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Lewis Chessmen

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / CC / National Museums Scotland / Public Domain

About Lewis Chessmen

No guide about Scotland’s Viking and Nordic past would be complete without talking about the famous Lewis Chessmen. Discovered in 1831, a great hoard of chessmen which date from some time between 1150 and 1200 were found in a stone cist on a beach on The Isle of Lewis.

History of Lewis Chessmen

The Isle of Lewis was the most densely populated Viking colony in the west of Scotland, with the number of Scandinavian village names being evidence of many Viking settlements – 99 out of 126 still exist today.

In 1831, 93 chessmen were found on the beach at Uig. They had been skillfully carved out of walrus and whales’ teeth, and were likely made in Norway some time between 1150 and 1200. They can be dated by the artistic style of the designs on the chair backs of the kings, queens, and some of the bishops.

It is unclear why the Lewis Chessmen were concealed in the sand, and the specifics of how they were discovered. What they have become, however, is one of the most famous and well-loved images of the Viking Age.

Lewis Chessmen Today

Today, 11 of the 93 Lewis Chessmen are housed at the National Museum of Scotland, while the other 82 are at the British Museum in London.

Visitors can see the knights mounted on small horses, carrying spears and shields. Three of the rooks are shown as the legendary savage berserkers, with wild eyes and teeth sunk into their shields in battle fury. In spite of this, it is the appearance of the kings, queens, and bishops that provide a more accurate image of life in the 12th century.

Getting to Lewis Chessmen

In Scotland, the Chessmen are best visited at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. From Edinburgh Waverley Station, and thus Princes Street, the museum is a quick 10 minute walk via South Bridge/A7 and Chambers St. A number of buses also stop at South Bridge, from where the museum is a 3 minute walk.

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