Egyptian Symbols: Senet

The Senet is a board game that predates all other board games in the world. It existed as early as 3000 BC to 3500 BC in burial sites from the Predynastic period and First Dynasty of Egyptian history. Relics of this well-liked game were also from the paintings found in the tomb of Merkenera (presumably between 3300 – 2700 BC), in the Third Dynasty tomb of Hesy (from 2686 to 2613 BC) and in the burial site of Rashepes (2500 BC).

It was one of the most popular game in that time of history. It appears as rectangular board made of 30 tiles in three rows consisting of 10 tiles each. The last five tiles were drawn with hieroglyphic symbols. The game utilizes knucklebones and sticks of different colors usually tossed to the board similar to that of the modern dice. In the Old Kingdom, each player is given seven pawns as playing pieces. During the New Kingdom, the board appeared in fancier forms where only five playing pieces (sometimes made of kneeling and bound captives) were used. However, the rules of the game are subject for debate and remain to be unknown although many scholars have speculated.

Similarly, during the New Kingdom, the senet board game has been linked to afterlife and functions as a talisman of the deceased in his journey. The game’s element of luck is often linked to the Egyptian idea of determinism making any successful player under the guidance and protection of the national deities: Ra, Thoth and Osiris.

Because of its talisman properties, the senet boards are frequently placed in tombs. In the Book of the Dead, It is expressed that the ancient Egyptians believed that it is a protection tool for the deceased dangerous journey in afterlife. In fact, in the tomb of Tutankhamun, four senet boards have been found suggesting that it might have been his favorite game. Scholars also believed that it might have been a favorite pastime of the dead. Depictions found in the Book of the Dead show the deceased playing alone with no visible opponent. This implies that the dead may have been playing against the supernatural powers of the beyond. Winning against these unknown opponents ensured a good fortune for the player in afterlife.