Early Historic Chess Sets

Chess has its origins in sixth century India, where, known as Chaturanga, it took the form of a battle between two Indian armies made up of elephants, horses, chariots and infantry, led by a king and his vizier or advisor. Chess grew in popularity in the Islamic world and became known as Chatrang in Persia and Shatranj in Arabia. It reached Europe, probably through Spain, in the ninth or tenth century with the same rules and pieces. The game spread quickly throughout Europe, and over the following six to seven hundred years the rules were modified, the names of the pieces changed, and the shape of the pieces themselves evolved. By the seventh century the elephants, horses, chariots, infantry, kings and viziers of Chaturanga became recognisable as the bishop, knight, rook, pawns, king and queen of the modern game.

The Historic Games Shop has been making chess boards and reproductions of historic chess sets for many years (originally under the Gothic Green Oak banner), mainly as commissions for display in museums or historic properties (e.g., Dover Castle), or for reenactment groups or chess enthusiasts. The following pages describe some of the most important milestones in the evolution of chess pieces through the early to later medieval period and into the sixteenth and seventeeenth centuries. The examples are drawn from archaeological finds, paintings in hand-written manuscripts and wood-cuts in early printed books. You can click on the "Begin" button at the bottom of the page, or on the individual links below to read about different regions or periods and their chess sets. Or, you might like to vist our shop to see the chess sets we have currently available.

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