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Ancient Toys and Games

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Ancient Egyptians did not differ much from us when it comes to enjoying playing with toys and games.  Board games were very common in ancient Egypt and people from all levels of society played them. Archaeologists have discovered a number of board games that were used in ancient Egypt, but no explaining rules how to play the games have survived. So, we have only guesses how the games were played. Some of the ancient Egyptian games were traditional African games, and others were learned from West Asian neighbors.

Ancient Egyptian game of Senet and other board games

The Senet that translate to “game of passing” was the most popular game board in ancient Egypt.  The oldest hieroglyph representing a Senet game dates to around 3100 BC. The original rules of the Senet are unknown because no records of the rules have ever been discovered. With help of images found on ancient tomb walls and actual artifacts, some have attempted to reconstruct the rules.

Based on what we know, the game of Senet was played by two people, either on elaborate carved and inlayed boards like the one found in Tutankhamen’s tomb, or simply scratched into the earth. The Senet game board is a grid of 30 squares, arranged in three rows of ten.

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a game box and pieces for playing the game of Senet found within the intact KV62 tomb of king Tutankhamun. This object is today part of the permanent collection of the Cairo Museum of Egypt. This photo was taken at the King Tut exhibition at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington State, USA. Image credit: Dmitry Denisenkov

Some of the squares had symbols on them and the path of the counters probably followed a reversed S across the board. The symbols represented ether good or bad fortune, and affected the play accordingly. The movement of the counters was decided by throwing four two-sided sticks or, in some cases, knucklebones. Good luck was a blessing from the gods and the winner was the first to pass into the afterlife by getting all their pieces off the board.

senetboardgame2

Painting in tomb of Egyptian Queen Nefertari (1295–1255 BC).

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