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Arabic Literature

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Chess in early literature

One of the most common ways for chess historians to trace when the board game chess entered a country is to look at the literature of that country. Although due to the names associated with chess sometimes being used for more then one game (for instance Xiang-qi in China and Tables in England), the only certain reference to chess is often several hundred years later than uncertain earlier references.

The earliest dates for strong references include,

Table of contents


a. 923 AD - at-Tabari's Kitab akhbar ar-rusul wal-muluk (note the work is an arabic work, no early greek works are known)


c. 900 AD - Huan Kwai Lu ('Book of Marvels')


c. 1180 AD - Alexander Neckam's De Natura Rerum (note that it is thought that Neckam may have learnt of chess in Italy, not in England)


a. 1127 AD - A song of Guilhem IX Count of Poitiers and Duke of Aquitaine.


c. 1030 AD - Ruodlieb


1148 AD - Kalhana's Rajatarangini (translated by MA Stein, 1900)

The King, though he had taken two kings (Lothana and Vigraharaja) was helpless and perplexed about the attack on the remaining one, just as a player of chess (who has taken two Kings and is perplexed about taking a third).

(note this refers to the old four-handed chess sometime known as chaturagi).


c. 1062 AD - Letter from Petrus Damiani (Cardinal Bishop of Ostia) to the Pope-elect Alexander II and the Archdeacon Hildebrand.


c. 600 AD - Karnamak-i-Artakhshatr-i-Papakan

Artakhshir did this, and by God's help he became doughtier and more skilled than them all in ball-play, in horsemanship, in chess, in hunting and in all other accomplishments.

(It is fairly certain chess is meant due to the word chatrang being used).


c. 1009 AD - castrensian will of Ermengaud I (Count of Urgel)

I order you, my executors, to give . . . these my chessmen to the convent of St. Giles, for the work of the church.


c. 1620 AD - Sejarah Malayu

Now this Tan Bahra was a very skillful chessplayer, and one that was unequalled at the game in that age, and he played at chess with the men of Malacca.


c. 1000 AD - Manuscript 319 at Stiftsbibliothek Einsiedeln.


  • HJR Murray, A History of Chess, (Oxford University Press)

  • Helena M. Gamer, The Earliest Evidence of Chess in Western Literature: The Einsiedeln Verses, Speculum, Vol. 29, No. 4. (October 1954), pp. 734-750.

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