Arab Influence on the Game of Chess
By: Udochi Esomonu/Arab America Contributing Writer
Chess has been known to be one of the most classic board games of our time. As chess has grown in popularity over hundreds of centuries, many are unaware of the game’s origin, its historical background, and its lineage of global spread.
The history of chess can be traced back to about 1500 years ago, proving its long history of providing a sense of pleasure and entertainment for human beings. The location of origination of the game of chess is still unknown today as many historians struggle to find an exact location. Many locations claim chess to have been played before the 6th century AD in India, while many historians believe it to have been originated in China. The game is said to have been spread from India to Persia. Once the Arabs conquered Persia, chess became a staple of the Muslim world and was then spread to all of Southern Europe.
The conquest of Persia by Islam is known to be the most important development in the history of the game of chess. Historians have accounted for the Muslim world’s relationship with the game of chess as they took chess with them wherever they conquered or colonized.
The Arabs were the first to scientifically study the game of chess. Researches of the history of chess unanimously regard the Arab influence as the main source of the game’s global development and usage over time. For over 500 years, the Muslim world, due to its influences on the spread and the access to the game of chess, dominated the chess-playing world. The Muslim world produced the most skilled chess players and strategists who, through continuous access to the game, became experts in the game itself.
The game of chess became a symbol of culture in the Muslim world as it grew in popularity. After the Arabs conquered the Iberian Peninsula, known today as the countries of Portugal and Spain, the game was introduced into this part of Europe. The Caliphate of Cordoba, a previous Islamic state, which dissolved in the 1000s, promoted the culture, education, and sciences–which included chess– and became responsible for spreading the game of chess into the greater regions of Europe. The Caliphate schools, which attracted students from around the world, once in attendance, became immersed in the culture, norms, education, and values of the Arab world, thus prompting them to learn the game of chess which they then took back with them upon their arrivals home.
The game grew to become an essential act of pastime for travelers, thus helping in the further spread throughout Europe. The first account of the game of chess in Western Europe dates back 1010 A.D. A few years later, it was introduced into England with the Danish invasion. As chess grew popular, it became accessible to the nobles and those in the upper class and was renowned as the pastime of the elite. The level of strategy and competition labeled the game of chess as the game of great intelligence an culture, which throughout the years, marked the level of social and economic status within a variety of societies.
Chess then found itself in Christian Europe in 1200 A.D. and was still being played in regards to the rules and strategies put into place by the Arab societies, but as the years progressed, the rules and the names of the chess pieces had changed. Improvements and alterations were made to the chess pieces, the rules, and the strategies, and the game of chess gradually lost the predominant Arab influence that it once had many years ago.
Today, chess is played all around the globe. For a game that has global acclaim, many still are not aware of the history of it, its origins, and the societies which greatly influenced the modernized pastime. One can not speak of the historical growth of the game of chess without accounting for the role that the Arab world played in the game that many, globally, know of and love today.