The Lewis Chess Pieces

Historical Context

In 1831 a hoard of medieval gaming pieces that included the Lewis chess pieces were rediscovered in a sand bank on the Scottish isle of Lewis under murky circumstances. Shortly after they were exhibited at the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland before being split up and sold.

The British Museum now has the largest collection and 11 other pieces are on display at the Scottish Museum in Edinburgh. The hoard contained enough chessmen to make up four incomplete chess sets as well as other game pieces. The chess figures were carved mostly of walrus ivory in a style that has been linked to church carvings in Trondheim, Norway.

The chessmen are deeply evocative of 12th century Scotland, a land then ruled by and influenced by the Kingdom of Norway. Its not known who the hoard belonged to, but speculation has included a local noble person with Scandinavian links or a merchant who travelled the then common trade routes between Scotland and Norway. With their beautifully expressive faces they remain some of the best loved exhibits in the museums that house them. In 2019 a rediscovered piece sold for £735,000 in London.

Artifact Info

Location: Uig, Scotland, British Isles

Source: British Museum

Related Events

  • 1831-04-11 The 12th century Lewis chess pieces are exhibited at the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, shortly after their rediscovery in a sand bank on the Scottish Isle of Lewis
  • 2019-07-02 Newly rediscovered Lewis chess piece sells at auction for £735,000 in London

Historical Artifacts