Senet: One of the world's oldest board games

Senet game pieces (Tutankhamun).jpg

A Senet gameboard and game pieces from theKV62 tomb of Tutankhamun—originally fromThebes
Years active Predynastic Egypt (c. 3500 BC) to present
Genre(s) Board game
Race game
Dice game
Players 2
Setup time Negligible
Playing time 5–30 minutes
Random chance Medium (dice rolling)
Skill(s) required Strategy, tactics, counting,probability
Synonym(s) Senat

Senet (or Senat) is a board game from Predynastic and ancient Egypt. The oldest hieroglyph representing a Senet game dates to around 3100 BC.  The full name of the game inEgyptian was zn.t n.t ḥˁb meaning the “game of passing”.


Senet is one of the oldest known board games. It has been found in Predynastic and First Dynasty burials of Egypt,  c. 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 (1550–1077 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 board has two sets of pawns (at least five of each and, in some sets, more, as well as shorter games with fewer). 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.

Senet in hieroglyphs

passage / gateway

File:Maler der Grabkammer der Nefertari 003.jpg
Nefertari playing Senet. Painting in tomb of Egyptian QueenNefertari (1295–1255 BC).

In modern culture

  • The game is mentioned in the 1972 film version of the play Sleuth by Anthony Shaffer, when the character Andrew Wyke refers to “an intensely complicated 4th dynasty blocking game called Senet. I’ve been at it for months but I am still only a beginner.”
  • Senet is played in the TV show Lost in the episode Across the Sea.
  • In Rick Riordan’s The Throne of Fire, Carter and Sadie Kane and Bes play Senet against the moon god Khonsu.
  • In Patricia Kennealy Morrison’s Keltiad series, in the book The Copper Crown the Egyptian-based antagonists the Coranians play senet amongst themselves.
  • In the popular 1999 video game Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, the player (playing as series heroine Lara Croft), must play a game of Senet in order to advance through the Tomb of Semerkhet level. If she loses the game she must take a longer route through the level, if she wins she takes a shorter route.
  • In House of Anubis, Nina Martin (portrayed by Nathalia Ramos) and her friends must play a game of Senet to get through the final chamber of the underground tunnels to reach the Mask of Anubis.
  • In the Nancy Drew game Tomb of the Lost Queen, you can play Senet against a computer player.
  • In the city builder Pharaoh, Senet houses must be constructed to entertain the most selective citizens.

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