Playing with Death: Games in the Ancient World

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
July 26, 2021 - August 11, 20217/26 - 8/112 WeeksOnlineOpenOnlineShane Thompson

Course Description

The vast majority of courses taught on ancient history and/or religion focus on the presentation of facts in a lecture style. This course will do the opposite. In focusing on the games of the ancient world, the majority of which deal with the overarching theme of the afterlife, students will learn the history and religion of these cultures in a novel way. At the conclusion of each section, the students themselves will participate in the games which have been discussed. The final class period will focus on games and religion in the modern world, showing a clear correlation with the ancient mindset and further demystifying these ancient cultures.

This course will begin with a section on Ancient Egypt, focusing on the board games Hounds and Jackals and Senet. In presenting these games, students will receive a concise overview of Egyptian history, religion, and society. Both of these games have a religious context, generally related to the afterlife. They are also commonly found in burial settings, providing students with knowledge of Egyptian burial practices and archaeology. The next section will be on Mesopotamia. Students will be introduced to the religion, history, and society of these cultures through the lens of games. The Royal Game of Ur will be discussed, as will the advent of sports, such as boxing and lion hunting. Following, a section on the Classical World will focus primarily on the Ancient Greek Olympics. Students will also be introduced to Mesoamerican culture focusing on the Mesoamerican Ball Game. As the course has progressively traveled forward in time, we will conclude with a section on religion and games in the modern world. As the students have learned about and experienced these ancient games, they will be able to make connections with modern society.

The primary goal of this course is to introduce students to the study of the ancient world through a new lens which will make these societies approachable to the modern human. It will be shown that these cultures are not as foreign and distant as many tend to believe.

Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CECL0918

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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