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Gaming Board Inscribed for Amenhotep III with Separate Sliding Drawer, ca. 1390-1353 B.C.E.,49.56a-b.jpg
Senet gaming board inscribed for Amenhotep III with separate sliding drawer, c. 1390–1353 BCE

Senet (or senat[1]) is a board game from ancient Egypt, whose original rules are the subject of conjecture. The oldest hieroglyph resembling a senet game dates to around 3100 BCE.[2] The full name of the game in Egyptian is thought to have been zn.t n.t ḥˁb, meaning the "game of passing".[3]


Senet in hieroglyphs

Senet (Sn.t, "passage/gateway")
Maler der Grabkammer der Nefertari 003.jpg
Painting in tomb of Egyptian Queen Nefertari (1295–1255 BCE)

Senet is one of the oldest known board games. Fragmentary boards that could be senet have been found in First Dynasty burials in Egypt,[2] c. 3100 BCE. A hieroglyph resembling a senet board appears in the tomb of Merknera (33002700 BCE).[4] The first unequivocal painting of this ancient game is from the Third Dynasty tomb of Hesy (c. 2686–2613 BCE). People are depicted playing senet in a painting in the tomb of Rashepes, as well as from other tombs of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties (c. 2500 BCE).[5] The oldest intact senet boards date to the Middle Kingdom, but graffiti on Fifth and Sixth Dynasty monuments could date as early as the Old Kingdom.[3]

At least by the time of the New Kingdom in Egypt (15501077 BCE), senet was conceived as a representation of the journey of the ka (the vital spark) to the afterlife. This connection is made in the Great Game Text, which appears in a number of papyri, as well as the appearance of markings of religious significance on senet boards themselves.[citation needed] The game is also referred to in chapter XVII of the Book of the Dead.[6] A study on a senet board in the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, dating back to the early New Kingdom of Egypt, showed the evolution of the game from its secular origins into a more religious artifact.[7]

Senet also was played by people in neighboring cultures, and it probably came to those places through trade relationships between Egyptians and local peoples.[8] It has been found in the Levant at sites such as Arad[9] and Byblos, as well as in Cyprus.[10] Because of the local practice of making games out of stone, there are more senet games that have been found in Cyprus than have been found in Egypt.[11]


Senet game box, circa 1550 –1295 B.C.

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). Although details of the original game rules are a subject of some conjecture, senet historians Timothy Kendall and R.C. Bell have made their own reconstructions of the game.[12] These rules are based on snippets of texts that span over a thousand years, over which time gameplay is likely to have changed. Therefore, it is unlikely these rules reflect the exact course of ancient Egyptian gameplay.[8] Their rules have been adopted by sellers of modern senet sets. Scenes found in Old Kingdom tombs, dating 2686–2160 BCE, reveal that Senet was a game of position, strategy, and a bit of luck.

In a presentation to the XX Board Games Studies Colloquium at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, Espen Aarseth asked if the game Senet could be said to still exist, given that the rules were unknown.[13] In response, Alexander de Voogt of the American Museum of Natural History pointed out that games did not have a fixed set of rules, but rules varied over time and from place to place. Moreover, many players of games, even today, do not play (or sometimes do not even know) the "official rules".

Games historian Eddie Duggan (University of Suffolk) provides a brief resume of ideas related to the ancient Egyptian game of senet (together with an overview of the so-called "Royal Game of Ur") and a version of rules for play in his teaching notes on ancient games.[14]

See also[edit]

  • Mehen – another ancient Egyptian game
  • Patolli – a game of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures
  • Royal Game of Ur – a Mesopotamian game played c. 3000 BCE
  • Tâb – a Middle Eastern game that is sometimes confused with senet


  1. ^ "A History of Board Games". Archived from the original on 5 December 2003. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
  2. ^ a b Piccione, Peter A. "In search of the meaning of Senet". Games Museum. Canada: University of Waterloo. Archived from the original on 18 September 2008.
  3. ^ a b Piccione, Peter A. (1990). The Historical Development of the Game of Senet and its Significance for Ancient Egyptian Religion (PhD (unpublished) thesis). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
  4. ^ Pivotto, Carlos; et al. "Detection of Negotiation Profile and Guidance to more Collaborative Approaches through Negotiation Games" (PDF). Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  5. ^ Metha Melissa Wijoyono; Alvin Raditya (10 July 2014). "Perancangan Permainan Media Edukasi Sebagai Pembelajaran Cara Melindungi Diri Dalam Menghadapi Bencana Alam Bagi Anak Usia 7–12 Tahun". Jurnal DKV Adiwarna (in Indonesian). 1 (4): 12.
  6. ^ "Egyptian Symbols: Senet". Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  7. ^ Crist, Walter (2020). "Passing from the Middle to the New Kingdom: A Senet Board in the Rosicrucian Museum". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. doi:10.1177/0307513319896288. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ a b Crist, Walter; et al. (2016). "Facilitating Interaction: Board Games as Social Lubricants in the Ancient Near East". Oxford Journal of Archaeology. 35 (2): 179–196. doi:10.1111/ojoa.12084.
  9. ^ Sebbane, Michael (2001). "Board Games from Canaan in the Early and Intermediate Bronze Ages and the Origin of the Egyptian Senet Game". Tel Aviv. 28 (2): 213–230. doi:10.1179/tav.2001.2001.2.213.
  10. ^ Swiny, Stuart (1986). The Kent State Expedition to Episkopi-Phaneromeni. Nicosia: Paul Astroms Forlag.
  11. ^ Crist, Walter; et al. (2016). Ancient Egyptians at Play: Board Games across Borders. Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-4742-2117-7.
  12. ^ Soubeyrand, Catherine. "The Game of Senet". GameCabinet. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
  13. ^ Aarseth, E. (17–20 May 2017). Does Senet still exist? The ontology of a game without rules. XX Board Game Studies Colloquium: Models, Metaphors, Meanings. University of Copenhagen, Denmark.CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  14. ^ Duggan, E. (2015). "The Royal Game of Ur and Senet". Ancient Board Games 1. (Revision C, 2015).


  • Crist, Walter; Dunn-Vaturi, Anne-Elizabeth; de Voogt, Alex (2016). Ancient Egyptians at Play: Board games across borders. New York, NY: Bloomsbury. pp. 41–80. ISBN 978-1-4742-2117-7.
  • Kendall, Timothy (1978). Passing Through the Netherworld: The meaning and play of Senet, an ancient Egyptian funerary game. Belmont, MA: Kirk Game Company.
  • Piccione, Peter A. (2007). Finkel, Irving L. (ed.). Ancient Board Games in Perspective. London, UK: British Museum Press. pp. 54–63. ISBN 978-0-714-11153-7.

Further reading[edit]

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