Books: Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World

Ivory Vikings present a vivid history of the 400 years when the Vikings ruled the North Atlantic

A most interesting book that tells the story of the Lewis chessmen and explains the economic lure behind the Viking voyages to the west in the 800s and 900s.

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them
by  Nancy Marie Brown 
In the early 1800’s, on a Hebridean beach in Scotland, the sea exposed an ancient treasure cache: 93 chessmen carved from walrus ivory. Norse netsuke, each face individual, each full of quirks, the Lewis Chessmen are probably the most famous chess pieces in the world. Harry played Wizard’s Chess with them in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Housed at the British Museum, they are among its most visited and beloved objects.

Questions abounded: Who carved them? Where? Nancy Marie Brown’s Ivory Vikings explores these mysteries by connecting medieval Icelandic sagas with modern archaeology, art history, forensics, and the history of board games. In the process, Ivory Vikings presents a vivid history of the 400 years when the Vikings ruled the North Atlantic, and the sea-road connected countries and islands we think of as far apart and culturally distinct: Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, and Greenland and North America. The story of the Lewis chessmen explains the economic lure behind the Viking voyages to the west in the 800s and 900s. And finally, it brings from the shadows an extraordinarily talented woman artist of the twelfth century: Margret the Adroit of Iceland.

Maybe you would like to play with these pieces?

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2 thoughts on “Books: Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World

  • November 29, 2018 at 1:09 pm
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    Fascinating! The Wikipedia article on the Lewis chessmen first says the pieces were probably made in Trondheim. Later it says they may have been made by Margret the Adroit. The Wikipedia article on her says she lived in Iceland. Whatever the truth of the matter, there is no doubt that the craftsmanship is very fine and the artist had a fine eye for detail.

    Reply
    • November 29, 2018 at 7:32 pm
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      Hello Bev

      It is truly a fascinating book. The chessmen are woven into the history of Europe, with a focus on the Norse area

      Reply

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