I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

PROJECTS FOR THE PANDEMIC II: CHESS

While it is generally assumed that chess was not period for the Viking Age, it had actually been introduced into Europe and, in fact, England, by the middle of the eleventh century. We are told by Snorri Sturluson that “As the legend goes, after a celebratory feast at Roskilde, Canute and Ulf [Þorgilsson, a jarl] argued over a game of chess.” Some insist that hnefatafl was meant, but chess had been working up its way from Rome by that time!

The most famous of the Viking Era chess sets—though it dates from the twelfth-century, sometime after an accepted date for the end of the Viking Age—was Lewis chessmen, which were found in 1831. The chessmen display Norse styles and are splendidly charming! I saw them at a special exhibition in the British Museum, and bough I wanted to buy a set, the sets offered were all plastic. Any sets found in the next few years were either inexpensive plastic or much more expensive thenty materials.

This year, I found a set that was made of plaster. Certainly not as accurate as the walrus ivory used in te originals, but still not plastic. I bought them, and I was delighted by them, as was my wife. There was even two extra copies of the Queen—my favorite piece—so I have it on my desk, and my wife had one on hers. I keep the set in a specially designed wooden chest.

After hugging the pieces for a while, I realized that I needed a chessboard. A standard modern chessboard was not adequate, despite how sophisticated it might be. There were no extant chessboards from most of the middle ages, so I had to go by the boards seen in illustrations from the Crusades. I chose one and made a suitable chessboard. The result was pleasing!

The rules for playing medieval chess differ slightly from those for playing modern chess. A good introduction may be found in https://www.academia.edu/11786901/The_Medieval_Game_of_Chess_A_Guide_to_Play?auto=download .

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