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Mehen or the Game of the Snake was one of the first known multi-player board games of ancient Egypt

David Goran

Among the many different kinds of games that existed in ancient Egypt, this game, known as  Mehen or the Game of the Snake, is one of the first known spiral track and multi-player board games played by the ancient Egyptians.

Its name (Mehen, meaning coiled one) was a name for both a snake-god and a board game, and it is believed that it held deep religious significance for players at the time.

It was played very early in Egypt’s history, and evidence of the game has been found dating from the Predynastic Period to the end of the Old Kingdom (about 2613-2160 BC).

The only multi-player ancient Egyptian board game  Photo Credit

The only multi-player ancient Egyptian board game Photo Credit

 

Back view Game board from King Peribsen’s grave, 2d dynasty ( 2770-2650 BC )  Photo Credit

Back view Game board from King Peribsen’s grave, 2d dynasty ( 2770-2650 BC ) Photo Credit

 

Some of the most reliable evidence refers to the Old Kingdom from the paintings which were found in many Egyptian tombs, showing people playing the game.

More than a dozen sets of this game were found and the game seemed to have been played with pieces in the shape of lions and lionesses made from ivory and small spheres that resembled marbles.

The rules and the method of playing are unknown but it is thought that up to six players could play and it is considered the first multi-player game since all other games of the time were two player games.

One example of Mehen  Photo Credit

One example of Mehen Photo Credit

 

Mehen game board from the tomb of Seth Peribsen in Abydos, on display at the Louvres Museum Photo Credit

Mehen game board from the tomb of Seth Peribsen in Abydos, on display at the Louvres Museum Photo Credit

Lioness game piece made from ivory  Photo Credit

Lioness game piece made from ivory Photo Credit

The center of the board was the head of the snake with dozens of playing rectangular spaces along the length of its body.

It is assumed that each player has three lion pieces and six marbles and the games start at the tail of the snake, which is along the outer edge of the board. Each player moves their marble-like pieces until they reach the snake’s head, so the winner is the player whose lion first captures all of his opponent’s marbles.

Mehen game with gemstones, from Abydos, Egypt, 3.000 BC, Neues Museum  Photo Credit

Mehen game with gemstones, from Abydos, Egypt, 3.000 BC, Neues Museum Photo Credit

 

Exhibit in the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA  Photo Credit

Exhibit in the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA Photo Credit

After the Old Kingdom, the game died out, and it was no longer played in Egypt, but it was played and became popular outside of Egypt, in places such as Palestine, Syria, Cyprus, and Crete.

Read another story from us: One of the oldest board games known to man is the game of Backgammon

In the 1920s, anthropologists found a similar Arab game, played by the Baggara Arabs of the Sudan which was known as the “Hyena Game.“ It shared very similar characteristics of the board and the pieces to this ancient Egyptian game, differing in the fact that the ancient Egyptians allotted six counters to each player rather than one.

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