Leisure Time

20 squares Aseb (aka. 20 quares) on the underside of a Senet board.

The Egyptians had board games to play in their leisure time. Many of Egyptian board games were simple boards that could be drawn of etched into simple surfaces like dirt, wood, or stone. This made them popular with the lower class who could play these games anywhere and often couldn’t afford specialty boards. Most of Egyptian board games we know of were just 2 players. Today Senet is remembered as THE Egyptian board game. It is depicted as the most popular game in ancient Egypt. It was so popular that 4 Senet boards were found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb. This game is played on a 3 square x 10 square board. Turns are made by rolling sticks, and movement is similar to modern checkers. The oldest Senet board dates back to 3000 BC along with the game Mehen (or Snake) and Aseb. The game of Aseb was played on a similar size board to Senet but with a different arrangment, so Aseb boards were often found on the back of Senet boards. These games eventually merged to develop into modern day Backgammon.
Mehen/Snake was first discovered in the 1920’s. It is unusual for an Egyptian board game because it is for up to 6 players. Unfortunately we are not sure on the rules for this game. As with many of these games the board was discovered, but no one ever wrote the rules down. Archaeologists try to guess the rules by trial and error, but this often isn’t very effective. (Yes, they sit around playing board games as their JOB.)
The last two board games I’ll just mention briefly. The games ‘Seega’ and ‘Hounds and Jackals.’ Seega is very similar to a game from ancient Greece called Petteia. Some ancient sources from Greece attribute the game Petteia to the Egyptians so it is speculated that the Greeks got it from the Egyptian game Seega.
Hounds and Jackals dates back to 2100 BC and was found in Thebes. The boards that have been found for this game are significantly more intricate being stood on legs, and the game is said to be the game of Pharaohs. The game was probably limited to the upper class due to the more complex board needing an artisan to create it, so the lower class couldn’t always afford it.

hounds Hounds and Jackals board.

2 thoughts on “Leisure Time

  1. I think that this post is very interesting for a number of reasons. First, I think it gives people (primarily Archaeologists and Egyptologists) insight into the cultural world of the Ancient Egyptians. I also think that it is interesting because I have actually played the first game that you have depicted above (Aseb) and let me tell you it was really fun! I think that the popularity and attention put into creating and playing these games is another example of how developed of a society Egypt was because they had the ability to create the games (even if they were limited to the upper class) and they also were able to have the leisure time to play them. Although I can’t think of any games that are actually based off of Senet or Aseb, I am sure that there are some that we play today that are quite similar.
    Overall I think this post was very unique and thoughtfully written. I really like the amount of detail you put into it and also the pictures! From what you wrote, these board games are possibly the oldest or at least some of the oldest on Earth that have ever been found.

  2. This is a fantastic post! I’m just trying to imagine a pharaoh playing a board game, which is strange to picture. I feel like it is easy to skip over the leisure activities of the ancient Egyptians because of the fantastic work they did that was far from leisurely. I think this is topic is interesting because the best board games were only for the elite who could afford them. Something as simple as a board game doesn’t seem like a royal item, but these new games are probably no different than when Apple releases a new iPad.
    I find it also very interesting that these first board games evolved into games we still play today. I would have never guessed that board games originated so long ago. It just shows how times can change so greatly that something as simple as a board game to modern peoples was novel, intricate, and elitist to ancient Egyptians.

Leave a Reply