Chess history is anything but written in stone. There are many stories and fables on where and how this game got started.
Most people can, however, agree that a variation of the game Chaturanga was the first known variation of chess.The ancient words for chess in both Arabic and Old Persian are Shatranj and Chatrang respectively — words derived from the Sanskrit word Chaturanga which, literally translated, means an army of four divisions.
A variation of chaturanga made its way to Europe through Persia, the Byzantine Empire and the expanding Arabian empire. Later chess appeared in the South of Europe during the end of the 1st millennium. The game remained largely unpopular among the North European citizens at the time. Northern European people couldn’t relate to abstract chess shapes and only became part of world chess history when the figurative pieces were introduced.
The knightly lifestyle of Europe was soon incorporated into the game in the form of chess pieces. The game also became a subject of art during this period. England’s Queen Margaret had red and green chess sets, which were made of jasper and crystal, and symbolized chess's position as part of royal art treasures. Chess pieces started to depict kings, queens, bishops, knights and men at arms during the mid 12th century. Ivory chess pieces began to appear in North-West Europe, and ornamental chess pieces depicting traditional knight warriors were used as part of the game as early as the mid 13th century. The initial nondescript pawn was now associated with a footman, which symbolized both loyal domestic service and infantry. Indeed, Kings Henry I and II as well as England’s Richard I were all chess patrons. Like them, Alfonso X of Spain and Ivan IV of Russia are examples of monarchs who really enjoyed and supported the history of chess.
During most of the world history of chess, a social value was attached to the game. One can easily see that the game was seen as a prestigious pastime that was associated with nobility and high culture. This fact is easy to spot when viewing pictures of the exquisitely made and extremely expensive chessboards of the medieval era. The popularity of chess among the Western courtly society reached its peak somewhere between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries.
Browse the articles in this section to learn more about the different periods in the history of this game.In our extensive guide to chess history you’ll find articles about the many faces of chess throughout time as well as articles dedicated to the facts and myths of this legendary war game.
Browse through this section to discover chess from ancient times to the modern age. Read about historic chess players and how chess has evolved from a board game to a computer game.