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Work Game board in the form of a hippopotamus

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Objects from everyday life

Plateau de jeu des 58 trous, en forme d'hippopotame

© RMN / Les frères Chuzeville

Egyptian Antiquities
Objects from everyday life

Author(s):
Marie-Noël Bellessort

The ancient Egyptians left much evidence of the games they played. This game board, however, is unique, both in its novel hippopotamus form and in the sophistication of its material, a fine faience inlaid with brilliant colors. The back of the board has the fifty-eight holes used for playing a game that was popular throughout the whole of the ancient Middle East.

"Dogs and jackals," the game of fifty-eight holes

The Egyptians were enormously fond of games played on checkerboards, of which they had several, one being the famous game of senet. A number of boards have been found for playing the present game: they always have two symmetrical tracks of twenty-nine holes, in which the pieces were placed. The two larger hollows at the sides must have been used to store pieces or knuckle-bones; pieces which had gone all the way round were placed in the two holes on either side of the eyes of the hippopotamus.
The two players’ pieces were distinguished by their heads, one set having upright ears (jackals?), the others ears turned down, hence the modern name of “dogs and jackals.” The pieces here do not belong to this board, although they too are old. The original pieces must have been much more refined in execution.

The rules of the game

Specialists have been able to reconstruct the rules of the game by examining the numerous surviving examples of this type of board. The two players moved their pieces forward in turn according to the throw of the knuckle-bones. The circuit begins in the middle of the back, behind the head. Landing in holes no. 10 (at the tail) and no. 20 (beside the hollow at the side) meant having to go back;  landing in holes no. 15 (at the beginning of the large lateral hollow) and no. 25 (at the end) gave an extra go. It was in fact a kind of snakes and ladders for two people.

Luxurious board

The “game of fifty-eight holes” appeared in Egypt in the Middle Kingdom (around 2000 BC). Boards for the game have been found throughout the Middle East, but the example in the Louvre is unique on account of the hippopotamus form (unfortunately with a jaw broken off) and the material used: light blue faience with elegant inlays. This type of turquoise blue quartz-based ceramic  is very characteristic of the craft production of the Late Dynastic Period. Much of the inlay, set in a white or red cement, has been lost. What has survived consists of a few small thin patches and lines of white, black, orange, and dark blue glass, and small white rosettes. The boldness and range of the colors—the presence of the orange in particular—suggest that this piece dates from fairly late in the Late Dynastic Period, between the 27th and 30th Dynasties, in the 6th or 5th centuries BC, when a taste for small multicolored glass inlays developed, becoming widespread in the Ptolemaic Period.

Bibliography

- Catalogue de l’exposition « Gifts of the Nile : Ancient Egyptian Faience », Rhode Island, 1998, p. 131, 219, notice n° 96.

- G. ANDREU, M.H. RUTSCHOWSCAYA, C. ZIEGLER, L’Égypte au Louvre, Hachette, Paris, 1997, p 180-181, 255, notice n° 88.

- Catalogue de l’exposition « Jouer dans l’Antiquité », Marseille, 1991, p. 157, 164, 199, fig. 156, notice n° 268.

Technical description

  • Plateau de jeu des 58 trous, en forme d'hippopotame

    Basse Epoque, 664 - 332 avant J.-C.

  • faïence siliceuse avec incrustations de verre

    H. : 7,40 cm. ; l. : 21,50 cm. ; L. : 18 cm.

  • N 3043

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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