Games for your mind

Board games history: the great-grandfathers of chess

Posted on: December 17, 2009

Lewis chess set

Ancient Lewis chess set

Currently, the oldest board game of the world is the Egyptian Senet, dated 3500 BC. Senet is mentioned in the Book of the Dead, the Egyptian funerary text which describes the afterlife believes of this ancient civility.
It was believed that winning players of Senet were protected by the tree most powerful gods of ancient Egypt: Ra, Thoth and Osiris.
The Senet is played on a bridge of thirty boxes, while on the back, a second plank of twenty boxes were used for another game called Tjau, but we don’t know with certainty the rules of the game.

king chess piece

King chess piece

Senet game board really similar to the chess one and for this reason many scholars think that this ancient Egyptian board game is the great-great-grandfather of the game of chess.
Four sets to play Senet, handmade carved in ivory, were discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1333 BC.
Another ancient board game is the chess set of the Scottish island of Lewis, consisting of 78 pieces of Nordic origin made with Ivory and whale bones. The Isle of Lewis Chess Set is a really piece of games archaeology and dates back to the twelfth century (1150-1170 AD) and perhaps, it is the only examples to date of existing medieval chess.

Chess Bishop

Bishop chess piece

However some scholars believe, that those on the island of Lewis are not real chess: according to a recent research the pieces could be used to play Hnefatafl, a medieval war game extremely popular in Scandinavia and very similar to chess, but played on a bigger game board and with more pieces (8 King, 8 queens, 16 bishops, 15 riders, 12 towers and 19 pawns).
Probably these Chess looking like pieces have been lost or abandoned by some Nordic merchant and the Scottish island of Lewis.
Currently 67 pieces are kept at the British Museum, while the other 11 are located at the Royal Museum of Scotland.


Medieval Chess Set

Medieval Chess Set

5 Responses to "Board games history: the great-grandfathers of chess"

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The Senet gameboard is a grid of thirty squares, arranged in three rows of ten. A senet game has two sets of pawns. The actual rules of the game are a topic of some debate, although historians have made educated guesses.

Thanks for sharing this great info!

Dang, I did not realize board games were this old…
I actually believed we invented them a few hundred years ago 🙂

wow, it’s pretty cool to see those ancient chess pieces. It’s obviously a complete classic, one of the greatest, if not the absolute greatest board game ever. But this reminds me of the great history behind the game. How it represents the days of true kings, queens, and horsemen/knights. Epic game, great photos.

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