Chessmen from Uig, Lewis, western isles of Scotland, c.1150-1175.

116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 NMS NMS berserker
Referenced on p.41 MAA - 396 - Medieval Scandinavian Armies (1): 1100-1300 by David Lindholm and Angus McBride
Rear views of two of the foot soldiers from the Lewis chess pieces, made in the Kingdom of the Isles during the 12th century, see Plate E. Both helmets have pendant cheek and neck protections, in one case perhaps made of hardened leather. (British Museum, London)
Referenced on p.42 MAA - 396 - Medieval Scandinavian Armies (1): 1100-1300 by David Lindholm and Angus McBride
One of the Lewis chess pieces showing a foot soldier wearing a full mail hauberk and a fluted helmet which lacks cheek and neck pieces, presumably because the mail coif offers adequate protection.

Text from Zarnecki et al 1984, cat. no. 212; see bibliography.
'A hoard of 78 pieces was found in 1831 in the parish of Uig on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in what was described as a 'subterranean' chamber. Eleven pieces from the same find are in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in Edinburgh. From the pieces it is clear that the hoard was not made up of a number of complete sets, and as none of the carving is incomplete, a workshop hoard is most unlikely. Perhaps they formed part of the stock of a merchant ship wrecked on the shores of the island, subsequently hidden and not recovered. The pieces show virtually no signs of wear.

The form of the chessmen and the decoration on the back of the thrones on which the kings, queens and some of the bishops are seated, have led to pieces being dated from the middle to the end of the 12th century and to their being attributed to either Britain or Scandinavia. It is difficult to find a parallel for the figure style, except in other gaming pieces, and even amongst these the Lewis pieces are more stylized and rigid than any others that survive. It is unlikely that they were carved later than the middle of the century, unless they were produced in a very remote centre, but their very high quality and especially the subtlety of their decorative carving would not support this. They belong to a group of carvings whose style is found in both Scandinavia and East Anglia: at, for example, Lund Cathedral and Ely Abbey, regions that were linked by trading and by political and close ecclesiastical contacts. The actual carving of such pieces of walrus ivory could have been carried on either side of the North Sea.'


Bibliographic details
Dalton, Ormonde Maddock, Catalogue of the Ivory Carvings of the Christian Era with Examples of Mohammedan Art and Carvings in Bone in the Department of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography of the British Museum, London, BMP, 1909
M. Taylor, The Lewis Chessmen, 1978
Zarnecki, George; Holland, Tristram; Holt, Janet, English Romanesque Art 1066-1200, London/London, Hayward Gallery, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1984

Sources: British Museum - Lewis Chessmen & National Museums Scotland - Lewis Chessmen Unmasked

Islesmen from Armies of Feudal Europe 1066-1300 by Ian Heath - based on the Lewis Chessmen.



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A Vijayanagar Elephant Chess Piece
A Vijayanagar Knight Chess Piece

The tomb of Felim O'Connor (d.1265) at Roscommon Abbey, Ireland
Illustrations of Scottish Costume and Soldiers
Illustrations of Irish Costume and Soldiers

Sigurd kills Regin, Hylestad stave church, Norway, 12th century
Scandinavian Knights on the Valthjofsstadir Church Door, Iceland, c. 1200 AD
Other Illustrations of Scandinavian Costume and Soldiers
Other 12th Century Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers