While chess may not be among the oldest known competitive games, it does have a long and rich history that spans the globe, establishing it as one of the most impactful activities in history. By looking back at the origins of the game, it is possible to understand its universal appeal as well as its significance as a form of mental exercise. The exciting and engaging history of chess also underlines its benefits as a tool for use in a modern educational setting (LINK), as it helps to promote the development of more advanced brain functions and enhances the overall learning process.
Early Iterations in Ancient Persia
The earliest known records of chess date back to the Sassanid Empire in the year 600 CE, in the form of an ancient manuscript that references a game known as Chatrang. Other records and evidence suggest that this game was actually an evolution of a game developed in Northern India earlier in the 6th century known as Chaturanga, which means “four divisions” and refers to the four main classes of pieces on a chess board.
Over the next 300 years, the game would spread through the Persian Empire, which was transformed as it fell under Muslim rule. The game finally reached Spain in the year 800 CE, brought over by the Moors and other Muslims spreading into Europe. By 1000 CE the game had taken Europe by storm, quickly establishing itself as one of the most common and prominent activities for people of all classes.
Discecting the Differences
The early forms of Chaturanga were remarkably similar to modern chess, featuring two “armies” of pieces squaring off against each other on a checkered game board. The early pieces took the form of common troop types of the era, including infantry, soldiers mounted on elephants and traditional cavalry. The original games also included a piece representing the monarchy commanding the army. In time, these pieces would evolve to reflect European armies and battles, giving way to the bishops, rooks, knights and pawns of contemporary chess boards.
The game itself underwent remarkably few iterations throughout its lifetime, with the most significant taking place during the 1500’s as Europe was transitioning out of the medieval period. These minor modifications only served to refine movements of some pieces, as well as rename other pieces to more closely resemble European imagery.
Understanding Universal Appeal
The fact that chess traveled across dozens of countries and survived for hundreds of years serves as a testament to its charm and allure. It appeals to its players on many different levels, from the thrill of strategic planning to the glory that comes from a well-planned military victory. The fact that it relies solely on the mind rather than physical aspects also plays a significant role, as it intrinsically opens itself up to any person with enough interest. It does not recognize age, gender, creed or physical skill. It only focuses on the powers of the mind. Thus, as with any skill, repeated practice only serves to sharpen the abilities and enhance the performance.