Games

Children living in Ancient Egypt had a lot of work to do – but they had plenty of playtime, too! They were always encouraged to have fun. There were many things children could do after they were finished work; swimming in the Nile River, playing tug 0′ war, leap frog, or even board games. In fact, Egyptian children played many of the same games children play today!

I am going to tell you about some of the different games Egyptian children played, so sit back, relax, and enjoy!

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The first game I am going to tell you about is a game called Mancala, which still exists today. The object of Mancala is to collect the most stones in your mancala. Mancalas are large bowls that are placed on each end of the playing board. Mancala is a two-player game.

Each player has four small bowls that they keep in front of them. To start off the game, each player recieves two stones to keep in their small bowls. The mancala to the right side of each player “belongs” to that player. To start, Player 1 scoops up the stones from one of his small bowls and drops one into the next small bowl on the right and the other stone in the next bowl to the right. This continues around the board until he has no more stones in his hand. If Player 1 reaches his own mancala, he drops one stone into it. Players never drop their stones into their opponents’ mancala; if they reach it, they will skip over it and continue dropping stones one at a time until they run out of stones. At the end of the game, each player counts the stones in their mancala, and whoever has the most stones wins.

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Game number two is called Hounds and Jackals Game. The Hounds and Jackals Game was discovered in an Egyptian tomb. It belongs to a family of games named “Game of the thirty points” or “Game of the fifty-eight holes”.

A boardgame for Hounds and Jackals that was in very good condition was found in the tomb of Reny-Seneb*, XII dynasty, about 1800 BC. The beautiful gameboard was made of ebony and ivory, and was a rectangular (15×10 cm), box put on animal legs. The top of the box was ivory. There was a palm tree and fifty-eight holes carves into the top. Below is a rough drawing of a Hound and Jackal gameboard.

In the drawer within the box, ten pawns were found. Five of the pawns were carved into dog heads, and the other five were carved into jackal heads. Since the rules to the game were unknown, the rules were propsed by R.C. Bell. They are as follows:

The game is for two players. The goal of the game is to the five points (25 to 29) on your side of the board to win. Each player needs three pieces of money to determine movement.

  1. Both players agree on a stake.
  2. The right side of the board belongs to the dogs and the left to the jackals.
  3. The brown circle above the palm tree is the starting point. The pawns move then on the side of the gameboard trying to reach the top of the tree (25 to 29).
  4. Exact throws are required to reach the final positions. The order in which it is done has no importance.
  5. The two players throw the three coins in turn. A five is required to introduce a new pawn on the starting point. Then the pieces are thrown again to move the pawn.
  6. The first pawn to reach a hole with an horizontal mark (15 on dog side) wins the stake.
  7. Only one pawn may be put on a hole. If no move is possible the throw is lost for this player.
  8. If a pawn reaches a hole linked to an other hole by a path (10-24, 20-22), it follows the line which acts like a ladder to the victory.
  9. A player must move his pawns when he can do so. If he can move no pawns, his or her opponent is allowed to add his throw to his or her own .
  10. The first player having put his five pawns in the five holes (25 to 29) wins the game.

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The Senet Game

Senet is an ancient race game that may be the ancestor of our modern game backgammon. More than 40 of these boardgames have been found in Egyptian tombs, some still in very good condition with pawns, sticks, or knuckle bones still intact. The oldest known representation of Senet is in a painting on the wall of the tomb of Hesy (III dynasty, 2686-2613 BCE)*.

The gameboard for Senet is composed of thiry squares: 3 rows with 10 squares in each. If you were to number each square, the board would look like this:

          1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10
20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11
21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

The path of the pawns followed a reversed S across the board.

There were symbols on squares 26 to 20. Other elements found with the gameboard were pawns. The Hesy painting shows a game with seven pawns for each player. Some time after 1600 – 1500 BCE, the players were represented with six or seven. Some games have even been found with ten pawns per player.

It is thought that the movement of pawns was probably decided by the thorw of four two-sided sticks. The orginial rules of Senet are, of course, unknown. No records of the rules on papyrus or tomb wall has ever been discovered. It is very difficult to reconstruct the game through the pieces and the tomb images.

A summary of Timothy Kendall’s work on the reconstruction of the rules of Senet is given in the book by Lhôte.

  1. At the beginning of the game the seven pawns per player alternate along the 14 first squares. The starting square is counted as the 15th. In the oldest games this square featured an ankh, a “life” symbol. The pawns move according to the throw of four sticks or, later, one or two knucklebones. When using the sticks the points seemed to have been counted from 1 to 5: 1 point for each side without a mark and 5 points if the four marked sides were present together.
  2. When a pawn reached a square already occupied by an opponent pawn, they have to exchange their positions.
  3. The special squares have the following effects on play:
    • 15 : House of Rebirth, starting square and the return square for the pawns reaching square number 27.
    • 26 : House of Happiness, a mandatory square for all the pawns.
    • 27: House of Water, a square that can be reached by the pawns located on squares 28 to 30 which moved back when their throws did not allow them to exit the board. They have to restart from square 15.
    • 28 : House of the Three Truths, a pawn may only leave when a 3 is thrown.
    • 29 : House of the Re-Atoum, a pawn may only leave when a 2 is thrown.
  4. The winner is the first to move all of their pawns off the board.

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Another version of the rules was proposed by RC Bell.

Each player has 10 pawns. Four two-sided sticks (one side painted) are thrown to determine movement.

  • When only one painted side is visible : 1 point.
  • With two : 2 points.
  • With three : 3 points.
  • With four : 4 points.
  • With none : 5 points.
  1. At the beginning of the game there are no pawns on the board.
  2. Each player in turn throws the sticks, and puts his pawns on the board on the squares with the symbols I, II, III, X, O according to the number of points thrown. Only one pawn may be present on each square. So if a pawn is already present the turn is lost.
  3. A player may either move one pawn or add a new pawn to the board, if possible, with each throw. The pawns located on the marked squares are in shelters.
  4. Pawns may not be stacked. When a pawn arrives on a square already occupied by an opponent pawn, the opponent is removed and must restart from the beginning. This rule does not apply for the marked squares which are shelters.
  5. The first pawn to reach square number 1 earns a bonus of five points and it fixes the goal of the game: that player’s other pawns have to reach odd squares whereas the opponent must reach the even squares. The game ends when the pawns of the two players are alternately placed on the first and second rows.
  6. When a pawn has reached its last square, it cannot be attacked.
  7. The first player to have put all his pawns on his own squares wins the game and earns 10 points. He also gets one point for each move his opponent makes while placing all of his remaining pawns.

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Those are only a few of the games that Egyptian children played. There are many, many more!

Written By: Haley Reynoldson 🙂

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1 Comment

  1. Brianna & Jenelle said,

    March 1, 2007 at 9:39 am

    We like to play games !!! haha 😛


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