Earliest Oriental chessmen

Les premiers jeux d'échecs orientaux

 

 

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Earliest extant Chess pieces have been found in Orient, a term to be understood in its broader sense: Central Asia, Persia, North of India, Mesopotamia, Near East, ...

Several isolated elder pieces are known but their identification with Chess pieces remains subject of caution. They are displayed here.

  Figurative sets:


Knight, Afghanistan or Northern India. H: 5 cm, early 6th c. AD.
(See more photographs here)

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click to see more about Afrasiab set 
 7 pieces set, ivory , dated 7 to 8th c., found at
Afrasiab, near Samarkand, Uzbekistan State Museum of Samarkand
Earliest known Chess pieces.

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Isolated Knight found in Afrasiab, bone, 7 to 8th c?

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Ivory piece most probably dated from 11th c but Linder thinks that 7 to 8th c is more accurate. Found in Saqqizabad, Iran and very similar to the Vizier of the Afrasiab set. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
(
Same piece on the line below)

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Fil (Elephant/Bishop), origine unknown (Iran, Irak, India?), 7th-8th c.?, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Elephant, alabaster, Nishapur (Iran), 9th c., private collection (see an older similar from Kanauj here)

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Chariot-rook(?) from Samarkand, 7-8th c, ivory. (British Museum)

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There are other Chess pieces from the same period and same origin which are very much alike Afrasiab set. Christie's action house in London has presented two pieces in April 1994. The first is a quadrige with the driver missing and might represent a Chariot or a King. The second one with only two horses might be a Vizier (?)

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Elephant with two riders is kept by the Staatlichen Museums für Islamische Kunst in Berlin, ivory, 8th century (?)


Elephant leaning forward supporting a howdah on its back. Sold in action at Sothebys in April 2007.
 Ivory, 9th-10th century, Central Asia, Iran, Iraq (?)

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Chess set found in 2006, probably coming from Afghanistan

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This object has been found by Albert von Le Coq in ruin K in Gaochang (=Chotscho) (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaochang) and reported in his account "Koeniglich Preussische Turfan-Expeditionen" published in 1913. (check for pages 217 & 218). Gaochang is an ancient oasis of the Silk Road, 30km southeast of modern Turpan in Xinjiang, today in China. Along with that piece was found a Xiangqi Pao ! See it there. This was an active Buddhist place from 5 to 7th centuries.

 


 Knight (?), Egypt, 7th-8th century, wood, Rogers Fund,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

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Rukh or Knight, origin unknown, 11th-12th c., carved ivory
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Chess piece said to be a King from Egypt, Islamic period. I agree with Manfred Eder who doubts and draw attention to the resemblence with an Indian piece (see there)

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Elephant said to be Byzantine art. Found in Iraq, from 10th c. e
Museo Bargello, Florence, Italy

 

Abstract sets:


Rock crystal, 800 AD. Found at Basra, South Iraq.

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Persian Bronze, 6th-7th AD.

 

Rook, Western Islamic Lands, 7th-8th c., ivory, Pfeifer Fund, The Metropolitan Museum Of Art
A design between figurative and abstract!


Bishop, Western Islamic Lands, 8th-10th c., ivory, Pfeifer Fund, The Metropolitan Museum Of Art 

 


Rukh, Western Islamic Lands, 8th-10th c., ivory
The Metropolitan Museum Of Art

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Shah, Iran, 8th-10th c., carved jet
The Metropolitan Museum Of Art 

 

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Iranian Rook from Nishapur, 9th c.

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Knight, wood with inlay of bone or ivory,Egypt, 9-10th c.
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst

 


Chess piece (?) in glass, Lebanon, 10th c.

Chess Pawn (?), Western Islamic Lands, glass, 8th-11th c., Pfeiffer Fund,
The Metropolitan Museum Of Art

 

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Muslim King or Vizir, ivory
9th c., Monnaies, Médailles et Antiques (coll. Froehner, n° 9043), Paris

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Chess piece, Egypt, 10-11th c

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King, ivory with inlays of lead, Sicily, 11-12th c.
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst

 

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King or Vizir, ivory, Syria or Iran, 9-12th c.
Private collection
 

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Rook, ivory, Syria or Iran, 9-12th c.
Private collection

 

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Chess piece, rock crystal, Egypt, 10-11th c.,
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst

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Chess pieces, Egypt, 10-12th c. (
British Museum)

 

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Rook, said to be Byzantine art,
Museo Bargello, Florence, Italy
   

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Large Persian terracotta piece circa 1000 - 1100 A.D. 
(A Vizir? Only remaining piece from this particular set)

 

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Rooks, green glazed pottery, Iran, private collection

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Shah / Shah / Rukh / Fil

Nishapur pieces, Tepe Madrasa, Iran, beg. 9th century
ivory with traces of green, The Metropolitan Museum Of Art. 

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Another Nishapur set, Iran, 12th century, composite body, glazed
unique almost complete set from the Seljuk period
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Rook, Egypt, Islamic period. (I can't remember where I took this image but it looks very similar to the Iraqian Rook here below)


Shah, Egypt or Syria, Mamluk period, 13th-14th c., glass
The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

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 From a Byzantin wreck, wood?, Serçe Limani, Anatolian coast (Turkey), 11th c.

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Pawn, Shah, Vizir, Knights and Rook, Arabic chess set, Rock-crystal and smoken topaz, 13th.c,
Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul, Turkiye

 The images and photographs shown on this page are coming from the following sources :

The authors of theses works, books and photographs, are kindly acknowledged.
If there is any problem with their presence here, please do
mail me.
Thanks to Gerhard Josten and Egbert Meissenburg to have drawn my attention to the A. Le Coq's findings

See also: "Der Vogel ist kein ,,Turm'' ", Manfred A.J.Eder, Schach-Journal 1/1994.

Many thanks to Thierry Depaulis for pointing many illustrations to me
and to Manfred Eder for kind informations and stimulating discussion.

09/05/2012