Ancient Chess- The Ancient History of Chess

The beginning of the ancient history of chess has been attributed to the Indians, both by the Arabs and by the Persians. However, the origin of the chess game appears to remain lost in antiquity. 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.

Chess in ancient times spread throughout the world and many game varieties soon began taking shape. A version of the ancient chess game was taken from India and introduced to the Near East. It soon became a part of the courtly or princely education of Persian nobility.

Silk Road traders, Buddhist pilgrims, and many others carried ancient chess boards to the Far East where it was assimilated and transformed into a game that was often played on the chess board line intersections, rather than within the squares. Chaturanga came to Europe through Persia, and the Arabian and Byzantine Empire. Muslims spread chess to Sicily, North Africa, and Spain by the tenth century.

The historic ancient chess game was developed extensively in Europe, and by the late fifteenth century, it had survived various Christian Church sanctions and prohibitions, and almost took the same shape as the modern game we know today. Modern times saw that new reliable references work, exciting new variants, and competitive chess tournaments add to the already famous popularity of the game. Reliable time mechanisms, effective rules, and charismatic players also further bolstered the popularity of chess.

In the next phase of the history of chess, Chaturanga is known as the earliest ancient precursor of modern chess, and it flourished in India by the sixth century. It is the earliest known game to have 2 critical features found in all modern chess variations. Firstly, it has different pieces with different powers (which is not a feature in GO and Checkers), and victory depends on the fate or capture of one piece, now called the king in modern chess. Other game pieces that are uncovered in archaeological findings are considered to have come from other, distantly related chess-like board games. Some of these types of ‘chess board games’ had as many as hundred squares or more.

In the late 19th century, Captain Hiram Cox and Duncan Forbes discovered that the original form of chaturanga was played with four hands. Other scholars who studied ancient chess history have concluded that a 2 handed version probably existed before the 4 handed one and that it probably then evolved into many other versions, including the 4 handed chaturanga version.

One literal translation of the Sanskrit word "Chaturanga" can mean "Having 4 limbs or parts" and this often means an army in epic poetry. The ancient name itself comes from a battle formation named in the Indian Mahabharata epic. Ancient Chaturanga was a game that simulated battle and which was truthfully based on Indian military strategy of the time. The initial dice and gambling aspects of the game were later removed as the game progressed and branched into newer variations.