Ivory chess pieces

From Samarkand, modern Uzbekistan, 7th-8th century AD
From Egypt, 10th-12th century AD

Chess was extremely popular from the earliest Islamic period, though there were periodic objections from religious authorities, primarily that it might encourage gambling. Originally an Indian game, it was introduced into the Islamic world via Sassanian Iran; many of the names of the pieces are Persian. Chess was always a game for the educated and wealthy members of society, and there are numerous references to chess in literature and poetry.

The grandest chess sets could be made from luxurious material such as gold, rock crystal and, as here, ivory. The earlier example shown here, from Samarkand, is carved in the shape of a chariot pulled by a pair of horses with two drivers and represents the Rook (also known as the Castle).

The form of the four pieces from Egypt has been reduced to abstract shapes. They are from different sets; three of them represent the King or Queen (which shared the same form and were differentiated only by size) and one represents the Knight. Decoration is created from patterns of incised concentric circles, dots and lines.

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Ivory chess pieces

Chess piece from Samarkand

  • Chess piece from Egypt

    Chess piece from Egypt


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Height: 3.800 cm
Height: 3.800 cm

Museum number

ME OA 1856.6-12.4;ME OA 1862.8-9.2;ME OA 1877.8-2.8;ME OA 1881.7-19.47



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