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Chess in the Ancient World - Origins

Chess in the Ancient World - Origins

May 30, 2008, 2:47 PM 0

Chess is one of the most enduring and popular games in human history. The first written mention of chess is found in Persian documents dating to the fifth century CE. Early Persian references on the game seem to indicate that the first chess sets were invented in India. The Persian poet Firdausi wrote about an Indian king named Gav, who used it to re-enact past battles.

The Persian word for the game chess, shatranj, also provides evidence that it was invented in India. This is because its root seems to derive from an Indian Sanscrit word which translates into the four divisions of an army, the infantry, the cavalry, the elephants, and the chariots. The Arab historian Abu al-Hasan 'Al+ al-Mas'kd+ also corroborates the idea that chess was invented in India, providing detailed scholarly information about how it was used in their society.

The game spread throughout the world relatively quickly, and by 800 CE a variation of it had reached mainland China.

The exact rules and the nature of the pieces constantly evolved and changed, and there were always several different versions of chess being played in different regions throughout the world. Basic concepts such as the checkered board, and the division of pieces seem to have been maintained, but the exact rules of movement and the nature of the armies varied wildly. In this ancient world, chess was often used by warriors and nobility as a way to teach strategy and encourage military thinking. In this way it was a training tool for commanders, which helped them develop strategic thinking skills.

The game of chess reached Europe by several different routes including trade with various countries in the east. During the Muslim invasion of Spain the game spread very quickly and penetrated throughout most of the European world.

European views of the game were mixed. Amongst the nobility it was used to teach chivalry, and honor on the battlefield. A kind of moral lesson, it was thought to encourage a person to be a nobler warrior. However in the restrictive religious temperament of the age, it was also seen as a sinful game, and was associated with gambling and games such as dice and cards. In Europe chess started to take on its modern origins, with the rules being changed slightly making the game appear more like it is today. As the rules became codified, they spread throughout Europe, and a single version of chess started to become the dominant form played throughout the area.

In the next few centuries Europe became the dominant power, and began to colonize much of the rest of the world. As they did, the European version of chess spread back to countries which had been playing the game for centuries. The standardization of chess rules was further encouraged by the development of leagues, tournaments, and rankings. Players who wanted attention on an international level had to play standardized European chess in order to compete.

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