The Game of Senet and
Ancient Egyptian Religious Beliefs

Peter A. Piccione, Ph.D.


This study is a revision of the doctoral dissertation, "The Historical Development of the Game of Senet and its Significance for Egyptian Religion" (University of Chicago, 1990). Over the years, it benefited greatly from the assistance of many colleagues and friends. The members of my dissertation committee were generous with their time and insight: Edward Wente, Janet Johnson, Robert Biggs, and the late Klaus Baer and Helene Kantor. I am particularly grateful to Robert Biggs, who stepped in unhesitatingly and replaced Klaus after the latter's untimely death in 1987.

I originally performed most of the field work for this study in 1979 and 1980 while employed by the Oriental Institute Epigraphic Survey at Chicago House, Luxor. Thereafter, further field work was made possible by a grant from the University of Chicago through its overseas grant program for dissertation research. Between 1984 and 1991, I was able to add to my corpus of senet boards during various stays working in Egypt on expeditions.

Very special thanks are due to the Supreme Council for Egyptian Antiquities for permitting me to conduct research in the necropoli of Giza, Saqqara, Abu Sir, Western Thebes, and Aswan. Many thanks also to officials in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, for their permission to conduct research there and for their active assistance in the course of that work. The Oriental Institute provided me with significant logistical support for my research in Chicago. Similarly, I wish to acknowledge Dorothea Arnold of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as Timothy Kendall, then of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for allowing me to examine gameboards in their respective collections and for providing photographs for study. Likewise, the British Museum, London, T. G. H. James and Vivian Davies, deserve special mention for the consideration which they showed to me and for allowing me complete access to the collection of Egyptian and Mesopotamian gameboards.

Other individuals or institutions who rendered advice or provided information in one form or another were: Eugene Cruz-Uribe, Helen Jacquet, Herman teVelde, Peter Dorman, Richard Jasnow, Joseph Manning, John Darnell, Geoffrey Martin, Rainer Stadelmann, Laszlo Kakosy, John Larson, Jeanny Vorys Canby, May Trad, Robert Ritner, Dianne Campoy, William Murnane, Peter Lacovara, Carolyn Andrews, Irving Finkel, Henk Milde, Karl Seyfried, the Ashmolean Museum, Jaromir Malek and the Griffith Institute, Labib Habachi, the Inspectorates of Antiquities in Giza, Saqqara, Mallawi, Assiut, Qena, Luxor (East and West Banks), Edfu, and Aswan, the Zagazig Museum, the Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, the University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archaeology, and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Kairo.

In its early phases, this study was facilitated by the advice of the late Henri Wild and Winfried Needler who freely shared so much of their data with me. Sadly, neither lived to see the completion of the dissertation. W. Raymond Johnson, who has been a constant friend, inked in several of the drawings, including the synoptic edition of the great game-text. Mr. Chuck Jones, director of the Research Archives of the Oriental Institute, deserves very special mention for his assistance, empathy, and the answers to my many bibliographical questions over the years.

I must also acknowledge the unflagging moral, professional and technical support of the staff of the Epigraphic Survey at Chicago House, while I was employed there.

Table of Contents
  Chapter I. Toward a Definition of Senet
                 Defining the Game of Senet
                   The System of Numbering the Squares
                 The Typology of Senet Boards
                   Slab-style Senet Board
                   Graffito Senet Board
                   Box-type Senet Board
                 Peripheral Equipment for the Senet Game
                  Casting Sticks
                  Teetotem Dice
 Chapter II. Senet from the Predynastic Period Through the Middle Kingdom
                 Senet and Draught-Games Prior to the Old Kingdom
                 Senet in the Old and Middle Kingdoms
                  The Mastaba of Hzy-R' 
                  The Mastaba of R' -Htp
                  The Senet Boards of el-Hawawish
                  The Coffin of the Lady 'It
                 Senet Boards of the Old and Middle Kingdoms
                  Graffito Boards
                  Synthesis of the Board Decoration
                 Representations of Senet-playing
                  Senet-scenes of the Old and Middle Kingdoms
                  The Model Boats of Nfwi and Mk.t-R' and the
                    Orientation of the Players
                  Synthesis of the Senet-Scenes
                 Senet in the Coffin Texts
                  CT Spell 405: Communication with the Hereafter
                  CT Spell 1019: Passing Through the Necropolis
                 A Spiritual Meaning for Gaming Draughtsmen

Chapter III. The Senet-Related Inscriptions of the New Kingdom and Later
                  Defining the Textual Sources
                  The Game-Texts: Generic Description
                 The Great Game-Text
                  Documentation of the Variants
                   pCairo 58037
                   Tomb of Inherkhau (TT No. 359)
                   pTurin 1.775
                 The Great Game-Text:Translation and Commentary
                  General Remarks
                  Textual and Grammatical Commentary
                 The Tjaynefer Game-Text
                  Documentation and Description
                  Text A
                   Textual and Grammatical Commentary
                  Text B
                   Textual and Grammatical Commentary
                  Text C
                   Textual and Grammatical Commentary
                 Heading from the Tomb of Amenemopet (TT No. 265)
                  Textual and Grammatical Commentary
                 The Petosiris Game-text
                  Documentation and Description
                  Translation and Commentary
                   Textual and Grammatical Commentary

 Chapter IV. Analysis and Synthesis of the Great Game-Text
                 The Great Game-Text as Religious Process
                 The Funerary Character of the Great Game-Text
                 The Concept of "Passing" and Notions about Initiation
                   in the Senet Process
                  The Senet Game and the Nature of "Passing"
                  The Senet-playing in the Tomb of Sennedjem (TT No. 1)
                  Senet, "Passage" and Initiation
                  The Origins of Afterlife Passage in the Senet Game
                 Mehen, God of Mysteries
                  Mehen as Ally
                  Mehen, Foremost of Senet
                  Mehen as Guide
                  Mehen as Initiator
                 Thoth, First of the Thirty
                 The Council of the Thirty: History, Cosmology and
                   Meaning for Senet

  Chapter V. Isolating a Senet-Based Religious Ritual
                 The Pattern of Decoration in Squares No. 26-30 of the
                    Senet Board
                  The Sequence of the Squares on New Kingdom Senet Boards
                  The Game-Squares of ROM 922.17 (D.195)
                 Senet-Scenes of the New Kingdom
                 Senet in Book of the Dead Chapter 17
                  Coffin Text Spell 335: Predecessor of BD 17
                  Book of the Dead Chapter 17
                  The Vignettes of BD 17 and Representations of Playing Senet
                  The Dissociation of Senet from Book of the Dead Chapter 17
                 Turin Papyrus 1.775 and the Senet Ritual
                  The Sequence of Squares in the Great Game-Text
                  The Orientation of the Game-Squares
                  The Unified Character of pTurin 1.775
                  The Text of Tjaynefer and Amenemopet
                 The Ritualized Usage of the Senet Board
                  The Manipulation of pTurin 1.775
                   The Physical Evidence
                   The Decorative Evidence

 Chapter VI. The Later History of Senet and Its Calendrical Associations
                 The Later History of Senet
                  Rhampsinitus and the Game of Senet
                  Senet and Setne Khamwas 1
                  Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 470
                 The Calendrical Implications of the Senet Game
                  The Houses of Thoth and Horus
                  The Sixth Day Feast
                  The Feast of the Mid-Month
                 Senet and the Reconciliation of Solar and Lunar Cosmologies

Chapter VII. Conclusions: Senet in a Religious Context
                 The Evidence of a Senet Ritual
                  The Essence of the Ritual
                  The Circumstances and Location of the Ritual
                  The Participants in the Senet Ritual
                 Passage and Renewal: The Underlying Themes

     A. Corpus of Ancient Egyptian Senet Boards

     B. List of Decorated Squares No. 26-30 of Egyptian Senet Boards

     C. List of Senet-scenes of the New Kingdom and Later

     D. List of Citations: Senet References in CT Spell 335 and Chapter 17
          of the Book of the Dead

     E. Selected Scenes of Senet-playing



© 2003 p. piccione.
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