On the origins of chess (1/5)

by Sergio Ernesto Negri
4/6/2018 – In September 2017, in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sergio Negri, a researcher specialized in chess of Argentine origin, completed an epic treatise on the origins of chess. Thoroughly detailed, and thought-provoking, we bring it to you in a new series of articles over the coming weeks. This first part introduces the topic and discusses the first of several theories: a Persian origin. | Photo: "Zereshk" (Own work) CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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"In Search of Lost Time"

"...and whereas God is worthy of all blessed seriousness, Man (as we said before) is contrived as a kind of ́plaything of God, and this is really the best thing about him; and thus I say that every man and woman ought to pass his life in accordance with this character, playing the noblest forms of play" (Plato, Laws, Book VIII, 803)1

"We are just puppets of fate", the lovely Theresa told me in the twilight of her existence.

Introduction

We want to know all: what is beyond the infinitely microscopic or what can hide on the stellar depths; if there is a divine plan and the mystery of life; the reasons for the history and the prospects of evolution; if the human being is good and even the possibility that there are multidimensional universes; everything enters into the radar of a mankind always interested in the search for knowledge. Therefore, it is logical to ask ourselves in what moment, in what geographic space, under what authorship, in the context of what culture, chess — the most influential, metaphoric and enigmatic of the pastimes created — made its appearance on Earth.

Proust book coverWhen it comes to determining the origin of chess, paraphrasing Marcel Proust, in the search for the exact initial milestone when, as the Argentine and universal Jorge Luis Borges said: "... It was in the East this war took fire./ Today the whole earth is its theatre." The poet, in his unsurpassable work, immediately adds: "Like the game of love, this game goes on forever."2

The game of love, in short, that of life; hence the importance in unravelling the first source of chess since it is a real Big Bang that embodies a foundational mystery.

Much research has already been done on this subject. Chess, as a board game, is symbol, myth and rite, more than enough reasons for its connection with such deep values of humanity, to endeavour to know its genesis. Recently, at the same time as new evidence for old hypotheses was obtained, other possible explanations were proposed that could be considered even as novelties. This series of articles will try to make a comprehensive review of all of them, with special attention to the most relevant theories; and mention will be made of others that have been practically abandoned or that correspond to speculations, not based on science or history but representing myths, legends or literary tales.

As an epilogue, after enumerating what we know, what we suppose and what we ignore in this subject, considering the state of the art of research in the matter nowadays, and based on the most verifiable evidence, we will build a holistic vision to explain the origin of chess.

The fact is if one adopts a line in which the prejudices and biased visions are abandoned, considering only the findings based on the scientific evidence, it is very probable that a single explanation can be erected that converges in a common trunk. We believe that it is possible to reach that goal although, we know, there is a wide space yet to be traversed.

Perhaps we're not that far away. When we do solve this issue one could say, as Proust baptized the last of the volumes of his great novel, that we are in the presence of a "time regained", a moment in which we will end up discovering how, when and where chess appeared. Proverbial play in which the will can impose itself on fate.

Without consensus as regards the origins of chess

Numerous theories have been drawn regarding the genesis of chess. Several of them had only the force of legend or myth; or the beauty of the literary imagination, which was often associated with poetry.

RavanaIn the foundational myths, the game generally emerges as a model representation of battles in which opponents try to resolve supremacy. Thus it will be for example in the legend that it was invented by the wife of the king of Asuras, Rāvana [pictured in the 1916 book by Ramachandra Madhwa Mahishi], with the idea of distracting her husband with a warlike image, less committed than the real bloody combats, in times when his kingdom was besieged by the god Rama.

In the same sense, there is another story originating in India indicating that the game was conceived representing an armed confrontation between the forces of Talkhand and Gav, seeking at once the consolation of Paritchea, the queen who was the mother of both, who was very affected not only because of this struggle between brothers but also because of the death of one of them.

PaulinusThis specificity in terms of confrontation was highlighted by the Austrian orientalist Frey Paulinus of San Bartholomew [pictured left] who, in the eighteenth century, pointed out that in Indian culture "Brahmins teach youth the science of war through games." On the other hand, in the Chinese tradition, concordantly, it is said that the game was created following an image of an important warlike action that faced two kingdoms, preamble of the constitution of a new empire with the assumption of the Han dynasty in the third century BCE.

Epic stories, which only demand beauty in their utterance, are contrasted with the rigorous analyses of scientific nature based on history, from which one can construct hypotheses that result from the highest possible degree of verisimilitude. So only these require the strength of evidence and demonstration. The others will remain in the field of persuasion.

Some theories, such as those that posit an original Egyptian or Greek source, had momentarily some force and then lost explanatory power and, one might say, passed from the plane of historicity to that of myth. On the other hand, the one that puts the accent in India, although in some cases relied on epics or legends, ended up decanting as historically very real, prevailing strongly from its first enunciation, although it is by no means an exclusive paradigm. Powerful alternative approaches have emerged that point to a Chinese origin or even to the possibility that the game would have been the product of a process of syncretism with multicultural contributions.

In reviewing the positions of those who hold each of them, it is possible to notice an attitude that is humanly understandable: the generation of, what we might consider, problems of bias. It is often seen that the respective researchers, by explicitly or implicitly (perhaps a priori) adhering to a given position, uncritically magnify the factors that are favourable, ignoring or minimizing the relevance of those others that may be contradictory or conflicting to their own ideas. In addition, they end up ignoring alternative explanations that, in many cases, can provide elements that allow the construction of a broader and univocal hypothesis, by integrating the proven evidence of each position.

This work aims to recreate, with the greatest possible objectivity, the main theses in force about the origin of chess, pointing out their weaknesses and strengths. Rather than ascribing to a specific posture, without preconceptions, each of them will be analyzed taking the elements that are feasible and discarding the improbable, with the purpose of establishing a shared inventory. We base on an implicit assumption: the last word on the issue is not yet said, so it is recognized that there is a vast path to be explored in this quest for truth.

Perhaps we could imagine that we will never know for sure (barring the invention of time-travel) what was that magical moment in which the game appeared on Earth. In any case, in the richness of the diversity of hypotheses raised, we notice an incontrovertible fact: Chess is an object of study of maximum interest, and we are far from being indifferent.

An Indian proto-chess enters Baghdad in the sixth century CE3

We begin with an initial point of agreement: In the evolution of knowledge, the first undoubted landmark comes with the entry into Baghdad, in the sixth century, a proto-chess from an Indian kingdom.4 From that moment, the progressive sequence of diffusion of the game has been determined, with sufficient precision, through a process of metamorphosis that took it to its present identity.

When the Muslims, a little later, in the second quarter of the seventh century, conquered the territories of the Sassanid Empire, they took the game for themselves and, with slight modifications — in particular to ensure the design of the pieces might not have images which contradict the prohibition of the Qur'an — will be mainly (but not exclusively) responsible for introducing it to Europe in the Middle Ages.

Saru Taqi a vizierFor it was in Europe that, after a process of incorporation, transformation and systematization, the game would mutate to its modern and definitive form; particularly from the contribution of the Valencian School that introduces the enlarged movements of the bishop and the queen. This is a Western contribution replacing the exotic vizier [right, a 17th century illustration], when a female figure, for the first time, makes its appearance in the game, revolutionizing it both in its format and content.

The vector of further transmission of chess from the moment it entered Baghdad at the hands of an Indian entourage can be traced with absolute clarity. The same happens even if we place ourselves in the other predominant theory, the one that puts a similar primordial source to a model originating in China. What happens is that, under this latter assumption, it is understood that in any case that game expanded to the east and west, including India, so that its propagation channel ends up converging with the axis of the sequence known that goes from this last territory until Persia.

In both cases, we are geographically in the course of the silk road in which, not only goods were transported, but also, of course, people, and with them, elements of travellers' culture, including their main pastimes. Board games, in that context, were useful as distracting elements and had a feature that favoured their inclusion in the caravans: because of their size, they were easily manipulated.

Established precisely in time (sixth century CE) and space (the entry from India to Baghdad), it remains to be seen what happened before with the great game. We move on, to the realm of conjecture. Certainties are left aside, controversies appear and different views coexist. Therefore, we will have to direct the research efforts going back in the chronology, extending the field of analysis to all confines, in order to approach a determination of that mythical foundational moment in which chess appeared.

Persian origin of chess: Hypothesis discarded by elements of its own culture

It is quite understandable that theories about a specific paternity of chess come from direct sources of each culture, beyond the origin of the authors who eventually support it.5 In this process of determination, we appeal, fundamentally, to the chronicles contained in (often epic) stories and, when possible, to the dating of physical findings from archaeological excavations.

In the case of Indian primacy, it is notable that the most conclusive chronicles do not correspond to their own literature, but come from Persian sources. In a rupture of the usual nationalisms, expressions of this last origin recognize that the game was exotic. In saying that the game came from India, the Persians implicitly admit that they were not the inventors. So the looks in principle should be directed to the neighbouring nation. This circumstance, based on concordant written accounts that have been admitted by all the historians in the subject, is the reason why it at least approaches reality — although for epistemological reasons we do not dare to consider that we are in the presence of an absolute truth.6

Thanks to early manuscripts7 in the Pahlavi (Middle Persian) language,8 and other highly influential works of literature in the Middle East9 at the end of the first millennium, such as The Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems of Al Masudi (896-956) and the Shāhnāma (The Book of kings) of the Persian Ferdousí (935-1020), we know that a proto-chess, the game chaturanga (catur-aṅga, चतुर in Sanskrit), enters Baghdad in the sixth century CE from a region of the northeast, as part of the precious gifts sent to Xusraw I by an Indian Rajah who wished to ingratiate with the mighty King of Kings, who was duly assisted by the wise Bozorgmehr (Burzmihr).

14th century Persian image

Image of a chess game in Persian culture corresponding to a 14th-century manuscript | Source: Iran Chamber Society

If the Persians, therefore, cannot be considered the parents of chess, according to what is revealed in their own historiography, they will have in turn a decisive role as an agent of diffusion. First, they will appropriate it under the name of čatrang (چترنـــگ in Middle Persian), from which the Arabic šatranj (شــطرنج in Arab)10 will emerge, a moniker which continues to be used until, after experiencing its respective metamorphosis, it will become Western "chess".

In spite of clear evidence of the Persians considering that the game was of Indian origin,11 the researcher Nathaniel Bland, in the 19th century, came to maintain that the paternity could have corresponded to the nation to which it belonged.12 When analyzing an anonymous manuscript, which is not dated (it would have been at least five centuries old and consists of ... sixty-four pages!), it states that chess was invented in Persia, passing then to India and finally returning in an abbreviated and "modern" shape. It refers to two types of game, the conventional and the so-called shatranj Kamil or perfect chess (later known as of Tamerlán or Timur), an extended version that is played in a board of 112 squares and with the presence of 56 pieces. The first would be the Persian, which Bland considers the original; the second is the one that the Indians would send back later (supposedly during the reign of Xusraw I).

A sage named Hakim13 is credited with the invention of that complete chess and there have been various proposals as to how the game is reduced in India, which will make another adviser, the famous Sissa (or Sassa, son of Dáhir) who, in a tradition which has come strongly to nowadays, will require for its invention a reward in cereal grains. The concept of the game was very high considering that it was: "... the nourishment of the mind, the solace of the spirit, the polisher of intelligence, the bright sun of understanding, and has been preferred by the philosopher, its inventor, to all other means by which with arrive to wisdom”.

An interesting point is the religious connotation assigned to it since: "...the board represents the Heavens, in which the Squares are the Celestial Houses, and the Pieces Stars".

Bland, in support of his thesis, pointed out a very interesting fact: the names of the pieces assigned by the Persians remain in other cultures (with slight linguistic corruptions) after the successive stages that they had in their evolution. On the contrary, those originating in India have been definitely forgotten and do not even subsist in the subcontinent.14 Another element that has been used independently to emphasize a supposed Persian primacy is of a geographical nature. It has been argued that when his scribes in ancient times spoke of a Hindu kingdom, in the context of borders that have been so mobile, perhaps the caravans that brought the game from the east could come from a territory that was not India but corresponded to a province the own Persian empire itself (in Khuzestan).

The Spanish researcher Ricardo Calvo,15 for his part, insists on the possibility of an eventual Iranian origin, for which it is based on several arguments, mainly in that the first mentions written are Persian, and not Indian, and in the fact that there are no archaeological finds of pieces of the latter, although they do exist corresponding to Persia. In spite of the foregoing, one must admit that chaturanga is a proto-chess that, therefore, is previous to čatrang. And that's precisely what it's all about: locating the game that, being part of the cycle of cultural diffusion, is one that would have appeared in the previous era.

This approach, as well as in general the problems that we address, connotes an important question: what can be considered chess or in any case proto-chess and what can not? In this respect, some possible interpretations have been designed over time. Without being exhaustive, we could assume that at least the following situations must be verified to consider a given game within this taxonomy:

  1. That it is played on a board of 64 squares
  2. That there are 32 pieces available to players (regardless of the number of these, can be 2 or 4, which allows considering the chaturanga of four players and the chaturaji
  3. The pieces have different forms of movement (due to their diverse hierarchies), and
  4. That one of them (without specifying its denomination, can be the king or the general) is tried to dominate, attacking it without possible escape (and, with that, to finish the game). In these conditions, it would not be a proto-chess Kamil or Tamerlane chess since it does not cover the first two conditions.

Persian chess

[Left: Image of a chess of Persian origin that evolved to its Arabic form (shatranj) corresponding to the XII century exhibited in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Returning to the argumentative line that attempts to place the Persian culture at the beginning of the time segment in which chess has developed, it can be assured that it is very limited since, in addition to not having sufficient explanatory force, it does not affect the other powerful theories that have been held, based in India or China or in the context of a cultural syncretism, all with much stronger empirical evidence and dating much earlier than those offered in the case of the Iranians.

This does not prevent the Persian region from constituting a central point for chess in its process of diffusion and evolution: it is a milestone along the way, an intermediate one, very important indeed, but not the foundational one.

What the Iranians can feel especially proud of is the fact that from their former domains it emerged the nard, a game that is a direct antecedent of backgammon which, by its design, has components that are much more representative of its culture. It reflects with great precision the dualistic cosmogonic concept of Zoroastrianism, a religion that had emerged around the sixth century BCE and was the predominant one in the country. Zoroaster established a divine principle of good, Ormuz or Ahura Mazda, and another of evil, embodied by Ahriman.

The space in which it was practised, symbolizes the sacred Earth, the white and black pieces of the nard represent the days and the nights, the dice refer to the revolution of the planets (there are seven, that is, the sum of the opposite sides of the cubes), the twelve fields of the board allude to the zodiacal signs, the movements of the cards refer to the birth and, in their evolution, respond to the stages of growth in life until death (given at the time of capture); and its reintroduction denotes the possibility of resurrection.

On the other hand, from a political and historical point of view, this ancient Persian game is associated, from its own denomination, nardshir, to Ardashir, to the founder of the Sassanid dynasty, a fact which occurred in the third century CE.

Nard

It has been speculated that, having entered chaturanga from India in the four-player game modality, in any case, the Persians would have immediately simplified it to two players, to adequately reflect a strong dilemmatic struggle.

The chess that came from India, then, in its character of image — of war that consequently refers to earthly planes — would not have been the best exponent of the metaphysical values that prevailed in the Persian society during so many centuries of splendour, those values that the nard represented more fully.

References to Nard are found in the Babylonian Talmud dating to around 500 CE | Source: bkgm.com

Continued in part 2...

Notes

  1. [☝︎] Source: Theory of education in Plato ́s “Laws”, by R G. Bury, Revue des Études Grecques, Vol. 50, N° 236, 1937, at http://www.persee.fr/doc/reg_0035-2039_1937_num_50_236_2825.
  2. [☝︎]Source: https://libraryofbabel.info/Borges/Borges-SelectedPoems.pdf.
  3. [☝︎]Chess, as we know it today, is an evolutionary product. When we referring to pioneering times, the most correct thing is to talk about that in each case we are in the presence of a prototype of chess or proto-chess. Such are the cases of chaturanga or xiang-qi, among others, which will be discussed in detail in the course of this document.
  4. [☝︎]On this point, the stories almost absolutely coincide. Except for the doubt raised by the Italians Gianfelice Ferlito and Alessandro Sanvito who, perhaps because of problems of homonymy, instead of recognizing that this episode occurred during the reign of Xusraw I (531-579), as it is widely accepted, they give as alternative that this would have happened during the mandate of his grandson, Xusraw II (591-628). Source: Origins of Chess - Protochess, 400 B.C. to 400 A.D., Ferlito & Sanvito, in The Pergamon Chess Monthly September 1990 Volume 55 No. 6, at http://history.chess.free.fr/papers/Ferlito-Sanvito%201990.pdf.
  5. [☝︎]It will be for instance a Spanish author (Catalan) who will hold with more strength the idea about an Egyptian origin of the game. English scholars, for their part, will be primarily responsible for the development of the thesis on an Indian genesis.
  6. [☝︎]When one proceeds to consult the work of the various specialists who deal with the origin of chess, it is usual to note that an issue, even one that seems more evident, may be the subject of an alternative look. For this reason, we will try, throughout this work, not to speak of truths absolute or unanimous, following the line of the German epistemologist Karl Popper, for whom all theory can be considered only as corroborated momentarily, but not reputed of absolute true due that it can always be refuted by the appearance of a counterexample.
  7. [☝︎]Several authors addressed the issue, including the Iranian Touraj Daryaee. It is considered like the oldest Persian manuscript where the game is spoken,  to  Vizārišn ī  catrang   ud  nihišn ī nēvardašēr (The explanation of chess and the invention of backgammon). Its date has not been precisely determined, although it would not be later than S. IX (see text at http://www.rahamasha.net/uploads/2/3/2/8/2328777/vc.pdf). Also of the Persian culture, and always with some indeterminacy as to the moment of their respective writing, there are references too in Xusrō ud Rēdag (The page of Xusraw), Kārnāmag ī Ardaxšīr ī Pābagān (The book of the wanderings of Ardashir the son of Babag) and Ēvēnnāmag (Book of Manners). In all of them the Indian paternity of the game is recognized, at http://www.sasanika.org/wp-content/uploads/Backgammon-2.pdf.
  8. [☝︎]It was the official language during the Sassanid dynasty (3rd - 7th centuries AD) and in the liturgy of the Zoroastrianism that extended its influence to later  centuries,  so that the manuscripts in that language corresponded to that approximate temporal period.
  9. [☝︎]In this case, and throughout this document, when we speak of the East, we must not fail to emphasize that this characterization depends on a specific geographical point of view from which the gaze is realized (that of a world that assumes itself as Western). This, which is valid in principle to emphasize a spatial location (which certainly does not take into account the roundness of the planet), has implications still more relevant in other senses, since they  implies  an intellectual, philosophical and even metaphysical perspective that, by  definition ,  is far from the culture that ought then to be defined  like  Oriental.
  10. [☝︎]These successive denominations (also  chatrang  and shatranj, respectively), according to philological and lexicographic analyzes, appeared from phonetic adaptations in the Persian and Arabic worlds, from the name of the game that they received from India: chaturanga.
  11. [☝︎]Even Brunet and Bellet have allowed themselves to speculate that the game may have entered to Persia from the Byzantine Empire and not from India. The logical thing would be the opposite, as the Englishman Duncan Forbes points out in commenting that Xusraw II, grandson of the king of the same name, when he was deposed of the throne, took refuge in the court of the emperor Mauricio with soothes in Constantinople. The truth is that both cultures were closely intertwined.
  12. [☝︎]It's possible to access his work at https://archive.org/details/jstor-25228633.
  13. [☝︎]It should be noted that in the Muslim religion, one of the names of Allah is precisely Al-Ḥakīm (الحك ــــــــــــــــم), or "The  Most Wise , The Most Judicious."
  14. [☝︎]Exception  is the case of the denomination of the tower:  rat'h  /  rot'h  in Sanskrit, an expression somewhat related to the rook of English that surely derives from the  rochus  of Latin.
  15. [☝︎]Source: On the origin of chess – Some facts to think about, Ricardo Calvo, Madrid, 1996, at http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Sport/chess_calvo.htm.

Author's postscript

It is very likely that the reader "ali4110m" is correct in the sense that chess was able to enter Persia by the city of Ctesiphon and not by Baghdad as has always been assured in Western sources based in the translation of the great text of Ferdowsi. Please, if you have more specific references on the matter I ask you to make them known as they will help clarify the issue. Conversely, it could not be concluded that chess was played in Persia in the third century as it actually entered the territory three centuries later, as derived from the Iranian writings themselves and Arab ones (we consulted several sources among which is the Vizārišn ī catrang ud nihišn ī nēvardašēr in an Engish translation). Always these issues are subject to review if new evidence emerges. In addition, already in a less objective terrain, when it is said that the nard is a better representative of the Persian culture than the catrang, that because it reflects more perfectly the idea of duality of Zoroastrianism while the proto-chess is rather seen as a reflection of a choral action in which a battle is represented. (This concept is also discussed later in the document.) For its part, that the nard is interpreted as a better representative of Persian culture than chess does not mean that the latter cannot be as well: There is an idea of pre-eminence and not of exclusion. In addition, the great metaphorical value of our game, facilitated by its greater evolution and its symbolic reappropriation, will make it reflect better than any other pastime, in every place and time, the challenges of humanity. I hope this idea it becomes clear when the text can be read exhaustively.

Regards,
Sergio Negri



Topics: China, History, india, iran

Sergio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is Master FIDE, who developed studies on the relationship of chess with culture and history.
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amarpan amarpan 4/10/2018 01:51
Chessbase does specify certain guidelines on the nature of comments. There are specified here,
https://en.chessbase.com/pages/discussion-rules
Perhaps they must do more to ensure these are adhered to.
Baneour Baneour 4/9/2018 06:37
The tone of this conversation depresses me. I will think of it the next time I consider posting.

Part of me wants to respond to some of these accusations, but the other part just sees how silly they are... I am sorry if I caused you any distress, you seem quite upset.

I'm sure your PhD in chess/Iran/Persia/Islam/dice history will serve you well and, again, I wish you all the best.
ali4110m ali4110m 4/9/2018 05:53
Have you ever read one of those books that the author has mentioned? Do you know the figures he spoke about? I have read all those books and I know what I am saying. Just because you hate nationalism it doesn't mean that no one from the country in debate can not participate in the discussion.

Of course not all the Chinese people know everything about China but what do you want to prove by saying this?

I told a lot of things about the story that author had said in his article and about the books. You suddenly jumped in like a teenager who needs attention and tried to change the direction of the topic. It was about the history of chess and about the references and figures in the story. Just look at the nonsense you have told about Christianity and Chinese studies and other job related jokes.

You clearly have not read those books and do not know anything about the discussion. Just general statements like I find your arguments bizarre or it is motivated by nationalism.

The only topic that you tried to challenge me was the debate about dice and even there you have clearly confused Islam with Zoroastrianism.

I think I made a mistake by answering a troll in the first place. Now you have got the attention you wanted. Be happy.
ali4110m ali4110m 4/9/2018 02:40
@Baneour
You find my responses bizarre because you obviously do not understand the context of the debate!
Your long response just contains jokes and unrelated sentences to the topic so you are trolling not me.

The sentences you told about Zoroastrianism and prohibition of dice and Mecca and Saudi were a mix of confused statements. When I read that it shows that either you have confused islam and Zoroastrianism or you are not smart enough. The long unrelated response that you just wrote shows how confused you are. A smart person either says effective sentences or remains silent when he does not understand something.

You told that if I live in modern Iran it does not mean that I understand the old language. The book Shahnameh that author has mentioned is written in Persian. Every single Iranian can read and understand it completely. We speak the same language that Ferdosi used to write the book.

That is why I say that you do not understand a single word that you are saying. Do you have to speak about a topic that you do not understand? When you do not know the difference between Zoroastrianism and islam and when you do not know anything about the context of the debate please remain silent.

What do you want to prove by writing a long answer and saying unrelated jokes?

My debate was strong enough to make the author answer me. It shows that what you are saying is nonsense.
Baneour Baneour 4/9/2018 01:53
@ali4110m
? I find your replies bizarre. You mostly repeat what you have already said. I would obviously respond mostly by making all the same points I already did.

I almost get the feeling that you are trolling... but I was not trying to insult you, I was saying that you are stretching arguments with vague points that would not persuade absent nationalist motivation. But I don't want to repeat things already said.

The difference between Zoroastrianism and Islam? I mentioned alcohol in Mecca to show that religious prohibitions (i.e. "culture") do not always correspond to historical reality. I was doubting both your and the authors strained reliance on cultural analysis to resolve any part of chess origins by saying the game accords with this official doctrine or that. A modern reading of Christianity is hard to square with a medieval reading of Chivalry, but obviously European knights were both Christian and Chivalrous, so it takes subtlety. I'm not saying such analysis is never useful, just that it is the easiest way to fool oneself. Your ongoing suggestion that Zoroastrianism has no special relationship to dualism remains radical etc... but I am starting to repeat myself.

To be clear: I am suggesting that European knights were Zoroastrian Muslims from Mecca who were drunk when they invented chess by rolling dice because they believed in fate. I am poking fun at the accusations which pattern your reasoning and the generalizations... for example:

"I am Iranian and I know the culture and the language of that country." If someone told you they were Chinese, would you assume they were experts on the differences between Ming and Qing Taoist practices of inner Mongolia? On Han medical practices as practiced along the Vietnam border? On weapons and tactics used in the early Song Dynasty? A Chinese person is not an expert in all things China. An Iranian person is not an expert in all things Iranian. In particular, a modern Iranian is not from ancient Persia.

A major point I tried to make in the last post was that knowing one culture does not equal knowing another. Forget the fact that Iran itself has many cultures - there are many ways of drawing cultural lines. What should be obvious is that a modern Iranian is not from the culture of ancient Persia. The language, customs, etc... are different. But this is a point I already made in more detail previously.

"What you told proves otherwise." It proves it? Sounds like balanced and reasonable language to me. Meanwhile, one of us seems familiar with the argument that dualistic theology begins with Zoroastrianism, and one of us does not.

I compare two quotes from your posts: first, the most recent,

"I never told that Zoroastrians thought that "dice was bad" or "gambling was bad"."

second, the earlier,

"Zoroastrians before islamic era did not believe in the prewritten destiny and dice."

My point in asking what you meant by referring to dice was just that - to ask what you meant because it was not clear. Saying "Zoroastrians do no believe in dice" which is essentially what you said, is unclear in exactly the way I pointed out by showing the different meanings with the questions. So I never alleged you said Zoroastrians said dice was bad... But again, this is going in circles.

What I am saying is not that you are wrong, but that your reasoning is sloppy and your counterarguments insufficiently detailed to persuade a reasonable observer.

ali4110m, please do not presume you are the only one who knows about history or geography, or that people who disagree with you must be misinformed.

[[[And then I wake up.... and realize I am saying an internet argument has descended into imprecise and unsupported claims motivated by nationalism.... and I feel foolish]]]

I'm glad that you are interested in a topic that I am also interested, I appreciate your contributions and I wish you all the best.
ali4110m ali4110m 4/9/2018 01:44
Card and alcohol and gambling are prohibited in Islam not in Zoroastrianism. You obviously do not know what Zoroastrianism is and what Islam is and their culture and the difference between the two religions.

When you do not know this basic facts you can not comment on this debate as you should know the historical context and the texts.
ali4110m ali4110m 4/9/2018 01:38
@ Baneour You were speaking about Zoroastrianism and then you jumped to Mecca and Saudi. Do you know that Mecca is the religious centre of Islam and not Zoroastrianism? Do you know that Zoroastrianism and Islam are two separate religions?

What you told proves otherwise. Please if you have no clue about what you are saying do not analyse the author and me culturally. When you do not know this basic fact, how did you judge my knowledge?
ali4110m ali4110m 4/9/2018 01:01
@Baneour I think you have not read what I have written very carefully.
The author has tried to prove that Nard is Persian because it corresponds to Persian culture. The main element of Nard is dice and chance. I never told that Zoroastrians thought that "dice was bad" or "gambling was bad". I told they did not believe in prewritten destiny by God so when the author says that this game represents Iranian culture it is not a solid reasoning. He speaks about dualism. He means a battle between good and evil and thinks that as Nard is played between two players with pieces of two colors it can represent Iranian culture. Believing in good and evil was not exclusive to Persian culture. All cultures believed in good and bad. Nard is played with pieces of two colors as chess is played so this reasoning does not seem very logical.

You told that my debate was biased because of "nationalism". It is a trend in debates that wherever somebody does not understand a debate, he marks the others with labels. I am Iranian and I know the culture and the language of that country. It does not mean if someone in the audience is obsessed with the word "nationalism", I can not express my idea. You see that even the author accepted that part of his text has mistakes.
I found mistakes in this article and mentioned them. Attacking a person does not give you anything.
Baneour Baneour 4/8/2018 04:25
I love this article. History of chess is riveting. But... three points:
1) Perspective. Modern chess comes from India (or Persia) like the Spanish language comes from Kazakhstan. It is true that Spanish traces its origins to an Indo-European language of the Yamna who lived (partly) in what is now modern Kazakhstan. Language is fluid with histories that defy modern identities - even the rules of European chess were created in a culture foreign to modern Europe, just as the rules of Korean chess (Janggi) were created in a culture foreign to modern Korea. I am fascinated by the history of chess, but sometimes suspicious of its advocates (i.e. ali4110m seems motivated by nationalism... which I consider misplaced - no modern people or culture deserve "credit", whatever that might mean, for the rules of chess)

2) Writing style. Panamaniac nailed it. A little sugary language is sweet. Too much is stylistically overpowering and can make a text so dense it is unnecessarily difficult to consume - i.e. the difficulty is not due to the complexity of the content but the opacity of the language.

3) There is some cultural analysis in ali4110m (and even the author) which seems purely speculative and hard to swallow. ali4110m in particular approaches topics with some basic knowledge, but without academic rigour - acting nonchalantly like Zoroastrianism has no special relationship to dualism is quite radical and begs explanation, for which none is given. Zoroastrians don't believe in dice? It's hard to know what you are trying to say. You mean they thought a dice was itself bad? Or they thought gambling was bad? Or they thought games of chance were bad? How widespread and pervasive was that belief? Alcohol, cards, and music existed in Mecca in the 20th century before the Saudi clamp-down - religious prohibitions and realities do not always coincide. In general I read a series of vague, and therefore highly contestable statements leading to a preconceived conclusion.

I am not saying this proves that ali4110m is wrong, I'm just saying the arguments so far presented would not persuade a reasonable observer, in my opinion. I'm not saying therefore chess is from India. It makes no difference to me whether the ancestor of the game was sketched by ancient strangers at this longitude and latitude or that. I'm just bristling at the interference in this question of tribalism. The people who made this game spoke languages we wouldn't understand, believe in nonsense that would astonish us, have political beliefs that offend us, and accept levels of hygiene that disgust us. These were ancient people. These are not us.

In general, I feel like parts of this debate have nothing to do with chess, and are actually just about modern nationalisms (Iranian in particular). This seems unscholarly.

Those are my two-cents, not that anyone asked.

I really appreciate this article, and I love the exploration of the history of the game. Thanks so much for your work!
ali4110m ali4110m 4/8/2018 01:49
And again please rethink about what you told about the dualism of Iranian culture and Nard. If you think because Nard is played with pieces which are white and black so it represents good and evil, chess has the same story and is played with pieces of two color black and white) and can be considered as a war between good and evil! Believing in Good and evil exist in all cultures it did not belong to Iranians!
ali4110m ali4110m 4/8/2018 01:43
Thank you Sergio Negri for your answer. It is very nice that you pay attention to reader's comments. I think the issue about Ctesiphon and Baghdad does not need any more reference. As it is clear in all the historical sources that Ctesiphon has been the capital of the Persian empire for about 800 years and not Baghdad. I can read Shahnameh in Persian and it has never mentioned Baghdad as the Iranian capital and I am sure your English translations are the same. Please recheck them. It is enough to open a general history book. Baghdad was an unimportant village at that time and became a big city 3 centuries later during Abbasid caliphate.

You have mentioned that chess could not have been played in Iran in the 3rd century because it entered Iran 3 centuries later but if you look at the book I mentioned Karnamak Ardashir Papagan it clearly mentions that Ardavan the last king of the Parthian dynasty and Ardashir played chess in their courts. If we believe this version, then chess could not have been entered Iran 3 centuries later! it depends on what you believe.

The Ferdosi's book Shahnameh is Iran's national epic. it is somehow similar to Ramayana and Mahabharata for Indians and Iliad for the Greeks. It is mixed with myths and fables and of course real stories. In Shahnameh Anushirvan's grandfather ( the Shah that our story happens during his reign) fights with dragons. I am sure you do not believe this story. In the Shahnameh's story, Nard is invented overnight by Bozorgmehr (The Iranian vazir) which does not seem true. If you look at the structure of the story it seems more like a fable. Iran asks Indian king for tribute and Indian king sends a messenger with chess and tells if you find out the secrets of the game it shows that Iranians are wiser than Indians and of course Iranians solve it! (It is an Iranian story so it favors them!).This story has been written to show that Iranians are wiser and smarter than Indians! (With all the respect to my Indian friends, it is a myth). It is obvioulsy a myth, but popularity of Shahnameh has made the researchers to overlook other sources.

What you mentioned about Nard and duality of the Persian culture does not seem very logical. Zoroastrians before islamic era did not believe in the prewritten destiny and dice. Everybody should work hard and you can change everything. A game with dice is not representative of Iranian culture before islam and obviously Nard is older than that. You can not base all your article on a story from a book that is filled with beautiful stories which are not necessarily real. I also do not get what you mean about dualism of the Iranian culture. If you mean good and evil it does not belong to Iranians. I am sure Indians also believed in good and evil as Christians believed. The dice games are much older than this date and if you believe this story Nard should have been invented overnight and by one person which is not true.

As I told before, these are counterarguments and do not prove anything. Chess is an old game and we do not have enough sources to rewrite the history. There are documents against and for all the theories about origins of chess. I am sure that the remaining parts of your research have the same story.
wb_munchausen wb_munchausen 4/7/2018 09:55
I will be keen to see what he says about xiang qi ( Chinese chess) which he mentions on the footnotes. The two games are undoubtedly related and have a common history.
macauley macauley 4/7/2018 02:54
@ali4110m - There's an added postscript from Sergio Negri that address some of these comments. Thanks!
Panamaniac Panamaniac 4/7/2018 10:21
Difficult to read because of the flowery language, but interesting nonetheless.
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 4/7/2018 05:14
Ravana was a well-known womanizer. Legend has it that his faithful wife, Mandodari invented chess so that he would spend time with her rather than chase women. It appears that she did not succeed. Ravana’s fascination for chess did not last long. He went about kidnapping Sita and in the end he was killed by her husband Rama. As of now I have not found any mention of chess in Ramayana itself. So this is only a plausible version. Meanwhile let us not quarrel among ourselves. We can have an open mind on the question as to where the game originated.
ali4110m ali4110m 4/7/2018 02:31
@amarpan I am Iranian and I think you are Indian. I think you are emotional as well which is natural. This debate has no end. I do not think that the points I mentioned prove anything but it shows that the author has not studied the existing sources very well. He does not know the Persian culture. His biggest mistake is where he mentions that chess does not correspond to Iranian culture which is obviously wrong. The author has tried to be "objective" as you mentioned but he has obvious mistakes in his article. The oldest existing text that speaks about chess is Persian and as I told you it says that chess was played in Iran in the 3rd century but maybe the author is not aware of this text.

The Indian game chaturanga has been very different than chatrang. It had been played between 4 people and as I know it used dice unlike chatrang. It is very far from what we know as chess.

What you mentioned about the meaning of chaturanga is of course right but just remember that Indian languages and Iranian languages are very close linguistically. chatr meant four in both languages so your point does not change anything. both of the names in their respective languages have the meanings that we both mentioned.

The debate in this field has no end and nobody will be able to prove the origin of chess. I just mentioned what was not mentioned in the article and what was wrong and as I am Iranian it is filled with emotions.
amarpan amarpan 4/7/2018 12:30
@ali4110m is getting unnecessarily emotional, while I think the author is quite objective. Chatr is very close to four in Sanskrit (chatvar) Ranga means battle in Sanskrit (the "ng" sound is not the same as spelt in English, its more like "n" said by curling your tongue). I think the origin of the name Chaturanga comes from its Sanskrit translation "battle between or among four". As the author mentioned the older form of the game was played with four players.
ali4110m ali4110m 4/6/2018 06:46
Thank you ChessBase for the article. I think the writer has tried to look at the possibility of Persian origin of chess, but unfortunately, his sources do not seem adequate and his science about the Persian culture is completely narrow. He mentions that chess does not correspond to the Persian culture, but with all the respects it is completely wrong. In the Iranian culture Shah or king has been the heart of the society as in chess. The Vazir in the Iranian court has been the most important figure after the king. Even the way we set pieces today corresponds to the old Iranian army. Soldiers on feet in front and others in the back. Persians also used elephants in their army. The piece bishop corresponds to Fil in the Iranian version.

The name of the game in Persian is Chatrhang. Chatr is driven from Chahar which means four and hang means army. It means 4 different pieces. Rokh(rook), Asb(knight), Fil(bishop and Vazir(queen).

If you look at the spirit of chess, it ends when the king is captured and it completely corresponds to the Iranian culture, not Indian culture. In the Indian subcontinent every region has had a raj which can be roughly translated to king but in Iran a central figure Shah which has been the most important figure and has always been the heart of the society. Unlike Indian subcontinent which because of the huge population and nature controlling all the country by a central government has always been a challenge and somehow impossible.

In addition, there are Persian sources that mention playing chess in Iran since 3 century CE which the author has not mentioned them. In the book Karnamak Ardeshir Babakan it has been mentioned that Ardashir the founder of the Sassanid empire played chess in his court.

Most of the words we use today in international chess have Persian roots. Chess itself comes from the Persian word Shah. Checkmate comes from the Persian word Shahmat. Rook comes from the Persian Rokh which means knight or brave man. Even in most of the Indian subcontinent Persian words are used for the pieces not the equal Hindi words.

Unfortunately, the author does not even know that in 6 century Baghdad has been a small village. It became an important city 3 centuries later so chess did not enter Baghdad but entered Ctesiphon capital of the Persian empire.
If we consider that all the current words we use in the modern chess have Persian roots, when arabs conquered Iran there should have been a great chess culture in Iran which could resist how dogmatic the conquerors were. They abandoned chess for some time because it was considered heresy. After Abbasid caliphate came to power the chess flourished. If we believe this myth that chess entered Iran at the end of 6th century, it had around 50 years to create a very significant culture in Iran which seems very unreasonable when we consider the chaos of 30 years of wars with the Eastern Roman empire and then the attacks of arabs.
macauley macauley 4/6/2018 02:26
@Manasi - The author doesn't conclude this, but further, this is only part 1 of 5 and India is up next in part 2. So, don't fret.

@GoldenScorpion - Yes, there are readers, perfectly sane ones even, who are into chess history. But if it’s not your cup of tea, there’s plenty else to be found on the page. No need to insult readers with interests contrary to yours.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 4/6/2018 01:25
I will. Hope this won't bring on any questions about my mental stability.
GoldenScorpion GoldenScorpion 4/6/2018 01:07
Are there crazy people out there who actually read this article?
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