Page images

It is now time we should resume our argument respecting the progress of Chess. We know from history that this game was a favourite pastime with Khusru and his courtiers. A Persian historian states, in describing the magnificence of Khusru's Court, that, "he had a Chess-board of which one half of the pieces were of solid ruby, and the other half of emerald.” A later Arabian historian alluding to the same subject, gives us some idea of their value. He says " that the very least of the pieces (i. e., the pawn) was worth 3,000 golden dinārs or ducats." Now, if such was the value of each Pawn, we may safely estimate the superior pieces at 30,000 dīnārs each, amounting altogether to a quarter of a million sterling!

worth a million.

At the present day they would be

It is curious to observe that we have almost an identical description of a similar set of Chess-men presented to us in the following quotation from an ancient poem, given in the supplement to Du Cange.Vide Twiss, vol. 2, p. 149:

"Li Eschequier est tel, onques meindre ne fu;
Les Lices sont d'or fin à trifoire fondu,
Li Paon d'Esmeraudes vertes com pré herbu,
Li autres de Rubis vermans comme ardant fu;
Roy, Fierce, Chevalier, Auffin,' Roc, et Cornu
Furent de Saphir, et si ot or molu;

Si autres de Topace, o toute lor vertu ;

Moult sont bel à veoir drecié et espandu."

Let us now sum up the results of our argument, founded on etymological grounds and historical inference respecting the early introduction of Chess into the

1 I cannot help thinking that the word "Auffin" is an error on the part of some transcriber. The "Aufin" and "Cornu" were synonymous terms, hence the former is here superfluous; the latter we must have for the sake of the rhyme. If instead of Auffin we adopt "Aussi," or "Au fin," both sense and rhyme will be quite satisfactory.

Lower Empire. In the first place we have shown etymologically that the Byzantines must have received the game of Chess from the Persians, and that, too, at a period when the older term Chatrang was still in use in the language of the latter. All this indicates the early part of the seventh century. In the second place we have shown historically, that Khusrū Parviz was a Chess player; that he passed some time at the court of the Emperor Maurice before he succeeded, by the aid of the latter, to the throne of his ancestors; and that there existed, at least during the lifetime of Maurice, the closest friendship and intimacy between the courts of Byzantium and Susa. All this being taken into account, it is impossible for us not to arrive at the conclusion that the Byzantines received the game of Chess direct from Persia in the reign of Khusru Parviz, and this again harmonises in point of time with what we have already deduced from etymological grounds, viz., the early part of the seventh century.

We are told by Hyde, that the Princess Anna Comnena relates, in the Alexiad, a work written by her in the beginning of the twelfth century, "that the Emperor (Alexius) her father, in order to dispel the cares arising from affairs of state, occasionally played Chess (CαTρIKIOV) at night, with some of his relations or kinsfolk. She then says that "this game had been (originally) brought into use among the Byzantines from the Assyrians." The fair historian says nothing as to the time when the game came from Assyria, which may have been five centuries before she wrote; her statement, however, proves that it came from Persia, and not from Arabia, for Assyria formed an important portion of the Persian Empire under the Sassanian dynasty; and in fact it was for some centuries a kind of debatable land, and alternately occupied by the Persians

and Romans, according as victory swayed to one side or the other. The term Assyria, then, denoting Persia in general, is used here in a well known figurative sense, "per synecdochen," a part taken for the whole, just as the term Fars is employed at this day to denote the whole of Persia, whereas it is only the name of a single insignificant province of that kingdom. Finally, the once splendid empires of Assyria, of Media, and of Persia, had all passed away long before Anna Comnena wrote, so that one name is just as likely to be employed by her as another.

Passing on to the end of the eighth century we meet with an important historical proof not only that the game of Chess was then well-known to the Greeks, but that it must have been familiar to them for a considerable space of time previously. In the Annals of the Muslims, by Abu-l-Feda,' we have on record a letter addressed to the Caliph Harun Rashid by the Greek Emperor Nicephorous, immediately after the latter had succeeded the Empress Irene, the contents of which run thus:

"From Nicephorous, Emperor of the Romans, to Harūn, Sovereign of the Arabs.

[ocr errors]

After the usual compliments, the epistle proceeds "The Empress (Irene) into whose place I have succeeded, looked upon you as a Rukh,2 and herself as a mere Pawn; therefore she submitted to pay you a tribute more than the double of which she ought to have exacted from you. All this has been owing to female weakness and timidity. Now, however, I insist that you, immediately on reading

1 Abulfedæ Annales, tom. ii. p. 85, 4to, Hafn. 1790-also Leipsic Edition, tom. i. p. 166, 4to. 1778.

2 It is needless for us to say that the Rukh was the most valuable piece on the Chess-board down to the beginning of the sixteenth century.

this letter, repay to me all the sums of money you ever received from her. If you hesitate, the sword shall

settle our accounts."

In reply to this pithy epistle, Harūn, in great wrath, wrote on the back of the leaf:


From Harun, the Commander of the Faithful, to the Roman Dog Nicephorous.

"I have read thine epistle, thou son of an infidel mother. My answer to it thou shalt see, not hear."

We may add that Harun in this instance, kept his word. He instantly marched as far as Heracleia, wasting the Roman territories with fire and sword, and soon made Nicephorous sue for peace and consent to pay the tribute as before.

This laconic correspondence took place A.D. 802, and we may infer from it that both the Greeks and the Arabs had long previously become acquainted with the game; for it requires some TIME before its allusions and phraseology could have become thus "familiar as household words" in the language of a people. The Arabs, as we have shown in our last chapter, had most probably received it nearly two centuries before this period; and the familiar allusions made to it by the scribe of Nicephorous confirm all that we have said respecting its early introduction into Byzantium.

From what we have stated in this and the preceding chapter, I believe we are fully justified in concluding that both the Arabs and the Greeks received the game of Chess from the Persians very nearly at the same time, that is about, or soon after, the commencement of the seventh century of the Christian æra. With regard to the Arabs,

we fortunately possess the most satisfactory historical proofs; at the same time, we must candidly confess that what we have written in this chapter respecting the introduction of the royal game into the lower empire, is more a matter of inference than of demonstration. The historical proof of the existence of Chess among the Byzantines commences only with the reign of the Empress Irene ; but we are warranted to infer that the game must have been there known nearly two centuries before that period.

« PreviousContinue »