• Tastes Of History

Ludi: the ancient Egyptian game of Mehen

Mehen is an ancient Egyptian game references to which have been found already in the predynastic period before 3100 BC. The gameboard is in the form of a spiral representing a coiled snake with the snake’s head in the centre of the disk. The name Mehen can refer to the spiral form of the game or its representation of the Egyptian snake-god Mehen. Unfortunately, the original rules of the game are unknown.

Egypt, it is known that Mehen was also played in Cyprus and in Jordan, near the Dead Sea region, where examples of the game have been found at some archaeological sites.


Mehen was unique from other Egyptian games in that it seems to have been a multi-player game involving up to six players. Examples of the game have been found with six playing pieces in the shapes of dogs, hippos, and most commonly, lions. Accompanying these pieces were round balls the use of which is uncertain. The number of cells in the coil of the game board varies from as low as 40 to as high as 400, but it seems the number of cells did not affect the rules of the game. A complete set of Mehen is depicted in a fresco in the Mastaba of Hesy-re at Saqqara [1].


From the archaeological record, it appears that Mehen fell out of favour from the end of the Old Kingdom, about 2300 BC, and was thereafter replaced by Senet and Aseb. Yet Mehen did not completely vanish. In 1925, a British Colonial Administrator in Sudan, Reginald Davies, recorded a game called Lib El Merafib, the ‘Hyena Game’, played by Kababish Arabs of Northern Sudan, in Nubia, which closely resembles Mehen. The ‘Hyena Game’ was also played on a spiral board with all the pieces needing to reach the well in the centre and then eaten by the hyena on their way back.

 

Endnotes:


1. (Wikipedia) The Mastaba of Hesy-re is an ancient Egyptian tomb complex in the great necropolis of Saqqara in Egypt. It is the final resting place of the high official Hesy-re, who served in office during the Third Dynasty under King Djoser (Netjerikhet). His large mastaba is renowned for its well-preserved wall paintings and relief panels made from imported Lebanese cedar, which are today considered masterpieces of Old Kingdom wood carving. The mastaba itself is the earliest example of a painted tomb from the Old Kingdom and the only known example from the Third Dynasty. The tomb was excavated by the Egyptologists Auguste Mariette and James Edward Quibell.

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