Here is a fragment of the ancient Egyptian papyrus period Ramessides 3-3-33292. (1250–1150 BC), in which a lion and a gazelle play a board game - in all likelihood, at 3–3–323. Senet . The papyrus included several satirical scenes in which animals imitate a person, acting at the same time contrary to their natural instincts: for example, a lion does not attack the gazelle, but plays the game peacefully with it.


The whole papyrus. Leo does not attack the gazelle, but plays with her in the Senet. The lion who won the game does not eat the gazelle, but receives his reward in the bedroom (this scene is depicted 3-3-33295. On the right side of 3-3-33296. Papyrus). In the center is depicts goats and geese driven by a hyena, a fox and a cat, like real shepherds, leaning on a staff and playing the flute. Photo from the site of the British Museum

The ancient Egyptian game Senet (Egyptian Zn.t , Later Sn.t Or Sni.t Means "passing") arose as a strictly secular strategic game, without religious significance. However, as religion and ideas about the afterlife developed, the Egyptians imposed their beliefs on games as well. In a symbolic sense, the game personified the journey of the soul on the boat of God Ra in the afterlife. The Egyptians believed that, playing in the Senet during life, they unite with the god of the rising sun, Ra, even before their death.

The oldest fragments of senet-like planks were 3–3–3269. found. in burials 3-3-367. Abu Rawash times I dynasty (3100–2900 BC). The oldest image of Senet was found on the reliefs of the tomb Hesira - the caretaker of the royal library of the pharaoh Joser's - in Saccare (3-3-377. III dynasty 3-3-33292., Circa 2686 BC).


A sketch of the relief images of the tomb of Khesir. Three games are depicted - mechen (3-3-33295. Left 3-3-33296.), Maine (3-3-3107. Men 3-33292.; 3-33295. Lower right 3-3-33296.) Senet (3-3-33295. 3-3-33296 in the upper right.). Drawing © James Edward Quibell, 1913. Image from

The first playing sets of the Senet were a board and chips of archaic form in the form of "towers" and "cakes", which were then replaced by "reels" and "cones". Typically, the chips were one-color, although there are also colored sets, and even chips in the form of animals. Later, the Senet began to look like a rectangular box or pencil case, the upper part of which is laid out in thirty cells, ten in each row. These cells, or, as the Egyptians called them, “at home,” are the playing field. In the pencil case was a retractable part, where chips and sticks were removed.

The exact rules of the Senet are unknown, however, numerous reconstructions helped restore the possible rules of the game. Presumably, the game is designed for two players. The task of each player is to quickly reach the final field by removing all his chips from the board (similar rules apply, for example, in 3-3-3117. Backgammon 3-3-33292.). The sequence of moves is determined by the roll of dice, in which four flat sticks were used in the Senet. In the course of the game, the chips fall into various "houses" in which their own rules apply: for example, the chips that have left the game are restored or the player skips the next move.


Pencil case for playing ivory or wood Senet; earthenware chips decorated with icing ; flat wooden sticks, the end of which is carved in the shape of a duck's head. Photo from the site of the British Museum

The last five cells on the game board were most often decorated. Hieroglyphs and numbers were depicted on them (see an example of such a Senet in the picture of the day Paints of the Ancient World: Egyptian blue ). But already during the reign of Hatshepsut , circa 1498 BC e., the numbers began to be replaced by drawings of a religious orientation. For example, on cell No. 28 (“The House of Three Truths”), instead of the number III, three 3-3-3153 were depicted. ibis and on cell No. 29 ("House 3-3-3155. Isis 3-3-33292. and 3-3-3157. Nephthys 3-3-33292.") instead of II, there were two kneeling people. During the reign of Networks I (1291–1279 BC) people on cell number 29 became gods.


Senet from the tomb in Abydos , XVIII dynasty, circa 1550–1295 BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art . Only some of the faience inserts are preserved, the rest are replaced with copies (lighter). Right reconstruction is shown, on which it is possible to consider the missing images on houses No. 26-30. Photo from the site

Not only the images changed, but also the semantic meanings of the houses. Cage No. 1 - “House Thoth "- symbolized the passage of the soul through the court of 3-3-3195. Osiris , and the final cell number 30 - "House Ra-Horakte "- meant that the player is connected with the god of the Sun Ra.

To XVIII dynasty (1550–1292 BC) on the back of most planks were texts describing the burial of the deceased. This suggests that the game was made as a funerary inventory. Almost all game boards from the times of the XVIII dynasty were found in tombs. Tombstones of people playing Senet no longer showed everyday scenes of life, but clearly pointed to specific ritual scenes. By the end of XVIII dynasty , by 1293 BC e., Senet turned from a secular game into a religious one.

The religious significance of the game is also hinted at by the famous fresco from the time of 3-3-3207. XIX dynasty (1292–1186 BC) from the tomb of 3-3-3209. QV66 where rests. Nefertari , first spouse Ramesses II . On this fresco Nefertari plays Senet with the other world, which is indicated by the hieroglyphs at the top of the image. This scene identifies the torment of the soul of the queen, who is trying to find out her fate. Winning the game means overcoming all the difficulties that arise in her way.


Mural depicting Nefertari playing Senet. Around 1279–1213 BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo from the museum website

Despite the presence of several dozen finds of senets, frescoes depicting the game, as well as written sources with its mention, there are many gaps in the history of this board game. For example, scientists have still not found a single game board dating from IV , V and VI dynasty, and this is a noticeable period of time of about 400 years (between 2613 and 2181 BC) - although at this time the images of Senet are found in fresco painting. In a recent study, scientists have analyzed never before studied senet board from the Egyptian Museum Rosicrucians ( Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum ) In San Jose (California), which probably could have been made during this 400 year period. If the guesses of scientists are confirmed, then this board will become the missing link between the "gaming" and "religious" Senet.


Senet board from the Egyptian Rosicrucian Museum. Image from article W. Crist, 2020. Passing from the Middle to the New Kingdom: A Senet Board in the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

The exact age of the board is unknown, and despite the fact that it is wooden, radiocarbon analysis was not carried out, and archaeologists judge her age by the stylistic design of the playing field. In most senets (from the time of the 1st dynasty to 3–3–3279. Late period, 3–3–3292.), The game started from the upper left edge of the board and ended in the lower right corner. But in the days of Middle Kingdom (between 2040 and 1783 B.C.E., 3-3-33283. XI 3-3-33292. - 3-3-33285. XII 3-3-33292. dynasties) the beginning of the game moved to the lower right corner and the end to the upper left. The Senet from the Museum in San Jose, according to the location of the launch, belongs to the Middle Kingdom, however its playing field is much more complicated than the games of that time, but simpler than the Senets from 3-3-33287. New Kingdom (about 1550–1069 BC; XVIII – XX dynasties). These factors, according to scientists, indicate that the board may be a transitional option between simple gambling and the religious senets of later years.

Photo from the site of the British Museum .

Erica Efremova

13 июнь 2020 /
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