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Ancient Egyptian knucklebones made of clay: Ancient Egyptian games

Ancient Egyptian games:  knucklebones

Egyptian board games: senet and mancala

Ancient Egyptian games were a lot like some games people still play today. Some Egyptian games were traditional African games.

(More about African games)

The Egyptians learned other games from their West Asian neighbors.

(More about West Asian games)

People in ancient Egypt played games with pieces like checkers or mancala or senet. Senet might be the oldest board game (or mancala might be).

How to play Senet

The Ancient Egyptian game of senet was a game for two people. You each got five pieces, and to win the game you had to be the first to get all of your pieces off the board.  The board had three rows of “houses” (spaces), with ten houses in each row. You started with one player’s pieces on the first, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth house, and the other player’s pieces on the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth houses.

Instead of rolling dice, you tossed four sticks to decide how many spaces you could move on each turn.

The sticks were black on one side. If they landed all four black, you moved five spaces and go again. No blacks? Move four spaces and go again. If they landed three black, move three spaces and lose your next turn. Two black? two spaces and lose your next turn. Only one black? one space and go again.

Only one piece can be on a space at a time. But there are more special rules. You can read about them here.

(How to play Mancala)

Egyptian game pieces

Ancient Egyptian game pieces (Louvre museum, Paris)

Jacks and dice

Egyptian kids played games like jacks, using animal knucklebones or small stones. (Knucklebones are really the ankle bones of sheep). Sometimes they made artificial knucklebones out of clay.

They played games with dice, too.

(More about the history of dice)

One popular board game was Hounds and Jackals (though we don’t really know what the Egyptians called it). You threw knucklebones to decide how many holes to move your piece, and the pieces were tall sticks with the heads of dogs or jackals.

Ancient Egyptian dice

Ancient Egyptian dice (Louvre museum, Paris)

Ancient Egyptian toys

Egyptian kids also had toys to play with. They had clay rattles and little animals and people shaped out of clay. If you could afford them, you could also get wooden toys. Some wooden toys had moving parts, like a hippopotamus with jaws that could open and close.

Ancient Egyptian wooden pull toy of a woman grinding grain

Ancient Egyptian pull toy of a woman grinding grain

This one has a woman grinding grain: you pull the string to make her move the grinding stone back and forth. The fanciest dolls were made of cloth, and stuffed with papyrus reeds.

Ancient Egyptian statuette of boys wrestling: Ancient Egyptian games

Boys wrestling (ca. 2500 BC)Tomb of Nykauinpu, at Giza Now in the Oriental Institute, Chicago

Playing outside

Ancient Egyptian boys and girls were outside nearly all the time, because their houses were small, dark, and crowded.

(More about houses in ancient Egypt)

Ancient Egyptian kids liked to play running and jumping games. Boys and girls loved to swim in the river to cool off and get clean; they knew how to swim the breast stroke and the crawl stroke.

(More about the history of swimming)

Ancient Egyptian painting of girls dancing holding hands in a circle: Ancient Egyptian games

Ancient Egyptian girls circle dance From the tomb of Mereruka (Old Kingdom, ca. 2200 BC)

They also liked to wrestle and box, and dance in circles. On the right, the two boys are wrestling. One boy is sitting on the other boy’s head.

The girls called one dance “pressing the grapes“; that’s the dance in the picture to the left. They’re holding hands in a circle.

Ancient Egyptian ball games and juggling

Kids made balls out of leather or woven papyrus and stuffed their balls with straw or (once horses came to Egypt) horsehair, to play ball games like juggling.

Looking for a second source to cite? Check out this article from the Ancient History Encyclopedia.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about ancient Egyptian games? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by doing: playing African games

More about dice
And more about swimming
More about African games

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Egyptian games:

More about ancient Egypt
More about African games home