Civilizations and cultures around the world seem to share in the love of playing games. Some of the games in ancient Egypt were designed just for adults, but others were played by people of all ages. Archeologists have discovered many games that were played in ancient Egypt but in a lot of cases they never found any rules for the games, so they are unsure how they were played. There is no doubt that throughout the 3,000 years of ancient Egypt, playing games was a big part of their lives.
The Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo has indicated that the oldest game from ancient Egypt was called “Senet”. It is a board game that was played by many of the members of the royal families, including Tutankhamun. The way the game was played is that each player rolled dice and, using sticks would try to move the board pieces around and eventually off the board, while at the same time keeping the opposite person playing from accomplishing the same thing. There is a copy of this game at the British Museum in London with a sign that states it was first played 5500-3100 B.C., which was the Predynastic period (before the age of the pharaohs).
Many of the games played in modern Egypt were also played in ancient times. The hieroglyphic pictures and art on the walls of tombs and temples show the ancient Egyptians playing handball, floor hockey, archery, boxing, equestrian (horse) sports, tug of war and marathon running.
Egyptologists (people that study Egypt) have looked at some of the paintings and pictures and developed theories that board games were often played to relax and unwind. Many of the people then, as today, would come home from working hard all day and play a board game. The favorite games were: Senet, Mehen and Dogs and Jackals. There is a painting that was found showing Queen Neferteri playing Senet, as she relaxed.
The ancient Egyptians believed that when someone died they shifted over in the afterlife, where they would live and enjoy the same things that they did when they were alive. It was a custom to bury someone who had died with all of the things they would need in their next life. This included clothing, goods, food, monetary items, tools of their trade and board games. In 1922, British archeologist Howard Carter discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb. It had hundreds of items that had been sheltered and protected for all of the years. One of the items in the tomb was the game board game of Senet.
The games that kids played included a game like checkers as well as Senet and their game pieces were made of small stones and knucklebones (which were really sheep ankle bones). They played a game something like ‘jacks’ and dice with these various game pieces. Kids also had toys to play with including clay rattles that were shaped like animals or people. The wealthy families had toys for their kids made out of wood. These included wooden toys that had moving parts. One might be a hippopotamus that had jaws that would close and open. The higher end dolls were made up of cloth and they were stuffed using papyrus reeds.
Since kids were almost always outside, both the girls and boys liked to swim in the river. There are images of kids wrestling and boxing, and dancing in circles. There is a dance that the girls did called “pressing the grapes”. All kids like playing games with balls and it was the same with ancient Egyptian kids. They had balls made out of papyrus or leather, with straw stuffing. When horses were introduced to Egypt, they began using horsehair for various games, including juggling.