The Spread of Ancient Chess – vol. 2

After learning all about the beginnings of chess in the first article of the series, see the game of all games from a brand new perspective by learning about chess in the Prohibition and Renaissance era.

game of chess painting by van leyden

As we mentioned last time, chess was spread through Europe in the Middle Ages, and it gained popularity among the secular society. However, at some point, chess was prohibited by the Church. If people were caught playing chess, they would face the same fate as Henry VIII – ex-communication, one of the greatest wrongdoings in Medieval Europe. This is mainly due to the fact that at that time there were no written chess rules, and people decided which side to play or which piece to move by throwing the dice. The use of dice was considered a form of gambling, a sin of Christianity.

medieval people playing chess
Knights Templar playing chess

But the domination of the Church did not last long. The Crusades brought Europeans the opportunity to gain access to the documents of the ancient Greek and Roman people, which were in the hands of the Arabs. They were amazed at the brilliant thoughts of the Greeks and Romans, thinking that their lives must be better than those of the ‘dark age’ under the Church’s regime. Besides this, the Black Death swept across Europe. No matter how people prayed to God, they died one after another. Even the clergy died, which made people doubt that ‘the clergy and the Church represent God’ and urged them to reform.

In the 14th century, Europe entered a brand new era: the Renaissance, which was characterized by the revival of classical Greek and Roman culture. Humanism became the main theme, challenging the power of the Church, but focusing on human lives, the pursuit of beauty and happiness. During the Renaissance, art reached its peak and new approaches to science began to develop.

Pietro Perugino, Christ Handing the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter
Painting of the Middle Ages vs. Painting of the Renaissance

Chess was also considered a noble culture. In many European countries, monarchs and their officials enjoyed playing chess in their leisure time. For example, you must have heard of Ivan the Terrible, the Russian Tsar who was notorious for his bad temper. Once he had a quarrel with his son and beat him to death. But you may never have imagined that such an irritable emperor was crazily in love with chess. He spent a great amount of time playing chess every day. And finally, he died of a stroke when preparing for a game.

The Death of Ivan the Terrible. reproduction after painting by Makovsky
The death of Ivan the Terrible

In my opinion, in the Renaissance chess was considered more as an art than a science. It was a romantic era of chess. People marveled at brilliant combinations of tactics and considered it the most exciting art forms. They constantly sacrificed pieces, even without careful calculations, in order to checkmate the king. The scientific approaches to chess did not start to develop until the time of the first world champion, Wilhelm Steinitz. He emphasized the importance of accumulating small advantages and improving the position rather than sacrificing pieces recklessly.

Learn about how chess started developing in the first article es of the series: The Spread of Ancient Chess (1).



Young and active tournament player with excellent results including a 1st place at the BSSZ Aranytiz International Master, 1st place at the Chinese Youth Chess Championship G16, and part of the top 10 contenders in two World Chess Championships for girls G16 and G18.

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