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Senet (or Senat) is a board game from predynastic and ancient Egypt. The oldest hieroglyph representing a Senet game dates to around 3100 BC. The full name of the game in Egyptian was zn.t n.t ḥˁb meaning the "game of passing".
|Senet in hieroglyphs|
passage / gateway
|Nefertari playing Senet. Painting in tomb of Egyptian Queen Nefertari (1295–1255 BC).|
Senet is one of the oldest known board games. It has been found in predynastic and First Dynasty burials of Egypt, c. 3500 BC and 3100 BC respectively. Senet is also featured in a painting from the tomb of Merknera (3300–2700 BC). Another painting of this ancient game is from the Third Dynasty tomb of Hesy (c. 2686–2613 BC). It is also depicted in a painting in the tomb of Rashepes (c. 2500 BC).
By the time of the New Kingdom in Egypt (1550–1077 BC), it had become a kind of talisman for the journey of the dead. Because of the element of luck in the game and the Egyptian belief in determinism, it was believed that a successful player was under the protection of the major gods of the national pantheon: Ra, Thoth, and sometimes Osiris. Consequently, Senet boards were often placed in the grave alongside other useful objects for the dangerous journey through the afterlife and the game is referred to in Chapter XVII of the Book of the Dead.
The Senet gameboard is a grid of 30 squares, arranged in three rows of ten. A Senet board has two sets of pawns (at least five of each and, in some sets, more, as well as shorter games with fewer). The actual rules of the game are a topic of some debate, although historians have made educated guesses.
Senet historians Timothy Kendall and R. C. Bell have each proposed their own sets of rules to play the game. These rules have been adopted by different companies which make Senet sets for sale today.
In modern culture
- In Rick Riordan's The Throne of Fire, Carter, Sadie Kane, and Bes play Senet against the moon god Khonsu.
- In Patricia Kennealy Morrison's Keltiad series, in the book The Copper Crown the Egyptian-based antagonists the Coranians play senet amongst themselves.
- In the popular 1999 video game Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, the player (playing as series heroine Lara Croft), must play a game of Senet in order to advance through the Tomb of Semerkhet level. If she loses the game she must take a longer route through the level, if she wins she takes a shorter route.
- In House of Anubis, Nina Martin (portrayed by Nathalia Ramos) and her friends must play a game of Senet to get through the final chamber of the underground tunnels to reach the Mask of Anubis.
- In the Nancy Drew game Tomb of the Lost Queen, you can play Senet against a computer player.
- Mehen, another ancient Egyptian game
- Royal Game of Ur, an ancient Mesopotamian game
- Tâb, a Middle Eastern game with a similar board
- Patolli, a game of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures
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