An intense battle of wits, a strategic masterpiece, unwavering focus, and infinite patience—this is Chess, the timeless and renowned board game that has captivated cultures throughout history. While the roots of chess as we know it can be traced back to ancient India nearly 1500 years ago, it is believed that its true origins are deeply intertwined with an ancient Egyptian game called Senet.
Can you imagine a game that bridges the gap between life and death? A game that holds religious significance and dates back to ancient Egypt?
Prepare to delve into the origins of chess and discover its ties to Senet, an intriguing board game steeped in history and culture.
What Is Senet?
According to Egyptian mythology, Senet was devised by the god Thoth, the embodiment of wisdom. Senet held great religious significance, symbolizing the passage between the realms of the living and the dead. Given the ancient Egyptians’ fascination with the afterlife, it’s no surprise that even their board games reflected their beliefs.
Senet gained significant prominence when four Senet board games were discovered in the illustrious tomb of King Tutankhamun. Crafted from exquisite materials such as ebony wood and ivory, these boards were a testament to the game’s significance. It’s worth noting that common people would typically play Senet using pottery boards, which paled in comparison to the grandeur of those found in the tomb.
An intriguing depiction of Queen Nefertari, the wife of Ramses II, engaging in a game resembling Senet can be found in her tomb. This artwork suggests her preparation for the journey into the afterlife, implying that she and Ramses may have played Senet together.
Rules and Gameplay
The rules of Senet have been somewhat obscured by the mists of time, leaving us with fragmented explanations. Unfortunately, no recorded evidence exists on the ancient Egyptian monuments. However, the prevailing theory suggests that players took turns throwing sticks or dice, with the player obtaining the higher number gaining an advantage to move their pieces first.
The game board consisted of 30 squares arranged in 10 rows and three columns. The objective was to be the first to reach the other side, signifying a successful journey to the afterlife. Conversely, the loser would be condemned to the underworld for eternity.
Senet’s Connection to the God of Death
Osiris, the Egyptian god who presided over the afterlife, was one of the most revered and feared deities. Senet mirrors Osiris’s judgment methods and rules, as he determined the fate of departed souls—a concept strikingly similar to the game. Historical speculations even hint at Senet being an instrument of Osiris, as referenced in the Book of the Dead:
for being in the following of Osiris, and being content with the food of Wennefer,Book Of The Dead
going out by day, taking any form desired to be taken,
playing the board-game senet, being in the pavilion, a living soul,
the Osiris among the revered before the great Ennead which is in the west, after he moors.
Senet’s Enduring Legacy:
To this day, replicas of Senet are manufactured, allowing modern enthusiasts to experience a game that is forever shrouded in mystery. While the true rules remain unknown, the allure of Senet lies in imagining how the ancient pharaohs played and strategized while ruling the world.
The influence of Senet on the development of chess is remarkable. Both games share similarities in strategic thinking, foresight, and calculations. Senet’s legacy may have contributed to the evolution of chess, enhancing the skills required to master this timeless game. Imagine the kind of player you would be and the skills you could develop by engaging in both chess and Senet. The possibilities are endless.
As we celebrate International Chess Day, it’s essential to acknowledge the deep-rooted origins of chess and its connection to ancient games like Senet. From the strategic battles of ancient Egypt to the global fascination with chess, these games continue to captivate hearts and minds. Through exploring the history and legacy of Senet, we gain a deeper appreciation for the timeless appeal and enduring qualities of chess. So, are you ready to make your move?