Chatrang or Chaturanga, the oldest Chess

Les plus anciens échecs: Chatrang ou Chaturanga

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Chess sprung from nowhere in the beginning of the 7th century AD in Sassanian Persia. In these times, the Sassanid kings ruled an empire comprising modern Iran and also Iraq, Afghanistan and most of Central Asia. From Afrasiab, near Samarkand, comes the oldest extant Chess set. In the first half of that 7th century, there are 3 text written in Pahlavi (Middle Persian) which evokes Chatrang, the eldest member known of the Chess family.

From those texts, we learn that Chatrang was rather well known and estimated at the Persian court and, also, that the game had been introduced from India! Effectively, a contemporary Sanskrit text may demonstrate (it is controversed) that Chess, named there Chaturanga, was known in the kingdom of S'rî Harsha, in Kanauj, in the Ganges valley. The same Indian city could, with some probability, be the Kingdom which sent the game of Chess to the Persian court.

Chatrang or Chaturanga? Some linguistic experts have demonstrated that the Pahlavi word "Chatrang" takes its roots in the Sanskrit "Chaturanga". Is that a definitive argument? Certainly not. So...

Both cultures have solid claims and the question is very open. For the moment, let's call it the Indo-Persian Chess game.

In 644, the Muslim armies defeated and conquered Persia. They soon adopted Chatrang. The time of Shatranj has come.

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The legend of the invention of Nard at Persian court as an answer to the arrival of Chess from India,
has been often illustrated in the Muslim world.


The description is known from Persian sources (the first Indian sources giving a full description is from the 12th century only).

The board was uniform with 8x8 squares. Each players had 16 pieces : 1 Shah (King), 1 Frazen (General), 2 Pil (Elephant), 2 Asp (Horse), 2 Rox (Chariot, in a sense of "officier on a chariot") and 8 Payadag (Soldiers).

No more details are known. Later, Arabic writers were the first to give the complete rules of their Shatranj. It is supposed that the rules were unchanged from Chatrang to Shatranj, so the reader may look at Shatranj to guess how Chatrang was played, but with no certainty.


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Pieces from the Afrasiab set (Uzbekistan, estimated 700-761 AD)