Ancient Egyptian Games: Hounds and Jackals

1956 movie The 10 Commandments
The statues and pyramids, the Nile river and the desert, the hieroglyphics and the Rosetta Stone get all the press, but the ancient Egyptians enjoyment of play and especially games from athletic demonstrations of strength to board games which we’ll focus upon the most popular one here.  They had toys made of clay and wood and fashioned balls out of leather. They loved to dance and also loved to swim in the Nile River. Board games and pictures depicting people dancing in circles have been found in tombs dating back thousands of years.

Hounds and Jackals is an ancient Egyptian game, which came into existence during the Middle Kingdom (circa 2135 – 1986 BCE).  It is a racing game, in the same category as Senet, Aseb, and the Royal Game of Ur.


The game was originally discovered by William Mathew Flinders Petrie and published by him in 1890. Since then over 40 examples of the game have been found in Egypt, Israel, Syria, Iran and around the Levant and Mediterranean.

The original name of the game is unknown. Petrie called The Game of 58 Holes, since the game board that he found contained two sets of 29 holes. Later, when Howard Carter discovered the fanciest known copy of the game, the modern name was invented,The Game of Hounds and Jackals, since the playing pieces had heads of dogs and jackals on them.  Carter found one complete gaming set in a Theban tomb that dates to the 13th Dynasty. A third, least common, common name for the game was Shen for the Egyptian hieroglyph which was written on some of the examples, around the big hole at the top of the game.


The original rules for Hounds and Jackals are unknown. There have been many reconstruction attempts by historians and archaeologists. Gaming pieces are ten small sticks with either jackal or dog heads. The aim of the game was perhaps to start at one point on the board and to reach with all figures another point on the board. Players navigate their ivory pegs through the holes on the surface by rolling sticks, dice or knuckle-bones. To win, a player must be the first one to move all of their five pieces off the board.  In the 1956 movie The 10 Commandments, Pharaoh Seti and Nefretiri are depicted playing the game.

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