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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Sobhy

Ancient Egyptian Games -Part 1-



The formal statues and pharonic headdresses found in Egyptian ruins might indicate that the ancient Egyptian people were quite solemn, however further evidence indicates that in ancient Egypt games and other forms of entertainment were enjoyed by adults and children alike. In ancient Egypt games and other forms of entertainment were comprised of physical activities, board games and toys.


The ancient Egyptians enjoyed the art of play much as we do now. They played board games that required skill and strategy, as well as athletic games that demanded strength and agility. They had toys made of clay and wood and fashioned balls out of leather. They loved to dance and also loved to swim in the Nile River. Board games and pictures depicting people dancing in circles have been found in tombs dating back thousands of years.


Ancient Egyptian Board Games

In ancient Egypt, board games were extremely popular and many different kinds existed, both for two players at a time and multiple players. Very expensive game sets, made of precious materials such as ivory and ebony, have been discovered in tombs throughout Egypt. Dice carved from stone and ivory were typical components of many ancient Egypt games.


Senet

The most popular of the ancient Egypt board games was a game called Senet. One of the oldest known Senet board representations ever found was a painting from 2,686 B.C. in the tomb of Hesy-Ra. The board game had three rows of ten squares. Some of the squares had symbols which represented bad and good fortune. Two sets of pawns were used to play the game. The object of the game was to be the first player to pass into the afterlife unscathed by bad fortunes along the way.


The ancient Egyptians believed the winner was under the protection of the gods Ra, Thoth and Osiris. It was a game of chance that also required some strategy and skill. Senet boards were placed in graves because they believed the dead could use them on their dangerous journey to the afterlife. In fact, four Senet boards were found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb.


Mehen

Mehen is also known as the Game of the Snake and references the snake god of the same name. Evidence of Mehen dates back as early as 3,000 B.C. The board is circular and it is a snake curled around itself divided into rectangular spaces, with the head of the snake at the center. Boards have been found with different numbers of rectangular spaces as well as with different numbers of game pieces.


Game pieces were in the shape of lions and lionesses and were played with balls that resembled marbles. Game instructions are still unknown though many attempts to decipher it have been made. One such theory is that it is very similar to a game called the Hyena Game which is played today.


Aseb

Aseb, also known as the Twenty Squares Game, has three rows of four squares; the remaining eight squares protrude past the original twelve.


A player must throw a four or a six to get their piece out of the home (or reserves) and then throw again to be able to move it. If a player lands on a square that his opponent already occupies, then the opponent’s piece goes back home (to the reserves).


Hounds and Jackals

The Hounds and Jackals game dates back to 2,000 B.C. It contains ten carved ivory pegs, five of which resemble hounds and five jackals. These pieces were kept in a drawer underneath the game’s rectangular but rounded surface.


Although actual game play instructions are still unknown, it is believed that it was the ancient Egyptians’ favorite race board game. Players navigate their ivory pegs through the holes on the surface by rolling sticks, dice or knuckle-bones. To win, a player must be the first one to move all of their five pieces off the board.

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