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Work Game box in the name of Imenmes

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Objects from everyday life

Game box in the name of Imenmes

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Objects from everyday life

Author(s):
Marie-Noël Bellessort

From the New Kingdom onward, the track for the game of Senet was usually engraved on the surface of a wooden box featuring a drawer for the playing pieces, while in previous periods the game seems to have been an integral part of a low table. Funerary scenes show the tomb owner seated at a tall pedestal table on which the game box is placed. On the underside of this particular box (as of many others) is a grid for the game of "Twenty Squares" which had recently been imported from the Near East.

The Senet board

The 30-square format remained unchanged as long as the game of Senet continued to be played; it may have inspired other games, such as the 3 x 11 square track that can be found on the back of some Senet boxes. From the New Kingdom onward, certain squares contained inscriptions. A few indications suggest that the playing pieces followed an inverted S-shaped track; the game ended with a countdown, represented by the last five squares which were often inscribed. Although the marks varied according to the game, they always had the same meaning: square 26, marked with the symbol meaning "good," doubtless earned the player a bonus; square 27 (water) signified rebirth and purification, or had a negative value (like the snake in our game of snakes and ladders); square 28 represented 3 (with three jabiru birds in this instance); square 29 signified 2 (with seated figures), and square 30 (when it was inscribed, which is not the case here) represented 1—often with an image of the sun god.

The "Twenty Squares" board

When a game board featured inscriptions (which was not always the case), the same five squares were always inscribed with a rosette, cross, or hieroglyph. Even when not inscribed, these squares had the same implicit value. The owner's names and titles are indicated on Imenmes's game board.
The markings on the board suggest that there were four stages to the game, with four squares between each stage.

Some clues about the game of Twenty Squares can be gleaned from a cuneiform-inscribed tablet dating from the 2nd century BC, now in the British Museum: players were rewarded if they landed on the inscribed squares, but penalized if they did not land on them.
We can assume that each player's pieces were placed on opposite sides of the central column before beginning the game; the goal was then to advance the pieces up the small side column to a first mark, then to turn left or right (according to player) and go down to the bottom of the central column (common to both players) to leave the track.

Religious meaning

From the late 18th Dynasty onward, the inscriptions on game boards became more diverse and included more complex symbols. Some Senet boards had inscriptions in each of the 30 squares. Scenes of games painted in tombs show the tomb owner facing an invisible opponent: the deceased's fate depended on the outcome of the game. This very scene is commented in Chapter 1 of the Book of the Dead.
The game of Senet acquired symbolic meaning, and religious and mythological concepts relating to the world of the dead and to rebirth were developed in funerary texts. The game of Twenty Squares developed along the same lines, and its track acquired 31 squares. The deceased frequented the 30 gods of the pantheon, hoping to be accepted "as the 31st"—a wish that could be fulfilled by winning the game of Senet or 31 Squares.

Technical description

  • Game box in the name of Imenmes

    Circa 1300 BC

  • Wood

    H. 7cm; L. 12cm; D. 36 cm

  • Purchase, Clot Bey collection, 1853

    E 2710

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Pastimes
    Room 10

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