Sunday, May 18, 2008

The History of the Horse

Every chess player knows the role that the horse plays in the board game, even if he or she doesn't know the history behind the creation and evolution of the pieces. The "horse" - the knight piece in modern western chess - was a staple in the earliest Persian and Indian incarnations of the game (calvary), and has always had it's distinctive "L"-shaped move. (Image: Sassanid king Khosrau II (591-628 CE) mounted on his favorite charger, Shabdiz. Both horse and rider are arrayed in full battle armor. From Taq-e Bostan, Wikipedia) In today's game the rook is also known as a castle. But, delving back into the history of chess, the rook was originally a horse-drawn battle chariot (in Persia, it was called a ruhkh after the King's champion) and was the most powerful piece on the board, before the modernization of the game in the late 1400's (probably in Spain) gave rise to sweeping new moves by the Queen and the Bishop. The rook's wide-ranging vertical and horizontal movement has remained unchanged throughout history. Now, an exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry (I love visiting there and have done so ever since I was a kid) delves into the history of the horse and its relationship with man - a fascinating study. Reported on at The New York Times: Man's Best Friend - Hoofed Department. One thing I noted with interest: if the horse was hunted to extinction in the Americas by 10,000 BCE, that means that man here had not learned to tame the horse and use it for pulling loads and riding (if man here had used the horse in these ways, it would not make sense that he would hunt the animal to extinction, it would prove too costly to his existence). This provides indirect support, perhaps, for theories supporting the immigration of mankind into the Americas, then, before the taming of the horse in the Old World, which I believe earliest evidence now places some 15,000 to 16,000 years ago in the Eurasian steppes.

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