Historian Harold James Ruthven Murray pinned down the closest origin of modern chess from an ancient board game played in India during the 6th century. However, other historians believe that chess originated from another game played in ancient Persia around the 7th century. It is also important to note that some scholars consider ancient China as the predecessor of the ancient Indian board game.
The Role of the Ancient Silk Road Trading Routes in the Development and Emergence of Modern Chess
Note the following ancient board games and their specific origins:
• Chaturanga: An ancient board game played in India around the 6th century and originating in the Gupta Empire. The game literally means “four arms,” but the Sanskrit equivalent corresponded to the word “army.” Historians described chaturanga as an eight-by-eight board with major pieces occupying opposite board edges and foot-soldiers occupying subsequent rows.
• Chatrang: Several chess historians argue that the Persian board game called “chatrang” more closely resembled modern chess than the ancient board game from India. Nonetheless, the Persians adapted this game from chaturanga during the 7th century in the Sassanid Empire. Note that this was the time when the empire ruled Persia and other territories in Central Asia and Eastern Arabia.
• Shatranj: Chatrang became popular in the Arabian Peninsula due to the geographical influence of Persia. The Sassanid Empire eventually succumbed to Islam around 633 and 644 AD. The Muslims adopted the game and called it in its Arabic equivalent “shatranj.” The game spread further in Europe, beginning in the Iberian Peninsula and further in Northern and Western Europe, due to the expansion of Islam.
Of course, aside from the ancient board games noted above, other historians have emphasized the fact that the Indian board game chaturanga developed along the trading routes of the Silk Road. Some of the active participants in the trade came from Xinjiang Province of China, Delhi in India, Tehran and Baghdad in the Iran-Iraq region, and Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan.
The trading route was a hub for cross-cultural interactions and exchanges for centuries. Hence, some trace the origins of chaturanga from an ancient board game in China. Nevertheless, the exact history and origins of chess remain debatable. There is still substantial evidence that the ancient board game from India is the closest predecessor.
It is also interesting to note that other board games seemed to have evolved from chaturanga. Examples include sittuyin in Burma, chandaraki in Tibet, chator in Malaysian Peninsula, shatra in Mongolia, and shogi in Japan, among others.