Learn how to make and play the Ancient Egyptian game of Senet; one of the oldest known board games
A Game fit for a King
Amongst all of his gold and treasure, Tutankhamun was buried with board games. This may sound strange to us, but board games were an ideal thing to have in your tomb. They were fun to play, which would help to pass the time in the afterlife, and they also had a religious significance.
What is Senet?
Probably the best known game from Ancient Egypt is the game of senet. The name of senet means ‘passing’ and it was a two player game. It was played on a board with thirty spaces arranged in three rows of ten and each player would have at least five pieces. Players would throw sticks which were decorated on one side to determine how many spaces to move. Certain spaces were decorated with hieroglyphic symbols and landing on these would have specific consequences.
Recreation and Religion
Ancient Egyptians of all walks of life would have played senet. Tutankhamun’s senet boards were made out of expensive materials, such as ebony and ivory but senet boards could be scratched onto anything that happened to be lying around.
There are many relief images of people playing senet with friends and family on tomb and temple walls. The captions show that players could be very competitive!
Over time, senet began to take on a religious meaning. The game-play became increasingly tied to the idea of the journey to the afterlife with spaces being identified as obstacles that they would have to overcome after they died. Senet was even featured in religious texts, such as the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead.
Give it a go
Unfortunately, the Ancient Egyptians didn’t leave a written rule book on how to play senet. However, Egyptologists and board game specialists have tried to figure out how to play based upon the boards, playing pieces and written evidence that we do have.
You could even try making your own:
- Playing pieces – Use air dry clay or salt dough and form into your desired shapes (2 sets of 5). Leave to harden or bake respectively, and then paint with blue paint. Give them a coat of PVA glue and you will have shiny blue playing pieces, just like the faience pieces used by Ancient Egyptians!
- Throwing sticks – Take four lolly sticks and decorate one side of each. Use these instead of dice when playing the game.