Saturday, October 8, 2011

Afrasiab Chessmen

Rukh (Chariot) in ivory from Afrasiab, about 7th/8th century, Uzbekistan State Museum, Samarkand(from "Roi des jeux, jeu des rois, les échecs", Jean-Michel Péchiné, Gallimard)

Afrasiab, the king of all Turan, is still an emblem of the Turkic peoples. His name is mentioned in the classic epic poem the Shahnameh ('The Book of Kings') written by the great persian poet Ferdowsi between c.917 and 1100 AD. In the epic the legendary hero-king Afrasiab battles a legendary Iranian king, the righteous Manuchehr. Al Biruni chronicals tells us that the Khwarezmian calendar starts with the arrival of Sijavus around 1300 BC, and it is thought that the two may be the same person. According to Firdoussi, Afrasiab is the ancestor of the Hephthalites, and the name apparently has also appeared in the Uighur dynastical lists as well as being claimed as an ancestor of the Kara-Khanids.

Firdoussi's Shahnamrh is still considered very important to the contemporary adherents of Zoroastrianism, in that it traces the historical links between the beginnings of their religion up to the death of the last Zoroastrian rulers during the Muslim conquest of Central Asia.

In 1977 the archaelogist and historian Prof. Jurij F. Burjakov found the oldest surviving set of chessmen (seven ivory pieces) in Afrasiab near Samarkand known as the "Afrasaiab Chessmen". He dated them as being from early in the 8th century AD. They most probably were made some years before around 761AD because a coin so dated belonged to the same layer in the excavation layer where they were found.

Chessmen of Afrasiab


  1. greeting my friend.can you give me some information about Karakalpakstan football?


    From elephants to Bishops

    Chess was originally invented most probably in India around four hundred A.D. They carved rather large and ornate pieces to represent the four parts of their army which existed at the time. Chataranga, as it was called, meant four parts; and these were the cavalry, the elephant brigade, the foot soldiers and the chariots. The sides were also provided with a General and his adviser.

    The cavalry were represented as horsemen, and these eventually became our Knights, and there has never been much confusion over what they were; Their moving even showed the side- stepping gait of a horse. The elephants were originally ornate creatures with full ears, tusks and riders; they became our present-day Bishops in a manner which was very curious, as we shall see.

    The chariots too have characteristic moves, capable of covering large areas of ground; they were called by the Persians Wolk, or wind or spirit, because of their speed, and they are our present-day Rooks.

    The foot soldiers: well, they were mere Pawns and have ever been so. The General has always been all powerful, although he changed to a King in medieval times. His adviser used to be somewhat weaker and male, and only since the change of sex has the Queen gained her present power over the realm.

    The game was carried by traveller and merchant to the East to form the basis of Japanese and Chinese varieties of Chess. It also moved to the West, to Persia and the Turan, and eventually, after Central Asia was overrun by the Arabs, to Arabia. It was in the Arabic countries that Chess came into it's prime; it was the pride of Kings and Caliphs and they held great Tournaments and had their own Champions. The great Masters of these days, Al Sulede, Al Haudlee and Hassee were writers of Chess books on strategy and they played simultaneous matches, played blindfold, and even had a grading system. However, because of Mohammedan law images were not allowed, and some original Indian Pieces were replaced by mere representations; but at least the Arabs knew what the odd shapes were supposed to be even if the Priests didn't. Thus the King and Queen became mere ivory knobs with a small projection on top to represent the Rajah who used to sit in his Howdah on an elephant; the Queen was slightly smaller. The elephant became an ivory knob with two projections to represent either the ears or the tusks, while the horseman was an ivory knob with a single forward leaning projection which was the head. The Rooks became square pieces of ivory with a serrated top, and these seemed to have represented the edge of the chariot and the hands holding the reins.

    Now when the Arab merchants took these Pieces and the Games to Europe, the locals in Italy and Spain had not known the original Indian Pieces, and did not know accurately what these ivory Pieces were meant to represent; they certainly didn't know of elephants. Thus, the elephant's two separate tusk projections were in one part of Europe interpreted as heads, and they were carved as separate heads on the Piece. In another part of Europe the name of the elephant, Al-Feul was translated as Fol or Fool and the knobs were taken to be the knobs of a jester's hat. So even today, the French Piece is La Feul, or jester. In Scandinavia, however, the nearest word to La Feul was the Latin Calvis or Churchman, and as the two knobs on the Piece looked like parts of the Bishop's Mitre, so it became a Bishop. This wasn't so silly as it sounds, as the Bishops were an integral part of the Northern armies in these times. And thus we have progressed from elephants to Bishops. The Rooks being square ivory Pieces became tower shapes with crenellations arising from the serrated tops; thus they were renamed Castles for a short time, and they are called towers in some European countries. In Southern Russia, however, the locals, not knowing the meaning of Rook, interpreted it as Ruker or their local boat, and thus in some Russian sets there are boats in the corner positions.