Dec 8, 2011, 9:44 AM |


The first reference to Shatranj occurs in a Persian book written around 600 AD which says that a Hind ambassador came to Persia from India during the reign of Naushirawan (Chosroes I, 531 - 579 AD) and presented the game to him as one of several gifts with a challenge to learn its secrets. By 650 AD, the game had reached the Arab kingdoms and had also reached the Byzantine Court by virtue of the fact that the grandson of Chosroes I married the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Maurice. Its also reached Greece, Mecca and Medina around the same time.

One says that the Saracens brought it into Spain when they settled in Analusia following their conquest of North Africa in the seventh century. From there the game may have travelled eventually to France and the court of Charlemagne around 760 AD.

A second claims that Charlemagne and the Empress Irene of the Byzantine court at one point were contemplating marriage. During their meetings one of the presents exchanged was a Shatranj set given to Charlemagne. Unfortunately, instead of two Prime Ministers, the set contained two Queens with enhanced powers, making them the most powerful pieces on the board.

Charlemagne thought this was not a promising sign and decided that the marriage wasn't such a good idea after all!

The most popular theory, however, is that the Knights of the Cross obtained the game from Arab lands during the Crusades. It is known that Shatranj was held in some esteem at the court of Saladin, who created the Ayubite dynasty in Egypt and Syria and the Christians certainly obtained medical secrets from physicians in this dynasty.

The famous Alfonso manuscript and the Cotton manuscript of the thirteenth century describe Shatranj in its form at the time.The pieces are shown on a non-chequered board in a virtually identical pattern to that of today. One of the prime ministers is now a King. The details follow:

King (Shah) - moved like a King in Chess

Prime Minister (Firz) - moved one square diagonally only.

Elephant (Fil) - moved two squares diagonally only but could jump over            intervening pieces.

War Horse (Faras) - moved like a Knight in Chess

Ruhk - moved like a Rook in Chess

Pawn - moved like a pawn in Chess and when a pawn reached the far side of the   board it was promoted to a Prime Minister

Over the next four centuries, the game stayed in much the same form as above - the European form of medieval Chess described in Caxton's 'The Game and Playe of Chesse' wasn't much different to the Persian form that the Crusaders probably discovered.As time progressed a variety of exotic variations came about in forms such as Circular Chess and The Courier Game which was a kind of extended Chess played on a board of 12 x 8 chequered squares. At about the same time that Shatranj entered Europe, it was also heading Eastwards back through North India and into Burma, China and Japan. The games Sittuyin (Burmese Chess),

Mak-ruk (Siamese Chess), Shiang K'i (Chinese Chess), Korean Chess and Shogi (Japanese Chess or The General's Game) are the resultant modern forms;

Chinese and Japanese Chess join Modern European Chess as being the primary modern day forms of Shatranj.