The full name of the game in Egyptian is thought to have been zn.t n.t ḥˁb, meaning the "game of passing". The oldest hieroglyph resembling this game dates to around 3100 BC. Senet is one of the oldest known board games whose original rules are the subject of conjecture. The senet gameboard is a grid of 30 squares, arranged in three rows of ten. A senet board has two sets of pawns (at least five of each). Scenes found in Old Kingdom tombs, dating 2686 to 2160 BC, reveal that Senet was a game of position, strategy, and a bit of luck.
The first unequivocal painting of this ancient game is from the Third Dynasty tomb of Hesy (c. 2686–2613 BC). People are depicted playing senet in a painting in the tomb of Rashepes, as well as from other tombs of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties (c. 2500 BC). The oldest intact senet boards date to the Middle Kingdom, but graffiti on Fifth and Sixth Dynasty monuments could date as early as the Old Kingdom.
At least by the time of the New Kingdom in Egypt (1550–1077 BC), senet was conceived as a representation of the journey of the ka (the vital spark) to the afterlife. This connection is made in the Great Game Text, which appears in a number of papyri, as well as the appearance of markings of religious significance on senet boards themselves. The game is also referred to in chapter XVII of the Book of the Dead. A study on a senet board in the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, dating back to the early New Kingdom of Egypt, showed the evolution of the game from its secular origins into a more religious artifact.
Senet also was played by people in neighboring cultures, and it probably came to those places through trade relationships between Egyptians and local peoples. Games historian Eddie Duggan (University of Suffolk) provides a brief resume of ideas related to the ancient Egyptian game of senet and a version of rules for play in his teaching notes on ancient games. But now the rules have been adopted by sellers of modern senet sets.
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