Medieval chess pieces

Medieval chess pieces DEFAULT

Not many people know this, but a few centuries ago, chess had a piece so strong that it had to be replaced by a weaker one—the queen.

It's hard to believe, but the age-old game of chess wasn't always like the one we know and love today. Throughout the centuries, many exotic chess pieces have battled on chessboards all over the world.

From the common man to the powerful amazon, get ready to learn about 10 unusual chess pieces you've probably never seen before.

Historical Chess Pieces

The standard chess army has not been the same throughout the ages. Many ancient units from long-gone armies that our ancestors commanded over the board have disappeared over the years. Fortunately, some of those historical pieces have survived and made their way into the armies of exciting variants. Here are some unorthodox (also called fairy) pieces that appear in many variants and have roots in old versions of chess.

Want to try these pieces?

Try our new feature with tons of new pieces and rules!


The Minister

Although chess has always been the game of kings, it took centuries before it also became a game of queens. In its ancient form, chaturanga, chess players could only count on their mantra—the minister in English.

Unusual chess pieces: the minister.

The queen's predecessor wasn't nearly as strong as her majesty. It could only move diagonally one square, having access to only half of the board's squares. A similar piece still exists in other versions of chess, like in Xiangqi and Janggi. In both of these games (as well as in other variants), they are called the guard (or the advisors).

Unusual chess pieces: the minister.

On the bright side, blundering your minister was undoubtedly not as frustrating as hanging the queen.

The minister also goes by many other names, but the most popular is inherited from shatranj—the ferz. Other names are advisor, met, and cat sword.

The Elephant

Indians invented the game of chaturanga more than 1,500 years ago. The name chaturanga means "four arms" because each of the pieces used represented a branch—or arm—of the Indian army.

There were no bishops in India then. Instead, players had another type of piece at their disposal: the elephant.

Unusual chess pieces: the elephant.

Despite sounding like a powerful piece, the chaturanga elephant can only move diagonally two squares. Like knights, elephants can jump over other pieces. The leaping powers of the elephant might seem like a triumph. Nevertheless, they can control just four squares at a time, and their regular movement (as opposed to the knight's irregular jump) restricts their reach—each elephant can only ever access eight specific squares of the board.

Unusual chess pieces: the elephant.

In many modern variants, the elephant is still present under the name of al fil or simply fil—which is the reason why the bishop is still called "alfil" in some languages.

Are you curious to see how you would manage the challenge of conducting an attack with your elephantry? Then head over to our Variants page and enjoy a game of chaturanga!

The Camel

Another historical piece that later vanished from the orthodox chessboard is the camel.

Unusual chess pieces: the camel.

The medieval Tamerlane chess variant featured this exotic piece that moved similarly to today's knight, leaping over other pieces. The only difference is that the camel could jump one square farther than its equine counterpart.

Unusual chess pieces: the camel.

The Man

Chess is a game of war. However, civilians also made their way onto the chessboard in some European chess variants.

The medieval courier chess featured a piece called the man. Oddly enough, the common man depicted in courier chess was stronger than pawns, which have always represented the infantry. The man could move one square in every direction, just like the king.

Unusual chess pieces: the man.

Unlike the royal ruler, though, the man could be captured by the opponent without graver consequences.

Unusual chess pieces: the man.

The man first appeared around the year of 950 and most notably was used in the medieval variant of Courier chess.

An illustration of the man chess piece.

The Princess

Which is better, the knight or the bishop? The answer to this question is undoubtedly a complex one. But why choose just one if you can have both?

The princess was a piece that had the combined movements of the bishop and the knight. It could jump over other units when moving as a knight but couldn't do so when moving like a bishop.

Unusual chess pieces: the centaur.

In the first record of the princess (which comes from an Italian variant of the 16th century called Carrera's chess), it was known as the centaur. Many other chess variants have used this piece with different names—the vizir in the great Turkish chess, the archbishop in Capablanca chess, and the elephant in Seirawan chess are some examples.

Unusual chess pieces: the centaur.

The Empress

Another piece from Carrera's chess made its way into a plethora of other chess variants—the empress.

Unusual chess pieces: the champion.

This powerful piece had the combined powers of a rook and a knight. Just like the princess, it could only jump over other pieces when moving as a knight.

Unusual chess pieces: the champion.

Called the champion in Carrera's chess, this piece had many other names in different variants. Some of the more well-known were the war machine in the great Turkish chess, the chancellor in Capablanca chess, and the hawk in Seirawan chess.

The Amazon

The amazon is by far the most destructive piece on this list. It combines the queen and the knight's movements, covering 35 squares when positioned on the center of the board. Because of its excellent movement range, it can checkmate the enemy king without the help of any other piece. As if that wasn't enough, the amazon can jump over other pieces when moving as a knight, which makes it even deadlier.

Unusual chess pieces: the amazon.

Some historians believe that the amazon was one of the pieces contending to replace the old chaturanga minister. Records show that this piece first appeared during the Middle Ages and was still a part of Russian chess sets as late as 1770.

Unusual chess pieces: the amazon.

Because the amazon was so powerful, players abandoned it and made way for the modern-day queen to enter the game. However, chess players have never left this magnificent piece behind. Multiple chess variants have featured the amazon, including modern-day games like 4 Player Chess. Other names for it are giraffe, maharajah, angel, and commander.

Asian Chess Pieces

From the original game of chaturanga, other types of chess emerged. Especially noteworthy are the variants of chess played in Asian countries to this day. Shogi in Japan, Xiangqi in China, and the Korean Janggi also have unique pieces forming their armies.

The Dragon Horse

Different from international chess, multiple pieces can promote in the Japanese variant of chess, shogi. When a bishop is promoted, it becomes a dragon horse.

Unusual chess pieces: the dragon horse.

The dragon horse is one of the most powerful pieces in shogi. It has the combined movements of the king and the bishop. This type of movement solves one of the bishop's biggest problems of controlling only half of a board's squares.

Unusual chess pieces: the dragon horse.

The Dragon King

The dragon king is another powerful shogi piece. It results from the promotion of a rook.

Unusual chess pieces: the dragon king.

The promoted rook gains the ability to move one square diagonally like the king.

Unusual chess pieces: the dragon king.

The Cannon

One of the most peculiar pieces on this list comes from the Chinese and Korean chess games, xiangqi and janggi. The cannon is still in use in both versions of the game.

Unusual chess pieces: the cannon.

The cannon is the only piece on this list that moves in two different ways, depending on if it's capturing another piece or not. When moving without taking another piece, the canon behaves like a regular rook. Notice that in xiangqi and janggi the pieces don't go on the squares but rather move through the intersection of the board's lines.

Unusual chess pieces: the cannon.

Whenever capturing another piece, however, the cannon must first leap over precisely one other piece. If it doesn't jump over another piece, the capture can't happen. In the position below, the black cannon can capture the red pawn that's to its side but not the other one, which can't be captured because there is no piece for the cannon to jump over.

Unusual chess pieces: the cannon.

Due to its unique movement, the cannon is the only piece that can create a situation of triple check against the opponent's king (called the general in those variants). Players can achieve this by checking the enemy king with a horse (knight) and uncovering a double-check of the chariot (rook) and cannon.

Unusual chess pieces: the cannon's triple check.


For brevity's sake, this list only contains 10 of my personal favorite unorthodox pieces. There are numerous other chess pieces from other chess variants. I hope you've enjoyed reading about these different pieces and that they help you appreciate the richness of chess even more.

Do you know any other chess pieces that didn't make this list? Please leave a comment below describing it, and don't forget to head to our Variants page to see what it is like playing chess with some of them!


If you are fascinated by crusaders, catholic church, castles or even dragons, these unique medieval chess sets will take you back to a different era.

The Medieval or Renaissance era is a popular source of inspiration for many themed chess sets. Collectors and history buffs will be happy to know that there are many high quality medieval chess sets on the market today. Unfortunately, there are also some not so high quality ones that aren’t worth your money. To tell one from the other, we recommended double checking these factors:

The number one complaint regarding low quality chess sets is that they break easily. This is often because of the subpar materials that have been used in their construction. To get the most for you money, make sure to check what kind of materials the chess board and pieces are made from. Look for high quality woods, cast metal, and durable resin composites, and always be wary of a listing that doesn’t disclose what materials were used or is unnecessarily vague about it.

Chess Board
Remember to pay special attention to the chess board that’s included with any medieval chess set. Sometimes, buyers can get so caught up in admiring the beautiful, hand painted chess pieces that they fail to notice the cheap chessboard that was thrown in underneath them. Sellers know this, and the more unscrupulous among them will take advantage of that by slipping in low quality chess boards as part of a set with impressive chess pieces. Always be sure to check that the board and pieces are of comparable quality- a bad board can bring your whole set down!

The Best Medieval Chess Sets of 2021 (Page Summary):

The Best Medieval Chess Sets of 2021:

1. Medieval Knights 3D Chess Set (262$)

This 3D chess set is absolutely stunning. It will definitely become a conversation piece in your home or office, if not a total showstopper. Each element of this set is incredibly detailed as well as impeccably crafted. The floating glass playing surface is suspended above a dramatic battleground littered with discarded shields and crumbling towers, lending some gravitas to your games. Gold and silver chess men are locked in eternal battle with each other on a platform suspended high above the ground. If you’ve ever longed for more drama in your chess set, The 3D Medieval Knights Chess Set is the one for you.

Medieval 3D Chess Set

Speaking of the chessmen, each one is cast from metal and coated in either gold or silver colored metals. They have a natural weight to them from their solid metal construction that makes them easy to play with and lends them stability on the board. If you’re a nervous type, you may even be afraid that placing a piece too emphatically will cause the pieces to break right through the glass playing surface, but don’t worry about that- the glass of the chess board is plenty strong enough to handle regular use.

The chess board in this set is much more than just a simple checkered board. It adds a lot to the overall design of the chess set, with its large size and detailed base.

Buy Now

2. The Crusades Chess Set – SAC Hand Decorated (349$)

Use Coupon Code CSCOM for 10% Off!

This chess set is not only a stunning piece crafted from the finest materials- it also has a unique story behind it. It is themed around the Crusades – a bloody period in history fraught with religious tension. The Crusades, frequently cited as taking place between the years of 1095 and 1292, were campaigns led by European Christians into Muslim lands, designed to either convert or exterminate the people found there. You might think it’s an odd event to choose to immortalize in the form of a themed chess set, but The Crusades were a very important world event that shaped the world and still influences attitudes even today.

The chessmen are modelled after important figures and buildings involved in the Third Great Crusade. The Christian army is led by King Richard I of England, perhaps better known as Richard the Lionheart as he tries to recapture the Holy City of Jerusalem with help from King Philip II of France. The Muslim leader, Saladin defends his home territory from the invading forces. With The SAC Crusaded Chess Set, you can play out history with every game- who will be the victor this time?

The chess pieces in this set are crafted from high grade polyresin, which is a crushed stone composite that looks and feels like stone, but is as durable and easy to care for as plastic. Each piece is painstakingly hand painted by artists, making each set unique.

10% Coupon Code: CSCOM

Buy Now

3. The Templar Knights Chess Set (209$)

This Renaissance chess set is another that’s based on The Crusades. This one is unique however, as it seems to feature two armies of nearly identical chessmen, rather than the clear European and Middle Eastern styling that’s featured in other Crusades themed chess sets. This Medieval Templar Knights Chess Set features two armies of chessmen – one red and one white, both clad in what looks like classic European armor and weaponry. Rather than Christians facing off against Muslims, this medieval chess set seems to feature two opposing armies of European Christians facing off against each other.

It may not be extremely historically accurate, but this set does capture the aesthetic that people typically think of when they think of the Crusades, with Crusader’s crosses emblazoned on each piece, knights on horseback, and castles to be defended. Each durable resin chess piece is also meticulously hand painted with great attention to detail.

The chess board included with this medieval crusades chess set is a sizable 17 inches square and made of walnut and maple wood. It has a smooth, satin finish that gives the board a soft sheen and makes playing a breeze. This set, packaged in a decorative box with individual piece storage, would make a great gift for children and collectors alike.

Buy Now

4. Medieval Metal Crusades Chess Set and Board (179$)

The Medieval Metal Crusades Chess Set and Board is the very picture of a renaissance chess set. It has knights, princesses, castles, and horses- what more could you need from a medieval chess set? This set is also themed specifically around The Crusades, and therefore depicts a European Christian army facing off against a Middle Eastern Muslim army. It’s a perfect gift for history buffs and collectors.

The chessmen in The Medieval Metal Crusades Chess Set are made of solid metal and all together weigh more than 6 pounds! Each individual piece is a little on the smaller side, with the King standing only 3 inches tall, but they have a pleasant weight to them that makes them easy to move and a pleasure to play with. The pieces are also hand painted with vivid colors- no simple black and white here! The level of detail on each piece is impressive, and you can really tell that this is a high quality product made with care and attention.

The chess board is one of the more unique features of this chess set, being modelled after a castle’s walls and standing elevated above the table. Despite the big impression it makes, the board itself is actually quite compact at just over 17 inches square. This is overall a compact chess set that won’t take up too much space on a table. This makes it perfect for playing with in small spaces, or filling out a tight spot in a display of your collection.

Buy Now

Final Thoughts

The Medieval era, also known as the Middle Ages, is a period in history that has long captured the hearts and imaginations of many. One needs only to hear a single tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to know that. Unsurprisingly, this fascination with Medieval times has translated into the production and sale of many different chess sets. Many of these are specifically themed around The Crusades, which were a series of religious wars that were sanctioned by the Catholic Church at the time. Though the crusades were comprised of many different campaigns spanning hundreds of years, the most famous of these were undoubtedly the campaigns to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslim rule.

The First Crusade was initiated by Pope Urban II in the year 1095. Its objective was to support the Byzantine Empire in their efforts to expel Turks colonizing the region of Anatolia- a peninsula in modern day Turkey bounded by the Black Sea to the North and the Mediterranean Sea to the South. Crusaders had other tasks and goals in the intervening time, and the attempt to regain control of the Holy Land was actually the third crusade. It went on for about two centuries, but ultimately ended in failure for the crusaders, though they certainly left their mark on the region.

The Medieval Era was also a time when art was just beginning to flourish- before the chaotic rush of the Renaissance era. Classical art and literature that is still studied today was produced during this era, like the works of Dante, Chaucer, and Giotto. Marco Polo was also exploring the world during this time, and Gothic architecture was getting its start in buildings dotted all across the European continent- buildings that thousands of people still visit to this day.

The Late Middle Ages would spell disaster for many Europeans, unfortunately. The Black Death caught hold in 1347, and in 3 years it had managed to kill more than a third of the total European population. Civil strife and peasant revolt rates were high, but nevertheless technological advancements were made that ushered society into the next age- the early modern period.

Buy Online: Variety of the Finest Medieval Chess Sets – Shipping Worldwide

The Best Medieval Chess Sets of 2021 (Page Summary):

Related Pages:

  1. Flagship one promo code
  2. Prime line springs
  3. Silicone candle molds

A Medieval Chess Piece Potentially Worth $1.2 Million Languished in a Drawer for Decades

A Lewis Chessman_9.JPG

In 1964, an antiques dealer from Edinburgh, Scotland, spent £5—roughly £100, or $125 USD, in today’s money—on an ivory figurine he later catalogued in his purchase ledger as an “Antique Walrus Tusk Warrior Chessman.” Following the anonymous dealer’s death, the 3.5-inch standing soldier passed down to his daughter, who stored it in a drawer for the next several decades, unaware that she was in possession of a rare piece from arguably the most famous chess set in history.

Recovered from a sand dune on Scotland’s Isle of Lewis in 1831, the Lewis Chessmen, were part of a hoard of 93 artifacts, including 78 seated kings and queens, bishops, knights, standing warders (the equivalent to a modern-day rook or castle), and pawns; 14 “tablemen” pieces similar to those used in backgammon; and one buckle. Together, they testify to the region’s historic ties with Norway, which controlled Scotland’s Outer Hebrides at the time of the pieces’ creation, and represent one of the most well-preserved examples of medieval European chess sets.

Although the chess pieces form almost four complete sets,BBC News points out that the group is missing one knight and four warders. The Edinburgh piece, which represents one of the warders, was carved out of walrus tusk ivory to depict a fierce bearded warrior wielding both sword and shield. It is the first of these five missing pieces to materialize.

The warder is set to be sold by Sotheby’s on July 2, with the lot’s current estimate at £600,000 to £1 million, or $760,000 to $1.2 million.

A Medieval Chess Piece Potentially Worth $1.2 Million Languished in a Drawer for Decades

As Alex Horton writes for the Washington Post, the chess pieces were likely carved by artisans from the Norwegian settlement of Trondheim between 1150 and 1200. Eventually, the sets ended up buried beneath the sands of the Isle of Lewis, perhaps placed in safekeeping by a merchant traveling between Norway and Ireland or hidden by a trader after a shipwreck—a theory first posited by British Museum curator Frederic Madden shortly after the well-preserved hoard was found.

Madden’s account, as detailed in a blog post by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s James Robinson, identifies four of the warders as Berserkers, intimidating figures from Norse mythology. These infantrymen are distinguished by what the Guardian’s Mark Brown describes as “an ecstasy of rage,” driving themselves into a self-induced craze by biting the tops of their shields.

Speaking with the Press Association, Sotheby’s Alexander Kader says the rediscovered chessman, who holds a shield in his left hand rather than gnawing on it in a frenzied battle ritual, is “a little bit bashed up.”

Kader, a European sculpture expert who authenticated the piece after its owners stopped by for evaluation, notes that the warder, which is not believed to represent a Berserker, “has lost its left eye. But that kind of weather-beaten, weary warrior added to its charm.”

A Medieval Chess Piece Potentially Worth $1.2 Million Languished in a Drawer for Decades

The Lewis chessmen have achieved an almost mythical status in British culture: Ron, Harry and Hermione battle an enchanted version of the chess set in the 2001 film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, while the Viking-esque world seen in the children’s television show “Noggin the Nog” was directly inspired by the chessmen. Eighty-two pieces from the original hoard are currently on view at the British Museum, where they are among the institution’s most cherished and well-traveled artifacts, and the other 11 are held in the National Museum of Scotland’s collection.

As Kader explains in a statement, much of the Edinburgh warder’s story is “still to be told.” It’s unknown how the chessman was separated from the rest of the set, where the figurine spent the hundreds of years leading up to the dealer’s 1964 purchase, and how, or if, the medieval rook is connected to the four still-missing pieces.

Despite the fact that the dealer and his descendants were unaware of their chessman’s provenance, a spokesperson says the family long admired its “intricacy and quirkiness.” The dealer’s daughter, who inherited the artifact after her father’s passing, “believed that it was special and thought perhaps it could even have had some magical significance. … From time to time, she would remove the chess piece from the drawer in order to appreciate its uniqueness.”


Lewis chessmen

Group of 12th-century chess pieces

The Lewis chessmen (Norwegian: Lewisbrikkene; Scottish Gaelic: Fir-Tàilisg; Scots: Lewis chesmen) or Uig chessmen, named after the island or the bay where they were found,[1] are a group of distinctive 12th-century chess pieces, along with other game pieces, most of which are carved from walrus ivory. Discovered in 1831 on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland,[2] they may constitute some of the few complete, surviving medievalchess sets, although it is not clear if a set as originally made can be assembled from the pieces. When found, the hoard contained 93 artifacts: 78 chess pieces, 14 tablemen and one belt buckle. Today, 82 pieces are owned and usually exhibited by the British Museum in London, and the remaining 11 are at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Additionally, a newly identified piece, a "warder", the equivalent of a castle or rook, was sold for £735,000 in July 2019. Four other major pieces, and many pawns, remain missing from the chess sets.[3]


Most accounts have said the pieces were found at Uig Bay (58°11′10″N7°01′19″W / 58.185987°N 7.021909°W / 58.185987; -7.021909) on the west coast of Lewis, but Caldwell et al. of National Museums Scotland (NMS) consider that Mealista (58°06′14″N7°06′29″W / 58.104°N 7.108°W / 58.104; -7.108)—which is also in the parish of Uig and some 6 miles (10 km) further south down the coast—is a more likely place for the hoard to have been discovered.[4] The hoard was divided and sold in the 19th century; the British Museum (BM) holds eighty-two pieces, and National Museums Scotland has the other eleven pieces.[5]

At the British Museum, it was Sir Frederic Madden, Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts, who persuaded the trustees to purchase for 80 guineas (£84) the eighty-two pieces which he had been misled into believing was the entire hoard. Madden was a palaeographer, a scholar of early vernacular literature, but he was especially intrigued by these artifacts because he was a chess enthusiast.[6][7] Madden immediately set about writing a monumental research paper about the collection, titled "Historical remarks on the introduction of the game of chess into Europe and on the ancient chessmen discovered in the Isle of Lewis", published in Archaeologia XXIV (1832), one that remains informative and impressive today.[8]

The British Museum claims the chessmen were probably made in Trondheim, the medieval capital of Norway, in the 12th century,[9] although some scholars have suggested other Nordic countries.[10] During that period, the Outer Hebrides, along with other major groups of Scottish islands, were ruled by Norway.[9]

According to Alex Woolf, director of the University of St Andrews Institute for Medieval Studies, there are reasons for believing the pieces came from Trondheim:

  • A broken queen piece in a similar style was found in an excavation of the archbishop's palace – it appeared the piece was broken as it was being made.
  • The presence of wealthy people in Trondheim able to pay craftsmen for high-quality chess pieces.
  • Similar carving in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.
  • The excavation in Trondheim of a kite-shaped shield similar to shields on some of the pieces and a king piece of similar design found on Hitra Island, near the mouth of Trondheim Fjord. Woolf has said that the armour worn by the chess figures includes "perfect" reproductions of armour worn at the time in Norway.[11]

Icelanders Gudmundur Thorarinsson and Einar Einarsson have proposed that the chessmen originated in Iceland, since only in Iceland were the bishops called that at that time, while in other countries they used a name unassociated with the church,[12] they claimed. However, this was disputed by Woolf, who stated that the use of bishops originated in England,[11] and by Norwegian chess historian and member of Chess History & Literature Society, Morten Lilleøren.[13] The text that the Icelanders refer to[14] dates to the early 14th century, while two 13th-century Latin texts from other countries call the chess piece bishop,[15][16] and the Lewis chessmen probably date to the 12th century. Moreover, there are many medieval chess bishops of various origins in different museums in Europe and USA.[17][18][19] A bishop that probably predates the Lewis chessmen was in the collection of Jean-Joseph Marquet de Vasselot and was sold at Christie's in Paris in 2011 with a radiocarbon dating report stating that there is a 95% probability that the ivory dates between AD 790 and AD 990.[20] It is thought to be English or German and carved in the 12th century. Stylistically it predates the Lewis chessmen, as its mitre is worn sideways.[21][22] According to the lot essay with references, the presence of the bishop among the chess pieces was a twelfth-century European invention. The bishop's inclusion reflects his status in the social system of the period, especially in Scandinavia and in England where clerics played significant roles in battlefield conflicts.

The Icelanders further claim that the pieces were carved by an artist known as Margret the Adroit.[23][24][25]

Some historians believe that the Lewis chessmen were hidden (or lost) after some mishap occurred during their carriage from Norway to wealthy Norse towns on the east coast of Ireland, such as Dublin. The large number of pieces and their lack of wear may suggest that they were the stock of a trader or dealer.[9] Along with the chess pieces, there were 14 plain round tablemen for the game of tables and one belt buckle, all made of ivory, making a total of 93 artifacts.[26]


Main article: Game pieces of the Lewis chessmen hoard

Almost all of the pieces in the collection are carved from walrus ivory, with a few made instead from whale teeth. The 79[27] chess pieces consist of eight kings, eight queens, 16 bishops, 15 knights, 13 rooks (after the 2019 discovery) and 19 pawns. The heights of the pawns range from 3.5 to 5.8 cm, while the other pieces are between 7 and 10.2 cm. Although there are 19 pawns (a complete set requires 16), they have the greatest range of sizes of all the pieces, which has suggested that the 79 chess pieces might belong to at least five sets.[28] All the pieces are sculptures of human figures, with the exception of the pawns, which are smaller, geometric shapes. The knights are mounted on rather diminutive horses and are shown holding spears and shields. The rooks are standing soldiers or "warders" holding shields and swords; four of the rooks are shown as wild-eyed berserkers biting their shields with battle fury.[29] Some pieces bore traces of red stain when found, possibly indicating that red and white were used to distinguish the two sides, rather than the black and white used in modern chess.[11]

The Lewis chessmen in the British Museum

Scholars have observed that to the modern eye the figural pieces, with their bulging eyes and glum expressions, have a distinct comical character.[30][31] This is especially true of the single rook with a worried, sideways glance and the berserkers biting their shields, which have been called "irresistibly comic to a modern audience."[32] It is believed, however, that the comic or sad expressions were not intended or perceived as such by the makers, who instead saw strength, ferocity or, in the case of the queens who hold their heads with a hand and seemingly pensive expression, "contemplation, repose and possibly wisdom."[30]


The chessmen were discovered in early 1831 in a sand bank at the head of Camas Uig on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. There are various local stories concerning their arrival and modern discovery on Lewis.

Malcolm "Sprot" MacLeod (Scottish Gaelic: Calum an Sprot) from the nearby township of Pennydonald discovered the trove in a small stone kist in a dune, exhibited them briefly in his byre and sold them on to Captain Roderick Ryrie.[33] One reported detail, that it was a cow that actually unearthed the stash, is generally discounted in Uig as fabrication. After the Isle of Lewis was purchased by Sir James Matheson in 1844, Malcolm Macleod and his family were evicted during the Highland Clearances which transformed the area into sheep farms.

When the chessmen were uncovered in 1831, one knight and four warders were missing from the four sets.[34] In June 2019 a warder piece, which had previously gone unrecognised for at least 55 years, emerged in Edinburgh,[34] and was purchased at a Sotheby's auction for £735,000 the following month, by an undisclosed buyer.[35]

Exhibition and ownership[edit]

A queen and a warder (rook) in the joint exhibition in Edinburgh, 2010

They were exhibited by Ryrie at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, on 11 April 1831. The chessmen were soon after split up, with 10 being purchased by Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe and the others (67 chessmen and 14 tablemen) purchased on behalf of the British Museum in London.

Kirkpatrick Sharpe later found another bishop to take his collection up to eleven, all of which were later sold to Lord Londesborough. In 1888, they were again sold, but this time the purchaser was the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, who donated the pieces to the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh. The eleven are now on display in the National Museum of Scotland.

Of the pieces given to the British Museum, most can be found in Room 40, with the registration numbers M&ME 1831, 11–1.78–159. Others have been lent to Scottish museums and temporary exhibitions.[9] A range of wooden or plastic replicas are popular items in the Museum shops.

The chessmen were number 5 in the list of British archaeological finds selected by experts at the British Museum for the 2003 BBC Television documentary Our Top Ten Treasures, presented by Adam Hart-Davis. They were featured in the 2010 BBC Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 Objects as number 61, in the "Status Symbols" section.

An exhibition entitled "The Lewis Chessmen: Unmasked" included chess pieces from both the National Museum of Scotland and British Museum collections, along with other relevant objects, touring Scotland in 2010–2011. The exhibition opened in Edinburgh on 21 May 2010 and proceeded to Aberdeen, Shetland, and the Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway, opening there on 15 April 2011.[36]

An exhibition entitled "The Game of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen from the Isle of Lewis" at The Cloisters in New York City included 34 of the chess pieces, all on loan from the British Museum. The exhibit ended on 22 April 2012.[37]

On 3 April 2013, £1.8 million from the European Regional Development Fund was granted to transform Lews Castle, on the Isle of Lewis, into a Museum for the Western Isles. Around £14 million in total is to be spent on restoring and converting the property, which has been shut for almost twenty-five years. When completed the permanent displays will include six of the Lewis Chessmen.[38]

Dispute over location[edit]

In 2007–08 a dispute arose as to where the main resting place of the pieces should be. This arose[39] in late in 2007 with calls from Scottish National Party (SNP) politicians in the Western Isles (notably Councillor Annie Macdonald, MSP Alasdair Allan and MP Angus MacNeil) for the return of the pieces to the place they were found. Linda Fabiani, Scottish Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture, stated that "it is unacceptable that only 11 Lewis Chessmen rest at the National Museum of Scotland while the other 67 (as well as the 14 tablemen) remain in the British Museum in London."

Richard Oram, Professor of Medieval and Environmental History at the University of Stirling, agreed, arguing that there was no reason for there to be more than "a sample" of the collection in London. These views were dismissed by Margaret Hodge, the then UK Minister of State in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, writing "It's a lot of nonsense, isn't it?", noting the law protects purchases and drawing comparisons to major artworks in Europe housed in major cities, with replicas available often where tourism is sufficient, in situ.[33] The historical society in Uig, Comann Eachdraidh Uig, which operates its museum near the find site features detailed information about the chessmen and Norse occupation in Lewis. It has published that it cannot claim to own the pieces and would allow the normal museums' market to determine if more originals rest in Edinburgh. It welcomes short-term loans.[40]

In October 2009, 24 of the pieces from London and six from Edinburgh began a 16-month tour of Scotland partly funded by the Scottish Government, whose Mike Russell, Minister for Culture and External Affairs, stated that the Government and the British Museum had "agreed to disagree" on their eventual fate. Bonnie Greer, the museum's deputy chairman, said that she "absolutely" believed the main collection should remain in London.[41]

  • Selection of chessmen held at the National Museum of Scotland

  • King and Queen held at the National Museum of Scotland

  • Two warders or rooks, held at the National Museum of Scotland

  • A selection of some of the other pieces, with a row of bishops at the back and then knights.

  • Knight on a stout horse (British Museum).

  • Back of a British Museum queen

  • British Museum king and queen, with rook and knight behind them


  1. ^"Uig Chessmen | Comann Eachdraidh Uig". Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  2. ^"The enigma of the Lewis chessmen". Chessbase. 9 November 2010. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  3. ^"Lost Lewis Chessman piece bought for £5 sells for £735,000 at auction". BBC News. 2 July 2019. Retrieved 12 July 2021.
  4. ^Caldwell et al, pp. 15–19.
  5. ^Caldwell et al, p. 11.
  6. ^Stratford, pp. 4–8, 10.
  7. ^Sotheby's, 2019
  8. ^Stratford, pp. 5, 8.
  9. ^ abcd"The Lewis Chessmen". British Museum. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  10. ^Robinson, p. 14.
  11. ^ abcMcClain, Dylan Loeb (8 September 2010), "Reopening History of Storied Norse Chessmen", New York Times, retrieved 14 September 2010 (appeared 9 September 2010 in the newspaper, page C2, New York Times)
  12. ^Are the Isle of Lewis chessmen Icelandic?, retrieved 14 September 2010
  13. ^Lilleøren, Morten. "The Lewis Chessmen were never anywhere near Iceland". Chess History & Literature Society. Founded as Ken Whyld Association. Retrieved 28 February 2020.]
  14. ^Mágus saga jarls
  15. ^Archaeologia, Or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity. Volume 11. 1794.
  16. ^Murray, H. J. R. (1913). A History of Chess, Oxford University Press. p.507 [1], p.521 [2] p.530-533 [3].
  17. ^Gothic Ivories Project at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, Search on chess piece bishop 02 July 2019. 18 objects [4]
  18. ^The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Chess Bishop probably made in Trondheim, Norway, AD 1150-1200. Retrieved 02 July 2019.[5]
  19. ^The Historical Museum, Stockholm, Sweden. Chess bishop probably made in Norway or possibly England first part of 13th century. Retrieved 02 July 2019.[6]
  20. ^Christie's SALE 1047 Oeuvres Médiévales provenant de la Collection Marquet de Vasselot Paris|16 November 2011. Retrieved 02 July 2019.[7]
  21. ^Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida. Retrieved 02 July 2019.[8]
  22. ^James Robinson, The Lewis Chessmen, The British Museum Press (2007), p.19
  23. ^Brown, Nancy Marie (2015). Ivory Vikings: the Mystery of the most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman who Made Them. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN .
  24. ^McClain, Dylan Loeb (8 September 2010). "Reopening History of Storied Ivory Chessmen". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  25. ^"Bones of Contention". The Economist. 29 August 2015. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  26. ^Robinson, pp. 5, 36, 54–55.
  27. ^After 2019 discovery
  28. ^Robinson, p. 30.
  29. ^Robinson, pp. 28–29.
  30. ^ abRobinson, pp. 37–41.
  31. ^N. Stratford, The Lewis chessmen and the enigma of the hoard (The British Museum Press, 1997), p. 48.
  32. ^Robinson, p. 37.
  33. ^ abBurnett, Allan (3 February 2008) "Stalemate". Glasgow. The Sunday Herald.
  34. ^ ab"Long-lost Lewis Chessman found in Edinburgh family's drawer". BBC News. 3 June 2019. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  35. ^"Lost Lewis Chessman piece bought for £5 sells for £735,000 at auction". BBC. July 2019. Retrieved 2 July 2019.
  36. ^"Lewis Chessman exhibition opens in Stornoway museum". BBC. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  37. ^"Ken Johnson, "Medieval Foes With Whimsey," New York Times, Nov. 18, 2011". 18 November 2011. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  38. ^"New funding announced for Lews Castle Museum"
  39. ^"Moves to unite historic chessmen". 24 December 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  40. ^Uig News, February 2008
  41. ^Cornwell, Tim (2 October 2009). "Chessmen 'will never come home'". The Scotsman.


  • Brown, Nancy Marie (2016), Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 
  • Caldwell, David H.; Hall, Mark A.; Wilkinson, Caroline M. (2011). The Lewis Chessmen Unmasked. National Museums Scotland. ISBN .
  • Madden, Frederic (1832). "VII Historical Remarks on the introduction of the game of Chess into Europe, and on the ancient Chess-men discovered in the Isle of Lewis". Archaeologia, or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity. Society of Antiquaries of London. 24: 203–291 – via
  • Murray, H. J. R. (1985). A History of Chess. Oxford University Press.
  • Robinson, James (2004), The Lewis Chessmen, British Museum Press
  • Sotheby's (2019). "Attributed to The Lewis Chessmen Workshop, Probably Norwegian, Trondheim, 13th Century: a Warder". Sotheby's. Archived from the original on 30 November 2019. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  • Stratford, N. (1997). The Lewis chessmen and the enigma of the hoard. The British Museum Press.
  • Taylor, Michael (1978). The Lewis Chessmen. British Museum Publications Limited.

External links[edit]


Chess pieces medieval

Then they rented an apartment with a girlfriend. - Keep it in your pants. We are doing fine without him.

The Rules of Byzantine Chess

It's time to move on to the most important thing. Rough movement - and what, women like it. - widely spread the muscular thighs. He took his root in his hand, attaching himself with a thick head to the weeping entrance.

Now discussing:

Masha announced, then, looking at the paper, she added, Lily. Pull again. Ivan obediently put his hand into the box number two, '' Masha announced, looking at the token. - You can start.

3825 3826 3827 3828 3829