Game board - ROM2018_16218_17


Game board

Geography: Egypt
Date: c. 1186-343 B.C.
Period: 20th Dynasty to Late Period
18.7 × 9.6 × 1 cm
Object number: 910.165.853.A
On view
Gallery Location:Galleries of Africa: Egypt

This simple wooden board was used to play a game called senet (“passing”), perhaps the best known board game played in ancient Egypt. Senet seems to have been enjoyed across society, regardless of social rank or station. While the earliest concrete evidence (i.e. an intact board) dates to the 5th Dynasty (c. 2494-2345 B.C.), evidence pointing to earlier use of the game exists, and evidence for gaming in general stretches back to the earliest days of the Egyptian state and beyond. Senet is a game for two, consisting of 30 squares, as well as two sets of gaming pieces and often casting sticks. While the game may have carried religious significance in earlier periods as well, by the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1069 B.C.) senet seems to have developed symbolic associations with navigating the journey to the afterlife.

This board game is made of a simple wooden board with painted lines to form the sections and was purchased by C.T. Currelly in the early 20th century. While museum records indicate a date from the New Kingdom to the Late Period (c. 1550-343 B.C.), the exact dating of the board in uncertain. The markings on the board and the shape of the sections may indicate that a Late Period date is more likely. Inscriptions typically found on several of the squares in senet changed over the centuries, however, the painted signs on this board are now mostly erased, making the board difficult to date with any precision. While more elaborate game boxes are known from the New Kingdom, this kind of “slab style” board was common from 20th Dynasty (1186-1069 B.C.) on. On the other hand, simple senet boards were found throughout Egyptian history, and thus this piece is difficult to date based on shape as well. Ultimately, the most likely dating for this piece seems to be between the 20th Dynasty and Late Period (c. 1186--343 B.C.). 

There are also several faience gaming pieces associated with this board in museum records. However, given the variety of shapes and colours for these pieces, it is likely that they may not have originally been part of the same set and whether or not they were originally found with this particular game board is unknown.  

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