Medieval Information

Everything About the Dark Ages

Medieval Chess - History, Lessons, Origins - Information



Medieval chess is several thousand years old. Where it was invented is unknown, but it is popularly (and now scientifically) believed that its origins date back to India where it was invented by poor peasants who had no other form of entertainment. Other theories suggest that it was invented somewhere in the Middle East or maybe even in China.

Where chess was invented is irrelevant because the chess we know is not the way it was a thousand years ago - it has suffered innumerable changes.

Persians Playing Chess

There's more than enough evidence to support the existence of chess in Persia before the third century - a common piece of evidence is the image above which outlines the Persian youth playing a very entertaining game of chess.

How Chess Traveled to Europe :


About a thousand years ago, chess appeared in Babylon through commerce. Chess was a game played by both the rich and the poor and it was, in a way, similar to the chess we know today. Many basic concepts date back from the Babylonian Age such as the board's style, etc.

Below is an image of an Arabian chess piece:

Arab Chess Piece

Centuries later, Babylon was invaded by the Arabic Moors who, along many other things, learnt to play chess and practically adored it. Chess was then transferred to most of the Middle East and even to Northern Africa. Until this time, chess was unknown to most of Europe.

It wasn't until the Moorish Conquest of Spain in the year 711 A.D when chess was finally introduced to Europe. By the X century, chess was known in England, France, Germany and other European countries.

Game:


Chess is a game of mental skill - and it is enough to see a chess board to figure out how medieval people lived. Of course all the medieval-like chess pieces of the board were introduced by the Europeans, and that's why there is so much resemblance between a game of chess and warfare per se.

Let's analyze the board a little bit.

Chess Battle

A game of chess can be easily resembled to a medieval battle. A lot about medieval life can be learnt by simply examining a chessboard because it contains much information about how our ancestors lived 1,000 years ago.

Chess Pieces and Their Meanings :


Pawns are the peasants or the serfs. They are the most numerous piece in the game and they are in front of the major pieces in order to protect them. Something very interesting about pawns is their availability to become a queen (or any other piece) when the other end of the board is reached - this is possibly because pawns did have an almost non-existent possibility to become a knight or achieve other high and relevant positions. Even though almost non-existent, it was still possible.

A pawn may also move two squares to the front in his first move; the reason as to why this is historically allowed is debated today.

Pawn Movement

Bishops represent the church. They come from the Persian word pīl which means "elephant." Since Europeans knew nothing about elephants at all, they instead changed this piece altogether and made it represent the church by the bishop. Elephants for Indians were adored, and in terms of chess it was considered one of the most powerful pieces. The medieval Europeans took advantage of this and incorporated the bishop in order for the church to look more appealing and powerful.

When Knighthood began in Europe, the horse was changed from being simply a horse into a knight. For this reason, the horse has such an unique way of movement and 'jumping' on the board - this is believed to be because of a knight's agility and having his own style. Because no other chess piece can move equally to the horse, this is evident.

The Tower, sometimes referred to as "rook", is a symbol of medieval fortresses. Medieval castles were especially important and thus; they couldn't be avoided for such a popular game. Their position begins in the four corners of the chessboard - likely representing the fact that castles were a means of defense and not attack contrary to, for example, the horse. Their movement is in a straight line as far as the chessboard will allow. Castles were not able to "move" but they could nevertheless control a vast amount of land.

The Queen is the only female piece in the game. She, however, is the most powerful piece of them all and can move like any other piece except for the horse. This represents the enormous role of women during the Dark Ages. The queen was the most important and she would frequently aid the king in most of his affairs as a ruler. Of course the queen could rule as well, but it was much more frequent for her to help the king which can be translated into chess easily - the queen is next to the king protecting him.

Queen Protecting the King

Finally the King is the most valuable piece of them all. He must be protected by all means and if he is trapped, the game is lost. The term checkmate comes from the Persian shāh māt which literally means, "the king is finished."

It should be additionally noted that the hierarchy of chess also plays an immense role in how medieval life is perceived. Pawns are short and seemingly weak while the king is the tallest piece in the game.

Chess Line

Next time you play chess, don't just look it as entertainment and try to visualize it as how medieval life once was, you will play much better.

Medieval Hunting - Weapons, Uses and Hunters

Hunting during the Dark Ages was important for survival only in the early Middle Ages. As new techniques for farming were discovered and used, sedentarism became more common rendering hunting (for survival) virtually useless.

In the early Medieval Times, for the hunter who killed to survive, education had to be given first. Educating a hunter began when he was only seven years of age. He was then assigned a tutor who taught him basic skills for his trade including fletching, crafting and surviving in the wilderness. When the young hunter was seven, he was appointed to watch and learn from his master while taking care of tools and learning basic concepts. When he was about 16 years of age, he could go hunting alone and later on, if the family was wealthy or the kingdom willing, a ceremony would take place to congratulate him for becoming a new hunter. Before the celebration, he had to attend church for a full day to pray.

Hunting for the aristocracy was not viewed as a way to survive, but as pure entertainment and training. Weapons were different and even crossbows were frequently used. The most commonly used weapon, however was the bow (specially the short bow). Additionally, spears, swords and shields were all used when nobles hunted.

Hunting itself was not a main source of food. Farms brought vast quantities of bread, vegetables and fruits, but it was noted that those who complimented meat with that food would grow healthier. Nobles were those who ate the most meat and the poor hunters, instead of eating the meat for themselves, frequently sold it to the aristocracy in exchange for money to buy cheaper food.

Hunting Weapons:



Bows and archers - they are regular bows used for hunting. Sometimes bows varied, but most of the time the bows used for warfare were the bows used for hunting.

Read more about bows in the Archery Article.

Swords - Swords were also used for hunting. They were mainly used for training purposes and to kill animals when already hurt by a projectile.

Spears - Spears were common for hunting as well. They were not as common as swords and bows, but they were frequently employed by the poor since they could be improvised and easily fixed.

For more information about medieval weapons, visit the Medieval Weaponry Article.

Hunting of course was a major source of medieval entertainment. Additionally, hunting was a way of survival for many and during castle siege, hunting was almost always practiced inside a castle since mice and birds could be used as food for the defenders.

A good hunter, of course, was a good soldier as well. Hunting severely increased an archer's accuracy which was necessary for battle. For this reason, many archers were given different tasks by their masters which included the killing of birds with their bows, the hunting of deer and the capture of rare animals.

The implementation of crossbows into hunting changed the way it was done enormously. Even though crossbows were only introduced after the XII century during The First Crusade, they were widely employed afterward.

The church itself banned the use of crossbows at some point because of their effectiveness - hunting was not an exception. Crossbows were so effective at killing an animal that archers who hunted animals were no longer respected by their peers.

The same applies to long bows which were also outstandingly effective against deer. Unfortunately for the lower classes, acquiring a long bow or a crossbow was very expensive and they had to rely on their old bows which had been transmitted down from generation to generation.

The importance of hunting during the Middle Ages is conspicuous in the many paintings made to represent this practice. Of course, they did not view it like we view it today (as a sport). Instead, they thought of it as a way to train themselves and rarely; to survive by providing food to their table.

Medieval Hunting Practice

Hunting is a practice as old as men. Egyptians left many scrolls about correct ways to hunt and so did the Greeks - which were both a great influence for medieval hunting. Of course, a regular hunter could easily kill an animal without any prior knowledge. But nevertheless, the flavor of the meat was different depending on how the animal was killed. An skilled hunter knew this and would kill the animal peacefully in order to avoid a bad flavor.

Horses were a hunter's best friend. They always accompanied them to their hunting activities and when successful, they would also serve them to carry the dead animal hastily. Of course this was also mainly reserved for the upper classes because the poor could by no means afford a horse.

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