Senet (or Senat) is a board game from predynastic and ancient Egypt. The oldest hieroglyph representing a Senet game dates to circa 3100 BC. The full name of the game in Egyptian was zn.t n.t ḥˁb meaning the "game of passing."
Senet may be the oldest board game in the world. It has been found in Predynastic and First Dynasty burials of Egypt, circa 3500 BC and 3100 BC respectively. It was one of the most popular games of Egypt. Senet is also featured in a painting from the tomb of Merknera (3300–2700 BC) (see external links below). Another painting of this ancient game is from the Third Dynasty tomb of Hesy (c. 2686–2613 BC). It is also depicted in a painting in the tomb of Rashepes (c. 2500 BC).
By the time of the New Kingdom in Egypt (1567–1085 BC), it had become a kind of talisman for the journey of the dead. Because of the element of luck in the game and the Egyptian belief in determinism, it was believed that a successful player was under the protection of the major gods of the national pantheon: Ra, Thoth, and sometimes Osiris. Consequently, Senet boards were often placed in the grave alongside other useful objects for the dangerous journey through the afterlife and the game is referred to in Chapter XVII of the Book of the Dead. The game was also adopted in the Levant and as far as Cyprus and Crete but with apparently less religious significance.
The Senet gameboard is a grid of thirty squares, arranged in three rows of ten. A senet game has two sets of pawns (at least five of each and, in some sets, more). The actual rules of the game are a topic of some debate, although historians have made educated guesses. Senet historians Timothy Kendall and R.C. Bell have each proposed their own sets of rules to play the game. These rules have been adopted by different companies which make Senet sets for sale today.
In modern culture
The game is played in the TV show Lost. The young Man In Black found the game in the sand while wandering the beach. He quickly created a set of rules and asked his brother Jacob if he wanted to play, under the condition that he wouldn't tell their mother. Jacob asked why he wouldn't be allowed to tell her. His brother replied that she would take it away if she knew. Jacob accepted the conditions and played.
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