The history of chairs started in ancient Egypt. These chairs appear to have been of great richness and splendour. Fashioned of ebony and ivory, or of carved and gilded, wood, they were covered with costly materials and supported upon representations of the legs of beasts or the figures of captives. Egyptians believed that the chairs need to represent natural forms to avoid creating chaos in the universe, by creating an artificial object. This tendency is seen all over Egyptian art and manufacture. An arm-chair in fine preservation found in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings is astonishingly similar, even in small details, to that "Empire" style which followed Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt. The earliest monuments of Nineveh represent a chair without a back but with tastefully carved legs ending in lions' claws or bulls' hoofs. Others are supported by figures in the nature of caryatides or by animals.
The earliest known form of Greek chair dates back to six or seven centuries BCE. On the frieze of the Parthenon, Zeus occupies a square seat with a bar-back and thick turned legs; it is ornamented with winged sphinxes and the feet of beasts. The characteristic Roman chairs were of marble, also adorned with sphinxes. The curule chair was originally very similar in form to the modern folding chair, but eventually received a good deal of ornament. The most famous of the very few chairs which have come down from a remote antiquity is the reputed Chair of Saint Peter in St Peter's Basilica at Rome. The wooden portions are much decayed, but it would appear to be Byzantine work of the 6th century, and to be really an ancient sedia gestatoria. It has ivory carvings representing the labours of Hercules. A few pieces of an earlier oaken chair have been let in; the existing one, Gregorovius says, is of acacia wood. The legend that this was the curile chair of the senator Pudens is necessarily apocryphal. It is not, as is popularly supposed, enclosed in Gian Lorenzo Bernini's bronze chair, but is kept under triple lock and exhibited only once in a century. Byzantium, like Greece and Rome, affected the curule form of chair, and in addition to lions’ heads and winged figures of Victory (or Nike) and dolphin-shaped arms used also the lyre-back which has been made familiar by the pseudo-classical revival of the end of the 18th century.
One type of chair in ancient Mexico is called the icpalli and is mentioned by Jacques Soustelle. The Daily Life of the Aztecs. p. 122. The icpalli can be seen in Diego Rivera's mural of the Aztec market of Tlatelolco, Palacio Nacional, Mexico City. The icpalli is also featured in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis; dignitaries and emperors are depicted sitting in them.
The chair of Maximian in the cathedral of Ravenna is believed to date from the middle of the 6th century. It is of marble, round, with a high back, and is carved in high relief with figures of saints and scenes from the Gospels—the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Magi, the flight into Egypt and the baptism of Christ. The smaller spaces are filled with carvings of animals, birds, flowers and foliated ornament. The Chair of St. Augustine, dating from at least the early thirteenth century is one of the oldest cathedrae is not in use.
Another very ancient seat is the so-called "Chair of Dagobert" in the Louvre. It is of cast bronze, sharpened with the chisel and partially gilt; it is of the curule or faldstool type and supported upon legs terminating in the heads and feet of animals. The seat, which was probably of leather, has disappeared. Its attribution depends entirely upon the statement of Suger, abbot of St Denis in the 12th century, who added a back and arms. Its age has been much discussed, but Viollet-le-Duc dated it to early Merovingian times, and it may in any case be taken as the oldest faldstool in existence.
To the same generic type belongs the famous abbots’ chair of Glastonbury; such chairs might readily be taken to pieces when their owners travelled. The faldisterium in time acquired arms and a back, while retaining its folding shape. The most famous, as well as the most, ancient, English chair is that made at the end of the 13th century for Edward I, in which most subsequent monarchs have been crowned. It is of an architectural type and of oak, and was covered with gilded gesso which long since disappeared.