An acquaintance whose family was from Turkey, told me that the pieces move the way do based on ideas about Persian warfare. Moving in a rank or file was considered earthly, and moving diagonal was heavenly.

The king and advisor (queen) are combination of earthly and heavenly power. They are both equal in power, but the king can only move one space at a time, because he is burdened with the weight of command.

The pawns must move in an earthly way, but can only capture with the help of god (so the capture is diagonal like the bishop).

Everything else is fuzzy: There was something about why the pawn's first move could be one or two spaces. I can't remember anything about the knights. There was a reason rooks where earthly. There was also a bit about why castling goes the way it does, and why pawns can be promoted.

Does this ring a bell with anyone? It was a cool story, and I'd like to hear the whole thing again.

  • I remember reading that the pawn's initial two-step move was a relatively recent invention, and along with that came en passant to compensate for such a pawn evading capture. In general, the rules were certainly not all there at the same time, so any mythical story that matches the current rules exactly is certainly wrong.
    – user21820
    Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 16:22
  • 1
    Since you're asking about a particular story, maybe you'll have more success asking in the Mythology and Folklore Stack Exchange.
    – Jetpack
    Commented May 22, 2020 at 23:27
  • I was reminded that knights' moves can be thought of as one straight and one diagonal move (earthly, and heavenly). The rooks guard earthly treasure.
    – Craeft
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 14:56

1 Answer 1


Your acquaintance is right, and wrong to some degree, since before chess went to Persia, its precursor is considered to have been invented in India. It was based on troop movements there, so they had already been established by then, even if they were later modified.

This is taken from Wikipedia here:

Precursors to chess originated in India during the Gupta Empire. There, its early form in the 6th century was known as chaturaṅga, which translates as "four divisions (of the military)": infantry, cavalry, elephantry, and chariotry. These forms are represented by the pieces that would evolve into the modern pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, respectively."

  • What you say is true, but I am looking for the rest of this particular chess mythos.
    – Craeft
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 18:18
  • I do not think that is written anywhere, and I doubt you will get a more definitive answer than this one. Simply put, writing, let alone record keeping, were pretty rare 1500 years ago. The accepted basis for the pieces representing divisions of the military simply does not match up with the "earthly" or "heavenly" ideas. They were probably just roughly matched up based on their functions compared to movements, which are not purely equal at all in a game. Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 18:26
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    I apologize for not being more clear in my question. I was not asking for the factual origin of the legal moves. I was hoping someone knew the rest of this particular (and charming) interpretation.
    – Craeft
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 18:59
  • I did get a sense of what you were asking, although maybe not that you wanted this specific story's origin to be explained, but I could only answer as such since the origins of chess itself are not super clear. I tend to think that particular story is nothing more than a fairy tale, and mostly wishful thinking that it originated in Persia. Unfortunately, it does not make logical sense since we know the game predated its arrival there, and the pieces already had similar movements. Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 19:06

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