The Origin of Chess
L'origine des échecs
The quest of Chess origin is an exciting riddle. This question is still unsolved today despite what can be said or read here or there.
These pages aim at gathering all elements at our disposal. Everyone will then make his own mind.
Chess sprang in History in Persia around 600 A.D., already opposing two armies of 16 pieces each. Searching earlier than that is diving in the game prehistory, in the myths and legends. Every civilization has its own. For the Indians, Chess was invented by a queen of Ceylan (Lanka) besieged by god Râma. For the Chineses, it was invented by the mythical Emperor Shennong or by his successor, Huangdi. For the Arabs and the Persians, it was a wise Indian, Gaw or Sassa (Sissa) with his wheat seeds... For medieaval Europeans, it was Xerxes, a Chaldean philosoph (Xerxes=Sassa?) or maybe it was Alexander the Great, or Ulysses, or the Egyptian queen Nefertiti or maybe Adam to forget Abel's death... Of course, this is not History. Well, so when, where, how Chess was born?
There is no doubt now that Chess is ... an Asiatic game. Three regions may claim to be its cradle: North of India, Central Asia from Iran to Turkestan and Eastern China. No one can object that there is a "genetic" link between all forms of Chess coming from these areas.
For most educated people, there is no question. The main stream theory is Chess was born in India in the 6th century at latest. That's all. Nevertheless, this vision is poorly informed and lies, mainly, on the intuitions of a chain of bright English historians and intellectuals, obviously impressed by the wealth and depth of the Indian civilization at the time where India was under the British rules: Hyde (1694), Jones (1790), Forbes (1860) et Murray (1913). Without denying how important was their contribution for the studies of India, it is clear that possible contribution of other cultures were not envisaged with the same intensity. To make it short, let's say that the main stream theory lacks of definitive proofs. Expected consequence, the controverse is harsh among modern specialists. Those have now much more "material" that was available to their respectable predecessors.
This section is under revision (2019).
Interested readers are invited to consult our book, A World of Chess, for a complete presentation and discussion of this subject.
Les arguments présentés sur cette page sont développés dans L'Odyssée des jeux d'échecs, (Praxeo Editions, 2010).
3 Buddhas in the Dun Huang caves, on the Silk Road. Dated 581-618, Sui Dynasty