- Museum number
Four chess-pieces (Bishop, Saba) made of turned elephant ivory; cylindrical body, narrow neck with turned collar and conical head, two have evidence of red pigment particulary in grooves and on the base.
- Production date
Diameter: 4.50 centimetres
Height: 8.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
See Ethdoc 55 - Letter Frederic Madden, Keeper of Manuscripts/A W Franks, 8 March 1853:
'Dear Sir, While I think of it, let me remind you that the proper title to affix to the set of Chessman bought at Arley Castle, could be: "Set of Abyssinian Chessmen which belonged to Welled Selasse the Ras of Tigre, who died in 1816. After the Ras's death, they fell into the hands of Nathaniel Pearce, who was then living at Antalo, and in 1819 he brought them to Mr Salt, the Consul General at Alexandria, by whom they were sent to Lord Valentia (the Earl of Mountnorris) in 1820 ...'
In Ethiopia the game of chess has been know for centuries and was traditionally a game played only by Royalty and the nobility. As early as 1524 Emperor Lebna Dengel is recorded as being a keen chess player. The rules and play of Ethiopian chess are distinct from the version played in Europe today. The moves and power of the pieces are based on an early interpretation of the game probably introduced to Ethiopia by Arab traders. It is similar to early versions of chess played in medieval Europe and Asia. Traditionally the Ethiopia chess board was a square of red cloth or leather marked out in eight by eight squares, with no differentiation in colour. The game was popular until the late 19th century but the distinct rules have now largely been forgotten.
"Originally one side was stained or painted red, but the colour has nearly all worn away, and it is not easy to distingish the sides." HR Murray, A History of Chess, p.363, london 1913
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The chess pieces were previously owned by Ras Walda Selassie of Tigray, Ethiopia and were acquired from the Ras by Nathaniel Pearce. He in turn gave them to Henry Salt who sent them to Lord Valentia in 1820. After his death they were sold along with many of his possessions at a sale at Arley Castle. The chess pieces (1853, 1-8. 121 a-af) were bought by W Doubleday as lot 438 for the sum of £21.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number