Lot 93
  • 93

A rare Samanid part chess-set, Nishapur, 10th/11th century or earlier

20,000 - 30,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • ivory
  • tallest: 3.5cm. 
    smallest: 1.7cm. 
comprising sixteen pieces composed of ivory, the Kings and Queens as stylised 'animal' figures, the knights and rooks also in stylised form, the small pawns of abstract form with ball-head terminals


Ex-Collection Lothar Schmid (1928-2013)


J. Petzold, Das königliche Spiel. Die Kulturgeschichte des Schachs, Stuttgart – Leipzig 1987, pp.28-9, no. 7.

Catalogue Note

To find an almost complete chess set of this early period is extremely rare, making this example an important addition to the knowledge and study on the evolution of the game of chess.

The origins of the game of chess are traced etymologically to the Indian subcontinent, from where the Sanskrit ‘chaturanga’ would have later been adapted into Persian, becoming ‘shatranj’, although no early chess pieces have yet been excavated in the Subcontinent.

Quickly becoming the most popular indoor game of Abbasid Baghdad, chess spread to the Levant, North Africa and the Byzantine Empire via the Islamic conquests. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries chess was played only in noble and royal circles, and so the sets were often made from luxury materials such as ivory and rock crystal such as some of the examples in this group. The game is mentioned in writings from the period, notably by Firdausi (934-1020) who describes the game as one which came to Persia from India.

The poet Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), born in Nishapur, lyrically compares the game of chess to that of destiny:

"Tis all a chequer-board of nights and days
Where Destiny with men for pieces plays:
Hither and tither moves, and mates and slays,
And one by one back in the closet lays"

Whereas individual chess pieces of this form and from such an early period are known, complete chess sets are practically non-existent, as highlighted by Dr. Thomas Thomsen, President for the last twenty years of Chess Collectors International: "In my fourty years’ experience, I am not aware of any other chess set from this period".