Buzurjmihr plays chess

Date: ca. 1300–1330
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Iraq
Medium: Paper, Gold
Dimensions: 16.2 × 13.3 cm
Description: Medieval chess pieces have been found across Europe and western Asia, and people playing the game are depicted in diverse media. This folio from an early fourteenth-century Shahnameh made in Iran or Iraq shows how the game, which originated in India, was allegedly introduced to the Sasanian Empire in the sixth century. An Indian ruler challenged an Iranian one to figure out the game, and a clever courtier named Buzurjmihr deduced the rules and then went on to invent backgammon (and to confound the Indian court with it). Buzurjmihr, seated to the right of the board, is distinguished by his Arab-style clothing, including a turban. The Iranian shahanshah Khosrow I (known as Anushirvan, "the immortal soul," r. 531–79), is dressed in golden Mongol attire, as are the members of his court and the soldiers on the perimeter. The downcast Indian envoy, playing opposite Buzurjmihr, is shown as dark-skinned, wearing baggy clothing and a loose head wrap. Unlike modern chess pieces, these are red and black.

This watercolor folio belongs to one of three manuscripts collectively known as the Small Shahnamehs, all thought to have been made in Baghdad or Iran in the first decades of the fourteenth century. These are the earliest illustrated copies of Firdawsi's epic, written three centuries earlier. The Small Shahnamehs have been dismembered, and their folios are now in multiple collections.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 9
Image Credits: Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Buzurjmihr masters chess, detail (MMA 34.24.1)