Games in the Ancient Near East

Image: Egyptian Board Games of Senet


Discovery News has an article by Jennifer Viegas in which she writes about board games.  According to the article, board games originated in Egypt and in the Ancient Near East before spreading to other regions.

Below is an excerpt from Viegas’ article:

Competitive board games — played on the ground, on the floor, or on boards — emerged as pastimes for the elite, with the Roman Empire spreading their popularity throughout Europe, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Antiquity, mentions that board games likely originated and disseminated from Egypt and the Fertile Crescent regions at around 3500 B.C. From there, they spread around the Mediterranean before reaching the Roman Empire and what is now Europe.

“Many of the first board games appear to have been diplomatic gifts to signify status,” co-author Mark Hall told Discovery News. “We have early examples of quite splendid playing pieces belonging to elite, privileged people.”

Hall said the world’s oldest known board game could be “The Royal Game of Ur,” also known as the Game of Twenty Squares. It was discovered in the Royal Tombs of Ur in Iraq. Although no one knows what the earliest rules for the game were, it’s thought to have been a predecessor to today’s backgammon.

Yet another early game was Senet from predynastic Egypt. Its game board, an example of which was found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb, consists of a grid of 30 squares, arranged in three rows of 10. The earliest rules again are a mystery, although different versions of the game are still played today. Another early Egyptian board game, Mehen, featured lion-shaped pieces and marbles.

You can read the article in its entirety by visiting Discovery News online.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary


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