
The game came to Persia from India in the early centuries of the Christian Era. The earliest Persian reference to chess is found in the Middle Persian book Karnamak-i Artaxshir-i Papakan, which was written between the 3rd to 7th century. This ancient Persian text refers to Shah Ardashir I, who ruled from 224–241, as a master of the game:
By the help of Providence Ardeshir became more victorious and warlike than all, on the polo and the riding-ground, at Chatrang and Vine-Artakhshir, and in several other arts.
However, Karnamak contains many fables and legends, and this only establishes the popularity of chatrang at the time of its composition.
During the reign of the later Sassanid king Khosrau I (531–579), a gift from an Indian king (possibly a Maukhari Dynasty king of Kannauj) included a chess game with 16 pieces of emerald and sixteen of ruby (green vs. red). The game came with a challenge which was successfully resolved by Khosrau's courtiers. This incident, originally referred to in the Mâdayân î chatrang (c. 620 AD), is also mentioned in Firdausi's Shahnama (c. 1010 AD).
The rules of Chaturanga seen in India today have enormous variation, but all involve four branches (angas) of the army: the horse, the elephant (bishop), the chariot (rook) and the foot-soldier (pawn), played on a 8x8 board. Shatranj adapted much of the same rules as Chaturanga, and also the basic 16 piece structure. In some later variants the darker squares were engraved. The game spread Westwards after the Islamic conquest of Persia and achieved great popularity and a considerable body of literature on game tactics and strategy was produced from the 8th c. onwards.
With the spread of Islam, chess diffused into the Maghreb and then to Andalusian Spain. During the Islamic conquest of India (c.12th c.), some forms came back to India as well, as evidenced in the N. Indian term mAt (mate, derivaative from Persian mAt) or the Bengali borey (pawn, presumed der. Arabic baidak). Over the following centuries, chess became popular in Europe eventually giving rise to modern chess.
|Rukh (Chariot or Rook)|
|"Pill" in Persian and "Alfil" in Arabic (Elephant)|
|Asb (Horse or Knight)|
|Sarbaz (piyadeh) (Pawn)|