Much like today, games of many types, including board games, were common in ancient Egypt and were played by people of all social standings and ages. Archaeologists have unearthed game boards dating back to ancient Egyptian times but have found no record of rules explaining how the games were played. Historians, archaeologists and anthropologists have been able to study the excavated games and make educated guesses as to how they were played while shedding light on some interesting facts that revealed how games were part of ancient Egyptians' everyday life.
Oldest in the World
According to the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the game of Senet is one of the oldest known board games. Tutankhamun and other members of royalty played this game in which players would attempt to navigate playing pieces off the board while trying to prevent their opponent from accomplishing the same task. An ancient example of the game can also be viewed at the British Museum in London -- the museum's website says the game was first played in the Predynastic period (5500 - 3100 B.C.).
Games Enjoyed Today
Many of the games enjoyed by ancient Egyptians are enjoyed by people today. For example, a variation of the game of Senet is played by modern Egyptians. Thanks to ancient wall art and hieroglyphics discovered by scientists, we know that ancient Egyptians played floor hockey, handball, boxing, tug of war, archery, equestrian sports, running marathons and a number of other sporting games. In fact, the magazine "Bay Area Dance Watch" pictures professional American/Egyptian dancer Heba Fayed DeBellis doing a stretching move that requires great flexibility and core strength alongside an ancient Egyptian drawing from over 3000 years ago of a woman in an identical pose.
Meditation and Relaxation
Some of the art from ancient Egypt reveals that board games were used for unwinding and relaxation. "History" explains that "after a long day’s work Egyptians often relaxed by playing board games." These included a number of board games such as Mehen, Senet and Dogs and Jackals -- a game that was showcased in a scene from the movie, "The Ten Commandments," (1956) in which Nefertari was challenging Ramses to a match on the balcony. However, Senet was the most popular game, and a painting survives that depicts Queen Nefertari playing it in a relaxing pose.
Games in the Afterlife
Ancient Egyptians believed that when they died, they moved on to the afterlife. It was the custom to bury the dead in their tombs with items they would need or enjoy using in the afterlife. Common items included food, monetary goods, clothing, the tools of their trade and even games. When King Tutankhamun's tomb was discovered in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter, hundreds of items were uncovered that had been locked away -- including a game of Senet.
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