Chess and Other Games Pieces from Islamic Lands

Deborah Freeman Fahid

A stunning collection of intricately made games pieces from The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait

Among the many treasures of The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait, are hundreds of games pieces dating from the seventh to the nineteenth century CE. Intricately crafted in a rich variety of materials, including ivory, wood, ceramic, glass, jade, and agate, these tiny objects not only mark the evolution of familiar games into their modern forms, but also evoke the imperial palaces, military camps, and herders’ tents in which they were played over many centuries.

Some of the most beautiful are a famous group of rock-crystal chess pieces that were kept in a monastery church in northern Spain for more than 800 years. They are presented here alongside other spectacular examples, some of which have never before appeared in a publication, including both early figural chess pieces that originated in India and the Sasanian empire and the more abstract forms that later became popular throughout the Islamic world. Other games pieces, such as dice and pachisi sets and an important medieval Arabic treatise on chess, complete the collection.

This volume provides the definitive catalogue of this outstanding group of games pieces, some of which scientific testing has dated with precision for the first time, and includes more than 300 striking images.


Deborah Freeman Fahid


Deborah Freeman Fahid is an independent scholar, and former assistant curator and head of publications at The al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait. She has worked in the field of Islamic art since 1995, when she was responsible for Islamic manuscripts and works on paper at Christie’s, King Street, London. She has contributed to a number of catalogues on Islamic manuscripts for a private collection, and to the catalogue for a recent exhibition on chess in Doha. She has edited several catalogues for The al-Sabah Collection: Splendors of the Ancient East: Antiquities from The al-Sabah Collection (2013), Persian Painting: The Arts of the Book and Portraiture (2014) and Arts of the Hellenized East: Precious Metalwork and Gems of the Pre-Islamic Era (2015).