Ancient Egyptians played a game similar to chess called “Senet”

Ancient Egyptian legends say that Nut and Geb wanted to link together in a marital relationship, but Ra rejected this association. The two grandchildren of Ra disagreed with his opinion and united – but this union did not last long. As soon as Shaw, the Lord of the Air, separated them, Nut became the sky and Jeb became the Earth. Although they separated, this did not cause Ra to be satisfied. Rather, he cursed the two, depriving them of childbearing.

 Nut shall not give birth any day of the year.

Ra’s decree

Nut was greatly affected by the lack of reproduction. She asked for help from Thoth and pleaded with him. Indeed, Thoth agreed to help the glamorous goddess of the sky by playing a game with Khonsu. Based on the legend that caused this game, the ancient Egyptians believed that the winning player in it would be protected from the idol Ra and the idol Thoth.

So, what is that game? How did Thoth help the goddess of heaven, Nut?

Senet: Ancient Chess

The ancient Egyptian legend says that thanks to the game Senet, the Lord of Wisdom Thoth managed to win against the god of the Moon, and he extended the year by five days with extra moonlight so Nut and Geb could escape the punishment of Ra and have children. Indeed, Nut was able to bear five children in those five days. She gave birth to Osiris, Set, Isis, Nephthys, and Horus.

As a result, Senet has become one of the most popular games in ancient Egypt. Two competing people played it, either on sculpted paintings such as the one that was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun in Luxor (currently located in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square in Cairo), or it was drawn directly to the ground.

Senet
Image: A Senet board from the collections of Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California.

The game Senet is very similar to the current game of chess. It was composed of 30 squares in three rows, and each row had 10 squares. Pawns would move in those squares, but it is not yet known how exactly the game worked.

In the era of the New Kingdom (1550-1077 BC), the game Senet was associated with the journey of the dead to the hereafter. It was a talisman that was engraved or carved into the ancient graves and on the walls and placed it next to the deceased in order to help him cross into the hereafter. This is in addition to that it also mentioned in the Book of the Dead, which is one of the oldest religious books known in the ancient world.

Thus, consider the ancient Egyptians who played Senet as the first to know chess, a natural development from the Senet game!

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