Ethiopian Chess

Just a video that aspires to give insight into an element of pre-colonial Ethiopian court-life. Might make more videos like this in the future; lots of other board games to be discussed.


Travels in Abyssinia and the Galla country – Walter Plowden
Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, The Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt Vol 3. – Henry Salt
A Voyage to Abyssinia and Travels Into the Interior of that Country Executed Under the Orders of the British Government, in the Years 1809 and 1810 – Henry Salt
The Life and Adventures of Nathaniel Pearce: Written by Himself, During a Residence in Abyssinia from the Years 1810 to 1819 Vol 1. – John James Halls, Nathaniel Pearce
The Life and Adventures of Nathaniel Pearce: Written by Himself, During a Residence in Abyssinia from the Years 1810 to 1819 Vol 2. – John James Halls, Nathaniel Pearce

Senterej, or ethiopian chess – Richard Pankhurst
History and Principles of Ethiopian Chess – Richard Pankhurst
A World of Chess Its Development and Variations Through Centuries and Civilizations – Jean-Lois Cazaux, Rick Knowlton
Origin of chess – a phylogenetic perspective – Alex R. Kraaijeveld

~ Credits ~
Civ VI Ethiopia Themes
Civ IV Ethiopia Themes

Target Audience of this video is 16+, narration is broadly in a formal register that is not intended to appeal to children (under 13, to be honest). Subject material is not thought to be interesting to children (video is about Chess History). Consider both of these things together. Color palette is rather dry, not particularly vibrant. Nor is narration, for that matter. Artstyle is somewhat “cartoony”, however this is not the effect of intentional marketing towards children. It is a result of the fact that art in this video about Ethiopian history, is inspired by Ethiopian art.

0:00 Context
0:55 European Descriptions
2:25 “Competitive” Chess
5:13 Royal Court & Chess
6:59 Chess in Ethiopian Culture
7:49 Origins of Ethiopian Chess
8:25 Conclusions


  1. A bit of an old video, this. Next ones should be of higher quality. Rules of Ethiopian chess:Board Arrangement:Rooks / Castles on each corner; moved as expectedKnights adjacent to Rooks / Castles; also moved as expected. Bishops adjacent to Knights; can only move 3 spaces diagonally, but can "jump" pieces as a Knight would. The King: According to Pankhurt’s informant, is center-board on the to the right of a player, moves as expected. According to Plowden, Kings are placed opposite one another; exact orientation in this arrangement is unclear. Maybe regional or temporal variation explains the discrepancy. The "Queen":Not a “queen”, is a "counselor". According to Pankhurst’s informant, this is left of the King, moves 1 square diagonally. According to Plowden, counselor moves like a King, but can only capture diagonally.Differences may be explained by regional varation. Pawns placed in "front line" (second rank or row relative to player); Only advances one square at a time except during mobilization. If a Pawn reaches eighth rank (end of board), can be upgraded to any lost piece or a "counselor".Course of Play.The Game starts with mobilization:Until a piece is captured, each player is allowed to make and redact as many moves as they would like without proper regard for turns. * According to Pankhurst’s informant, castling can only happen during Mobilization. * According to Pankhursts’ informant pawns can advance multiple squares at once.Plowden writes that the goal of mobilization was positioning: predict when and where the first capture will happen, ensure that you are in the best position for when that happens.Endgame:According to Plowden, you cannot capture all of your opponent’s "ranked" pieces and then bully their king into a checkmate. Plowden records that if you fail to check-mate your opponent 7 moves after leaving them with one piece aside from the King, the game draws . ("Piece" does not, to my knowledge, included pawns).You CAN NOT capture that piece.* Pankhurst's informant claims that if you fail to check-mate your opponent 10 moves after leaving them with NO "pieces", the king is considered to have "escaped" (another form of drawing). The difference may be explicable through regional variation."Honorable" vs "Dishonorable" mating: Even though any mate is recognized as a loss for the mated, certain mates were seen as "more honorable" than others. A person who is able to force a loss through a "dishonorable mate", is according to Plowden seen as almost being the winner.General rule: checkmates formed using a larger number of pieces, or using "mobile" pieces, are generally seen as "less honorable". Checkmates formed using Rooks and Knights were especially derided."Honorable mates" involved:Counselors – decent.Bishops – good.Two Bishops – Great, especially if the check and mate are achieved using them in succession.Two, three, or four pawns – Astounding.* Because the queen was so much weaker in this chess-variant, some Europeans claim that it was kept as a guard for the King. Conversely, the Rook took higher importance, because it was the most mobile piece. Atleast, you would think so: one European observer claimed it had less importance, and that the knight was more valued. Horses were very valued in Ethiopian culture, so this may help explain why this was the case.* Because the opponent cannot capture your last piece, it is advisable that you use it as a shield to protect your King. Conversely, it is advisable to not leave your opponent with just one non-King piece, as this puts you in a difficult position where you must checkmate quickly or else fail to achieve a victory.* A show-off may leave his or her opponent with two very good pieces to work with.Hope you all enjoyed the video.I was been a bit hesitant to shout out my Patreon last year; this is my first time advertising it publicly on the Channel. If you want to throw a few dollars my way, check it out:

  2. I love such details, that really flesh out the culture.

  3. HiddenHistory lives! This channel is a gem and I relish seeing a new video. Great work!

  4. Idk why but I like the sound of your voice. keep up the great content

  5. Hmm yes. Chess. But Ethiopian. Different rules. Very cool. Noice video.

  6. Super interesting, and I love the artwork!

  7. Wow, I didn't even know this existed! Cool!

  8. I heard about it " Senterej ", but People told me it came from Chinese / zanjis as they're called

  9. Very interesting and worthwhile video.

  10. Excellent topic and I like the mix between the Civilization sound track and traditional music.

  11. never imagined i would find this interesting but this was good. Nice video

  12. Wow amazing video thank you 🇪🇹 👏🏾

  13. Your pronunciation is also really good 👍🏾

  14. I like this kind of coverage of more down-to-earth history. So much discussion of history is dedicated to warfare, politics, and exceptional occurrences, that you rarely get a good understanding of what life was actually like for average people. I always wonder about how people were entertaining themselves in the meantime.

  15. Thank you sooo much. We need more people like you to teach us our own history and culture.

  16. I am Ethiopian and I never heard of chess game. Thanks

  17. I am Ethiopian and I had no clue of Ethiopian Chess. Thanks so much for the video and Your channel should have way more views! Great work!

  18. Another Amazing content. Great Work

  19. Thank you so much for these videos. Keep them up. Much love from Uganda 🇺🇬

  20. my guy. appreciate this video you made.

  21. Subscribed and sharing your channel. I loved the last point you made about the skewing of African historiography towards politics. Subscribed and sharing your channel for more people to subscribe. Excellent work on this video and the others

  22. Thanks ,who made the sketches❤ i couldn't find in description

  23. The mobilization phase where one person can make as many moves as they want.. and then a Piece is taken is very playable.

    The old indian rules of chess do work though. Sultan khan used the old rules and was a champion in india. And it's still played that way in Cambodia.

  24. Unique and interesting video! If I may suggest a video, I think a cool idea might be a video dedicated to analyzing infamous military units in the region such as Oromo Cavalry, Harari Malassay, Maya Archers, Shotelai, Chewa Regiments etc.

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