EGYPTIAN ALABASTER SENET COUNTERS
Measurements: ranging from 2.3 cm to 2.9 cm − diameter
Description: Two sets of five carved alabaster discoid counters used in the Egyptian game of Senet, meaning "game of passing". It is one of the oldest known board games: fragmentary boards have been found in the First Dynasty burials in Egypt dating from 3100 BC. The game board is a grid of thirty squares, arranged in three rows of ten. The game requires two sets of counters and at least five counters must be in each set. The two players maneuvered their counters through the squares on the throw of dice-like casting sticks or bones, passing one another in an attempt to gain the superior position on the board. During the Eighteenth Dynasty Senet underwent some changes: each player began to use five counters instead of seven, and the board was built into a self-contained wooden box with a drawer to house the counters and casting sticks. These particular counters likely date from this period or after, and therefore constitute two complete sets of five counters.
Whilst these pieces are simply designed, sets of counters depicting jackals and the heads of Bes are known, demonstrating that players would use distinct sets of counters to differentiate themselves on the board, and that those counters depicting the heads of deities were likely funerary. Indeed, those counters made from costlier materials, such as ebony and ivory, likely belonged to wealthy or royal owners, as opposed to counters made from commoner materials such as alabaster. In the tomb of Tutankhamun, for example, no less than four Senet game boards were uncovered, the grandest of which was made of ivory, ebony and gold.
On some Senet game boards certain squares have names or signs attributed to them, some of which are of deities. It may be conjectured that the named or signed squares had religious powers attributed to them. There is evidence of religious and mythological meaning being attached to the game, such as in Chapter XVII of the Book of the Dead, in which Senet is described as one of the occupations of the deceased person in the next world.
Provenance: Ex. English collection, 1930's.
Reference: The British Museum
Further reading: Piccione, P. A., In Search of the Meaning of Senet, 1980.
Timothy, K., Passing Through the Netherworld: The Meaning and Play of Senet, an Ancient Egyptian Funerary Game, 1978.
Period: New Kingdom: 1550-1077 BC
Condition: Very fine, intact, minor chipping to the edges of the majority of the counters and considerable chipping to four counters.
St James’s Ancient Art
10 Charles II Street
London SW1Y 4AA
Tel : +447833231322
(primary contact number)
G E T S O C I A L W I T H US
For other payments please contact us: 07833231322 or 02083644565