Chairs of the Ancient World

Chairs of the Ancient World

The basic idea of a chair is a piece of furniture that provides a seat for one person with support of the back. There has been a great range and many changes in furniture throughout time. Today, it would be hard to imagine a life without comfortable chairs to sit on throughout our day to day lives. In ancient times, however, chairs were often a rarity. In many ancient cultures, chairs or even stools, were reserved strictly for royalty. Many average people either sat on the floors of their homes, the ground or their beds instead of chairs. Chairs did eventually gain popularity among common people in some ancient cultures yet they were usually very basic. Throughout time and different cultures, the design and appearance of chairs have dramatically improved though most of the designs can be traced back to one of many ancient civilizations. Chair designs originated in cultures such as Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, the Ancient Middle East, Ancient Greece and Rome, Medieval Europe and Ancient Native American and African cultures, though each culture had their own preferences.

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian furniture was some of the most lavish furniture of ancient times. The earliest discovery of a chair created in Ancient Egypt dates back to 2680 BC while the most famous discovery of a chair was in 1352 when the throne of Pharaoh Tutankhamen was discovered within a tomb. Furniture of Ancient Egypt, including chairs, were designed for both functionality as well as a form of art. Often chairs in this time period had frames made of cedar wood with seats made of a softer material called ‘reed‘. Common people of this time period built stools of sturdy wood for their homes. The stools built by average people were the longest lasting piece of furniture they had because the focus was on sturdiness and strength though in comparison to other cultures of the time, they were visibly more artistic in design. Chairs made for royalty were nothing short of elegant. At times, ivory was used to create the chairs. They were carved with exquisite curves and decorated with gold and paints. The focus was so much on the overall appearance that the majority of these chairs were of poor strength and did not function for long periods of time.

Ancient Egyptian Furniture: A look at typical Egyptian chairs, beds and ovens in Ancient Egypt.

Art, Design and Visual Thinking- Wood: A look at how wood has been used throughout the years, as early as Ancient Egypt in the production of chairs.

Ancient Egypt: Chairs of Queen Sitamen: Pictures and descriptions of chairs of a Queen in Ancient Egypt.

Arts and Crafts in Egypt: Arts and crafts found on furniture, including chairs, in the times of the Ancient Egyptians.

Method of Construction: Design and construction of Ancient Egyptian Folding Stools are discussed.

Ancient China

The earliest form of a chair with a design close to fitting the description of a chair today was thought to be created in Ancient China. These early chairs and stools have been discovered in Chinese tombs of royalty. The first elevated chair thought to have emerged in China, is known as a ‘folding stool’. The folding stool did not have a back and was quite elaborate in terms of design for this time period. As the name states, the stool was able to be folded for easier storage when not in use. Though chairs and stools have history in Ancient China, chairs are not part of Chinese tradition and culture. Even today, it is custom for many traditional Chinese people to use a mat or sit upon the floor versus the use of a chair.

Chinese Cultural Studies: Cultural studies of the Ancient Chinese focusing on Chinese sculpture and art, including furniture of the time period.

Chinese Arts & Crafts: Crafts and arts displayed on Ancient Chinese furniture and their cultural meanings.

Ancient Chinese: Divine Design: The designs of chairs and furniture in Ancient Chinese culture.

Ancient Folding Chair: A look at China’s most popular ancient chair.

Chinese Culture & Customs: Chinese seating styles of ancient and present times are discussed.

Antique Chinese Furniture: Pictures of antique Chinese furniture, include chairs.

Middle East

Chairs in the ancient times of the Middle East were very rare. When they did exist, it was in the form of a simple wooden stool or a basic throne for a member of a royal party. The Middle Eastern tradition is much like that of China, in that it is common to sit on the floor or on a slightly padded cushion instead of a chair. Even today, it is custom for those in the Middle East to sit upon the floor.

Wood Use: The use of wood in ancient furniture of the Middle East.

Indian Cultures: A brief mention of stools and wooden benches used in the ancient Middle East.

Ancient Greece/Rome

The earliest known chairs of Ancient Greece and Rome are thought to be little more than basic wooden stools. Historians believe that they date back as early as 2,000 BC. Evidence of specific examples to learn of the specific designs used are difficult to locate due to natural disaster assumed to be responsible for the destruction of many of the artifacts of this time period. Around 7,000 BC, nearly 5,000 years after the first use of chairs, is when Ancient Greeks and Romans began to us early forms of benches and stools in addition to chairs. Unlike the other societies of this time, chairs were used by all branches of society including royalty. Most seats were carved from wood yet some evidence suggests that stone and metals may have been used in later periods of ancient times.

From Benches to Barstools - A history of chairs, posture and society: The history of chairs, benches and stools in the Ancient Greek and Roman time periods.

The Ancient Standard- Ancient Rome: Pictures of ancient artifacts in Ancient Rome, along with pictures of stools and chairs that were commonly used.

Medieval Europe

Chairs in Medieval Europe were large and bulky with little in mind for comfort. They were first developed as stools but around the 12th Century began to be designed with arm rests and high back support. Chairs were mostly used by royalty and the wealthy during these time periods, often times just while eating. Chairs were almost always made of timber with “Gothic” style designs in mind.

Medieval Chairs: Descriptions of the various categories chairs of Medieval Europe fell within, such as ‘box’ chairs.

Medieval Woodworking- The Bog Chair: A guide to how the popular bog chair of the Medieval times was created.

Medieval Chair Plan: Detailed blueprint of how to create an accurate Medieval time period chair.

The Illustrated History of Medieval Folding Chairs: Pictures and description of the creation of folding chairs in the Medieval time period.

Native Americans

Furniture of the Ancient Native Americans was almost always made of logs. Chairs were not very common as with other ancient civilizations but they did appear in the later era of the Ancient Native Americans. They often displayed tribal symbols and at times, the hide of animals to provide a small level of comfort for the back support. Many of their furniture was delicately crafted and etched with animal sketches making each chair unique.

Ancient African

Little is known about the history of chairs in Ancient Africa. There is little evidence that suggests the use of chairs or even stools. Though it is thought that at some point in the early years, they used small stools built close to the ground. Traditional chairs were eventually created. Wicker furniture and chairs are thought to have been designed in Africa around the 1600's.

African Artifacts: Includes pictures of Ancient African stools.

Asante Stool: Multiple pictures, descriptions and measurements of the ancient African Asante stool.

When comparing these designs with modern day chairs, it is easy to see that the basic designs from each of these cultures still exist today. Many changes, however, have been made to materials used in chairs for durability and comfort. Though whether a chair is simple and sturdy or comfortable and luxurious, there is a good chance that the design has not been completely changed from the way it was originally created. One can only wonder what modifications and elaborate measures of comfort will be made to the chairs of the future.


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