Senet or senat (Ancient Egyptian: 𓊃𓈖𓏏𓏠, romanizedznt, lit.'passing'; cf. Coptic ⲥⲓⲛⲉ /sinə/, 'passing, afternoon') is a board game from ancient Egypt that consists of ten or more pawns on a 30-square playing board.[1] The earliest representation of senet is dated to c. 2620 BCE from the Mastaba of Hesy-Re,[2] while similar boards and hieroglyphic signs are found even earlier, including in the Levant in the Early Bronze Age II period.[3][4] Even though the game has a 2,000-year history in Egypt, there appears to be very little variation in terms of key components.[1][5] This can be determined by studying the various senet boards that have been found by archaeologists, as well as depictions of senet being played throughout Egyptian history on places like tomb walls and papyrus scrolls. However, the game fell out of use following the Roman period,[2] and its original rules are the subject of conjecture.

Senet set inscribed with the Horus name of Amenhotep III (r. 1391–1353 BCE)
GenresBoard game

Evidence of senet over time

Senet in hieroglyphs

znt ("passing")
Painting in tomb of Egyptian queen Nefertari (1295–1255 BCE)

Fragmentary boards that could be senet have been found in First Dynasty burials in Egypt,[6] c. 3100 BCE. The first unequivocal painting of this ancient game is from the Third Dynasty tomb of the high official Hesy (c. 2686–2613 BCE).[2] People are depicted playing senet in a painting in the tomb of the Fifth Dynasty vizier Rashepses as well as from other tombs of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties (c. 2500 BCE).[7] There are depictions of individuals such as Tutankhamun and Nefertari (wife of Ramesses II) playing senet in tomb art as well during the New Kingdom.[8]

Senet is depicted in ancient texts, including in Chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead, where the individual who has died plays the game against an invisible opponent.[9] The game of senet is also depicted in a scene depicted on papyrus dating from roughly 1250–1150 BCE that shows a lion and a gazelle playing senet (in the possession of the British Museum).[10]

A game that could be senet is also referenced in the Roman-era Egyptian literary work that has been given the title in modern times of Setne Khamwas and Si-Osire.[11] In this story, Naneferkaptah challenges Setne to a board game, with the winner taking a book he had been looking for as a prize.[12] The game in this story is not explicitly stated; however, similarities such as the religious implications and structure of the game support the idea that it could be senet being depicted.[13]

Senet in the archaeological record


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.[14] However, there have been no actual senet boards that have been dated to the Fourth through Sixth Dynasties, just evidence that they did exist from depictions in tombs.[15] In a painting from the Third Dynasty tomb of Hesy-Re, a senet game is depicted along with other boardgames from this era.[16]

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 artefact.[17] However, the archaeological context of this senet board in question is unknown—it was acquired by the Rosicrucian Museum in London in 1947, and due to poor archaeological practices of the time, the provenance at this point appears to not have been recorded.[17]

Outside of Egypt


Some historians believe that senet could have originated in the Levant before Egypt; however, due to Egypt's involvement in the Levant, Egyptian influence could have introduced the game.[18] Senet was also adopted in Cyprus around the end of the third millennium BCE and continued until at least the Bronze Age.[dubiousdiscuss][18]

Though some historians argue that senet essentially disappeared after the Romans, there are some examples of senet graffiti on the roof of the Roman Temple of Dendera, which dates to the Roman period, and which would be the most concrete evidence that the game was played or did exist to some extent during the Roman period.[19]


Game box with two games: Game of Twenty on top side of the box and Senet at the bottom, c. 1550–1295 BCE

Due to the game falling out of use during the Roman period, the exact detailed rules of play are not known.[4]

The path of pieces through the 30 squares of the Senet board, as numbered by Piccione[20]

The senet board itself was usually constructed out of wood, ivory, faience, or some combination of these materials, and the layout of the board was a grid of 30 squares, arranged in three rows of ten.[21] A complete senet game set would have contained a distinct set of pawns for each of the two players. At least by the New Kingdom, these pieces were in the form of hounds or dog-headed figurines.[22] Through most of the game's 2,000-year history, the senet boards themselves would indicate the direction of play, usually from the top left corner and indicated by the decorations on the spaces. The last five squares were often the most decorated on the board.[23][20] The decorations on the last five squares were unique, usually having a mark related to goodness or an aquatic reference on them.[23]

At least by the New Kingdom in Egypt (1550–1077 BCE), the game reflected the concept of the ka passing through the duat—represented in the game by the spaces connecting the individual to different stages of their lives.[23] 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.[23]

Modern interpretation

A modern recreation of the senet board game by Cadaco Inc.

Although details of the original game rules are a subject of some conjecture, historians Timothy Kendall and R. C. Bell have made their own reconstructions of the game rules.[24] These rules are based on snippets of texts that span over a thousand years, over which time gameplay is likely to have changed. Therefore, it is unlikely these rules reflect the exact course of ancient Egyptian gameplay.[25] However, their rules have been adopted by sellers of modern senet sets.

Various other Egyptologists have also tried to reconstruct the game; however, these are frequently discredited with more archaeological research/finds regarding the subject.[4]

See also

  • Khaemweset – son of Ramses II, inspiration for the fictional Setne
  • Hounds and Jackals – ancient Egyptian board game
  • Mehen – another ancient Egyptian game
  • Royal Game of Ur – a Mesopotamian game played c. 3000 BCE
  • Tâb – a Middle Eastern game that is sometimes confused with senet


  1. ^ a b Crist 2019 pp.107
  2. ^ a b c Sebbane, Michael (2001). "Board Games from Canaan in the Early and Intermediate Bronze Ages and the Origin of the Egyptian Senet Game". Tel Aviv. 28 (2): 213–230. doi:10.1179/tav.2001.2001.2.213. S2CID 162219908.
  3. ^ Crist 2021 pp. 15
  4. ^ a b c Piccione, Peter P. (July–August 1980). "In Search of the Meaning of Senet". Archaeological Institute of America. 33 (4): 55–58. JSTOR 41726340 – via JSTOR.
  5. ^ Piccione 2007 pp. 54
  6. ^ Piccione, Peter A. "In search of the meaning of Senet". Games Museum. Canada: University of Waterloo. Archived from the original on 18 September 2008.
  7. ^ Wijoyono, Metha Melissa; Raditya, Alvin (10 July 2014). "Perancangan Permainan Media Edukasi Sebagai Pembelajaran Cara Melindungi Diri Dalam Menghadapi Bencana Alam Bagi Anak Usia 7–12 Tahun". Jurnal DKV Adiwarna (in Indonesian). 1 (4): 12.
  8. ^ Solly, Meilan (6 February 2020). "The Best Board Games of the Ancient World". Smithsonian Mag. Retrieved 14 January 2023.
  9. ^ Crist 2019 pp.108
  10. ^ Konstantakos 2022 pp. 262
  11. ^ Konstantakos 2022 pp. 460
  12. ^ Konstantakos 2022 pp. 461
  13. ^ Konstantakos 2022 pp. 461-462
  14. ^ Piccione, Peter A. (1990). The Historical Development of the Game of Senet and its Significance for Ancient Egyptian Religion (PhD (unpublished) thesis). Chicago: University of Chicago.
  15. ^ Crist 2019 pp.108
  16. ^ Crist 2019 pp. 107-108
  17. ^ a b Crist 2019 pp.109
  18. ^ a b Crist 2021 pp. 16
  19. ^ Crist 2021 pp. 17
  20. ^ a b Piccione 2007 pp. 54
  21. ^ Crist 2019 pp.107
  22. ^ Konstantakos 2022 pp. 461
  23. ^ a b c d Crist 2019 pp.108
  24. ^ Soubeyrand, Catherine. "The Game of Senet". GameCabinet. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
  25. ^ Crist, Walter; et al. (2016). "Facilitating Interaction: Board Games as Social Lubricants in the Ancient Near East". Oxford Journal of Archaeology. 35 (2): 179–196. doi:10.1111/ojoa.12084.



Further reading