Chess has been played and enjoyed around the world for at least one and a half thousand years, and possibly for much longer than two thousand years.  Originally known as Chaturanga, it is said to have been invented in India around the 4th century BC, by a Brahman named Sissa at the court of the Indian Rajah Balhait.  Its earliest mention in literature is in a Persian romance, the Karnamak, written in about 600 AD.  Chess spread throughout the world and many variants of the game gradually took shape.


Alexander the Great’s conquest of India took the game west to Persia, where it became a part of the princely or courtly education of Persian nobility.  The game was taken up by the Muslim world after the Islamic conquest of Persia.  It moved west from Persia into Arabia, where it became known as Chatrang.  With the expanding Arabian empire, Muslims carried chess to North Africa, Sicily, and Iberia. 


Buddhist pilgrims, Silk Road traders and others carried chess east from India along overland trade routes into the Far East, where it was transformed and assimilated into a game often played on the intersection of the lines of the board rather than within the squares. 


Chess was introduced into Europe when the Moors invaded Spain, but even earlier, it had spread north from Persia into Russia, reaching Russia and Western Europe by at least three routes, the earliest being in the 9th century.  Chess, or Ajedrez (as it was known by the Spanish) spread quickly, and by the year 1000 it had spread throughout Europe.


The social value attached to the game (seen as a prestigious pastime associated with nobility and high culture) is clear from the expensive and exquisitely made chessboards of the medieval era.  The popularity of chess in Western courtly society peaked between the 12th and 15th centuries.  Chess was incorporated into the knightly style of life in Europe and was listed among the seven skills that a good knight had to acquire.  Chess also became a subject of art during this period, with caskets and pendants decorated in various chess forms.


Even before the discovery of the Americas, chess had a firm and established following on three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe).  It was regarded with supreme fascination as a test of mental ability, and its aesthetic beauty was enjoyed by both noblemen and peasants.  The game was developed extensively in Europe, and by the late 15th century it had survived a series of prohibitions and Christian Church sanctions to almost take the shape of the modern game.


For more information on how the names of chess pieces, the shape of pieces, and the rules of chess have changed, click on this link: An illustrated history of chess. 



Connecticut State Chess Association

History of chess