What games did people play in ancient Egypt?

Home » What games did people play in ancient Egypt?
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Ancient Egyptian knucklebones made of clay

Ancient Egyptian knucklebones (Louvre)

The games people played in ancient Egypt were a lot like some games people still play today. Some Egyptian games were traditional African games. The Egyptians learned other games from their West Asian neighbors. People in ancient Egypt played games with pieces like checkers or mancala or senet.

Egyptian game pieces

Egyptian game pieces (Louvre museum, Paris)

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. 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)

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

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

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

Ancient Egyptian painting of girls dancing holding hands in a circle

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.

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.

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
Quatr.us home

By | 2017-07-20T09:53:36+00:00 June 14th, 2017|Africa, Egypt, Games|2 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. What games did people play in ancient Egypt?. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 14, 2017. Web. December 12, 2017.

About the Author:

Karen Carr

Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

2 Comments

  1. savannah underhill December 6, 2017 at 6:59 am - Reply

    I learned a lot about the games in ancient Egypt.

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr December 6, 2017 at 8:20 am

      Wonderful! I’m glad we could help. Feel free to ask if you have any questions.

Leave A Comment