Senet: The Oldest Board Game and Still Being Played
New archaeological excavations and discoveries take place every day so the unearthing of an older board game may yet be found. But as of now the oldest board game is believed to be the Egyptian game of Senet. Dating back to 3500 BC (making the game over 5000 years old), Senet game boards have been found in Egyptian tombs.
Hieroglyphs on walls dating back to 3100 BC and the tomb painting, shown below, dating to around 1250 BC., both of which reference Senet, also expose the ancient age of the game. The below image displays Nefertiti playing a game of Senet.
In 1922 Howard Carter discovered four games of Senet in the tomb of Tutankhamen. King Tutankhamen was an Egyptian Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty and ruled from 1333 BC to 1323 BC. Although not the most ancient of findings for the game, the tomb had some of the most fabulous.
One of the game boards found within the tomb was beautifully made of ebony, ivory, and gold. The board rested on an exquisite stand and was complete with a drawer in which the pieces were housed. The reverse side of the board revealed another popular game of the time called Twenty Squares. Also unearthed within King Tut’s tomb was another Senet board composed of almost complete ivory. Both of these games were etched with fascinating hieroglyphs and images.
The Egyptian word of Senet means passing. For Egyptians, the game of Senet had powerful sacred connections and was played as a way to assure the passing of players into the Netherworld. Placed inside of tombs the games would assist in the afterlife and offer enjoyment.
Senet is still being played today. There are Senet games being re-produced and sold by museums and game companies presently. Although detailed rules for playing the game have not been found, ways on how the game could have been played were deduced. Variations in these rules appear depending upon which company produced the game a player purchases.
A 1977 Senet game published by Cadaco Inc. with the title of King Tut’s Game is an example of how the games found within King Tut’s tomb influenced and increased the game’s popularity. And like the game board found in his tomb, the flipside of the Cadaco board has the game of Twenty Squares depicted.
The object of the game Senet is to be the first player to move each of his five pieces off the board. The board is a grid of thirty squares (3 rows of 10). A player moves around the grid in a reverse ‘S’ style, with moves being determined by lots. Different spaces on the board require players to follow special instructions.
Even though it is the oldest game in the world, the game of Senet is still a challenging, exciting, and fun game to play. It is a game which offers the perfect balance of strategy and chance. It isn’t any wonder why the game is still being played and enjoyed today. I think it can be said the Egyptians, thousands of years ago, made one of the best games for all time.
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Sources: Peter Piccione In Search of the Meaning of Senet
The World of Games, Facts on File, New York, 1989