New Kingdom, 1550-1069 BC
Board games were very popular among all levels of society, especially the game of senet, or ‘passing’. The game was first played in the Predynastic period, and a form of it is still played in Egypt today.
Senet could be played with highly decorated sets, plain sets or simply on a grid of three rows of ten squares scratched in the dust or on a stone. Each player had a set of seven pieces. The players threw sticks or knuckle bones to move around the board via the squares indicating good or bad fortune. The object of the game was to safely navigate all the pieces off the board, while preventing the opponent from doing the same.
Tomb scenes showing the deceased relaxing and playing the game illustrate its part in the leisure time of the rich. These depictions can also be interpreted as a reference to the fact that the deceased must find his way past many obstacles to reach the Afterlife, rather like a gaming piece on a senet board. The game was also represented in a satirical cartoon drawn on a papyrus and showing a lion and an antelope happily playing together.
You can play Senet on-line at The British Museum’sAncient Egypt website (requires Shockwave).
M. Stead, Egyptian life (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)