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Work Three throwsticks

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Objects from everyday life

Trois baguettes de jeu

© Musée du Louvre / C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Objects from everyday life

Marie-Noël Bellessort

Among Egyptian board game accessories were throwsticks, which were used to determine how far players should move their pieces in the days before dice and knucklebones were imported from the Near East. Once the latter had arrived in Egypt throwsticks continued to be used, so the three types of object coexisted—but we do not know whether each was associated with a specific game.

Throwsticks, board game accessories

The first throwsticks, found in a funerary context, date from the Predynastic period. They can be associated with games and game pieces; a 1st-Dynasty Saqqara tomb yielded a whole set of accessories wrapped in woven reed: about forty marbles, six lions and lionesses, two series of seven game pieces, and eleven throwsticks. The 3rd-Dynasty tomb of Hesire featured these same items, depicted in two dimensions: four throwsticks were painted next to Senet pieces. Although they were not represented in later tombs—neither around the table, nor in players' hands—many examples continued to be unearthed.
To judge from excavated objects and relief carvings, such sticks were certainly used to play Senet, and doubtless also to move the pieces for the games of Mehen and "58 holes," as these games were played when neither dice nor knucklebones yet existed.

Form, material, and decoration

Originally, throwsticks were sections of palm wood or reed that were cut in two lengthwise, with a convex and a concave side, each of a different color and texture. Replicas of these long, natural sticks were made in bone, ivory, or wood, and often decorated or dyed on one side to make a clear distinction between the two faces.

The decoration consisted of parallel lines that were incised in the middle and at both ends of the convex side of the stick, or of more fluid lines at the ends that created the shape of a finger with the outline of its nail. Texts concerning Senet mention a "finger" that accompanied the pieces—no doubt a reference to throwsticks.

Tutankhamun's tomb yielded four ivory and ebony sticks that were decorated at the ends with nails, or with animal heads featuring slender muzzles and pointed ears like those of the fennec. Two of the sticks in the museum have this kind of tip—a decorative element for which we have no explanation.

The use of throwsticks

We do not know exactly how Egyptian throwsticks were used, but it is tempting to look for clues in the identical sticks that are still used as dice in board games in the Arabo-Muslim world. They are used in sets of four, six, or eight, according to country.

The sides of the sticks are differentiated by color: black and white, or white and green. Players throw them on the ground, and points are determined according to the number of black or white sides that land face up.

The Egyptian game of Tab requires four black and white sticks. The combination of 1 white + 3 black faces allows a player to place 1 piece on the board, or earns him 1 point (to advance one square); 2 whites + 2 blacks = 2 points; 3 whites + 1 black = 3 points; 4 whites = 4 points; 4 black = 6 points.

It seems likely that throwsticks were similarly used in ancient times.

Technical description

  • Trois baguettes de jeu

    Nouvel Empire, vers 1550 - 1069 avant J.-C.

  • os

    l. : 18 cm.

  • Don Tyszkiewicz

    E 3674, E 3675, E 3676

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Room 329
    Vitrine 7 : Jeux à damiers

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