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Work Board game, the so-called "game of 58 holes"

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Jeu de parcours, dit "jeu de 58 trous"

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Raphaël Chipault

Near Eastern Antiquities

Dunn-Vaturi Anne-Elizabeth

Board games were very popular in Egypt and the Near East. They exist in several variants, with cells or holes for the pieces. The Near Eastern material, often incomplete, can be understood through the data from Egypt. This example of what is called "the game of 58 holes" was discovered in Necropolis B at Tepe Sialk in Iran, and it is the form of board game most frequently found in that country. With its wide geographical and temporal distribution, the basic game developed into several versions.

The "game of 58 holes"

The modern terms for these ancient board games most often derive from the game board itself, as for instance "the game of 20 squares" or "the game of 58 holes." The latter refers to the two tracks of 29 positions marked by holes, laid out symmetrically on the board. The players, each provided with five pegs and dice, had to reach the finish, a common end-point, by moving their pieces along their respective tracks. Some of the positions have inlaid motifs or inscriptions, and some are connected together, marking particular stages in the progress along the board. Other names for the game refer to the form of the board (the shield game), or its decoration (the palm-tree game) or to the pieces (the game of dogs and jackals, at the Louvre, N 42645). The game is also found in different versions, from the Luristani game (AO 25342) to the Egyptian (N 3043).

Use in divination

The board and its pieces were not used only for playing games. They might also be used in divination and in funerary rituals. The throw of the dice or knucklebones, which determined the movement of pegs or pawns, would in these cases be taken as an expression of divine will. Board games figured in the deposit at the Temple of Inshushinak at Susa (Louvre Museum, Sb 2911 and Sb2912), very likely testifying to the role of the god Inshushinak, a judge of the dead, in divination.

Necropolis B at Tepe Sialk

This game board, without accompanying pieces, comes from a pillaged tomb in Necropolis B at Tepe Sialk. The archaeological material is unfortunately often incomplete, not only because some pieces were perishable, but because others were not identified as such. The Near Eastern material can be explained by reference to data from Egypt, where relevant texts and images and the games themselves have all survived better, thanks to the climatic conditions. Necropolis B yielded a quantity of Iron Age funerary equipment, including very fine painted and lustered ware, parts of harness, and other items connected with games: knucklebones (AO 18077) and a medallion imitating the "game of 58 holes" in miniature. Games were a choice funerary offering to accompany the deceased on his journey to the hereafter.

Technical description

  • Jeu de parcours, dit "jeu de 58 trous"

    Tombe 217

  • Terre cuite

    L. 24 cm; W. 11 cm

  • AO 19438

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran in the Iron Age (14th–mid-6th century BC) and during the Neo-Elamite dynasties
    Room 306
    Vitrine 7 a : La nécropole B de Tepe Sialk (XIe - IX e siècle au début du VIIIe siècle avant J.-C.)

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