Amie Kraus: ABSTRACT: “Themes of Conquest and Social Allegory in Medieval Europe: The Game of Chess in Les gius partiz des eschez (Anglo-norman, 14th century)”

The game of chess has a long and varied history. The precursor of our modern game appeared in 5th or 6th century India, passed into Persia in the 6th century, was adopted by the Arabs and subsequently carried into Europe by the Arabs’ conquests in Spain and Portugal at the end of the 10th century.

The game quickly gained popularity in Europe after its arrival, and it was soon incorporated into medieval European literature. Various systems of symbolism were imposed on the game; and its rules and pieces, which had been evolving over the centuries, continued to change. In spite of these changes and in spite of the efforts of some medieval institutions and authors to downplay the object of winning at the game, chess continued to be associated with the themes of conquest and battle which characterized the game at its very beginning.

This paper examines the ever-present theme of conquest in an Anglo-Norman chess treatise of the early 14th century, a period when medieval European society often viewed the chess board as an allegory of the ideal society. Every chess piece, therefore, exemplified the individual’s role and obligations towards that society, and the treatise contains lessons which warn against vices such as greed and acting only for one’s own good. Ironically, these lessons are given in problem sets which aim ultimately to teach players how to win at a game of chess, i.e. how to check (or kill) their opponent’s king.