Mehen, the Serpent Game
Limestone Mehen gaming board (also known as the Serpent game or Game of the Snake)
Old Kingdom, 4th-6th Dynasty, c. 2543-2152 B.C.
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Netherlands. F 1968/3.1
The earliest known existence of the Serpent Game dates from the Naqada II, Pre-Dynastic Period of Ancient Egypt, c. 3600-3200 B.C. There is a depiction of the game being played in the Old Kingdom tomb of Hesy-Ra, dating from c. 2650 B.C.
No board and pieces have ever been found together, however, pieces that are used to play the game, such as lion figures and marble like balls made of limestone have been discovered, some lion figures even dating to the First Dynasty found by Sir Flinders Petrie.
Mehen (Coptic = Ⲙⲉϩⲉⲛ) was a serpent deity. The name Mehen means “coiled one”. Although, no one is really sure of what the game consists of, acknowledgement to the deity make educated guesses that it may have had a spiritual aspect, therefore some propose the game may have similarities to the mythology surrounding Mehen and the sun god Ra. Mehen, the snake god, was a protective deity, keeping Ra safe during his journey through the underworld. The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, suggests that the coiled nature of the snake could be a path for the player to use his or her ball to get to the centre to protect the sun god Ra, with the lion figures somewhat acting as pawns to prevent this. However, for now, these are ideas and nothing has been truly certified.