Leisure in Ancient Egypt
Like modern families, ancient Egyptians enjoyed an array of leisure pastimes including outdoor activities, partying, dancing and playing games with friends and family. Based on archaeological evidence, such as tomb paintings, those activities remained consistent with few or little changes throughout each era and dynastic period.
1 Hunting, Fishing and Water Sports
Although hunting and fishing were ways to provide food for Egyptian families, they also provided hours of pleasure and leisure. Egyptians fished in lakes, canals and the Nile River. Peasants chased ostriches, gazelles, rabbits and oxen, while nobility hunted deer and antelope. The most common weapons were bows and arrows, lassos and throwing sticks.
Since the Nile River was a central part of ancient Egyptian life, it is no surprise that swimming, boating and river games were among the Egyptians' favorite activities. Hieroglyphs depict ancient Egyptians as excellent swimmers and adept aquatic athletes.
2 Parties and Fine Dining
Wealthy ancient Egyptians found pleasure in hosting and attending formal dinners. Guests enjoyed food, alcoholic beverages, music, singing and dancing. Lentils, leeks, melons, fowl and fish provided the repast for most gatherings. Wealthier hosts could afford to offer beef or lamb and honey-sweetened cakes. Along with wine, beer, a popular beverage among most Egyptians, was served at Egyptian parties. Professional entertainers provided music, singing and dancing while the guests watched.
3 Board Games
Playing board games was a favorite pastime of ancient Egyptians. Players made the simplest boards from drawing or sketching them into the ground. Other boards were constructed from clay, wood or stone. Animal ankle bones and throw sticks determined the moves on the board. Egyptians developed cubic dice similar to the ones we use today. By the end of the New Kingdom, senet, a game similar to backgammon, was one of the most popular board games. Four of these games were found in King Tutankhamen's tomb. Composed of 30 squares, divided into three rows of 10, senet’s object was for each player to be the first to get all of his pieces off the board, thus entering into the afterlife.
4 Child's Play
In addition to participating in activities such as hunting, fishing and swimming, Egyptian children played with wooden toys and enjoyed outdoor games. Archaeological evidence show children playing games similar to leapfrog and tug of war. Girls played spinning game similar to "Ring Around the Rosie," which honored the goddess Hathor, while boys played soldiers and balancing games. Dolls were whittled from wood, but it is uncertain if they were made as toys or if they served as afterlife companions for the deceased.