Senet-the oldest board game in the world

Posted on Jan 23, 2021      214

People have been playing board games for thousands of years. Among the ancient cultures there are a huge number of board games: some passed through time and maintain popularity to this day, while others ceased to exist along with the people who played it, and we have reached only a few mentions of it.

Looking for the oldest board game in the world should be in the cultural heritage of one of the brightest ancient civilizations in the history of humanity - Ancient Egypt. For the first time game sets hitherto unknown game, later called “Senet,archaeologists discovered ” in the early 20th century. Initially, a game board with ruled squares, pieces and dice attributed to the prototype of ancient chess, but a more detailed study of Senet showed that this game is not similar to any other.

Senet set - 14th century B.C.

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics reported that the game was called “sn.t” (the hieroglyphs contain no vowels), which can be translated as “passing.” Later the remnants of similar sets began to be found in other places, and the oldest set, which came down to us as fragments of the game field, was found in the ancient Egyptian city of Abydos and dates back to 3500 BC. Thanks to this we can assume that Senet appeared no later than the first half of the 4th millennium BC or even earlier, which makes it the oldest board game in the world.

We know little about the rules of the game itself: no ancient Egyptian sources with descriptions have been found, so the instructions that exist today are just an attempt to understand the real original rules. They played the game by two players, whose primary goal was to get all their pieces off the field. Dice sticks played a major role in each move, a roll of which determined how long a piece had to travel across the board. The rules of Senet had to include a lot of tricks, and the game itself required good strategic thinking and was probably available only to the aristocracy and the clergy. Notable religious meaning in the game: the Egyptians believed that during each game the two players are joined by the god of knowledge Thoth, who with his invisible hand rules the result of falling dice. The course of the pieces itself was probably associated with the advancement of the souls of the dead into the realm of the dead, who had to overcome many dangers in order to reach the desired goal. That is why sets with senet were found in many burials of noble Egyptians.

Senet existed for over four millennia - until the end of the Roman period in Egypt (about 350 BC), after which it lost popularity. They later transferred some elements of the game to Arabic board games.