Playing with Death: Games in the Ancient World

Course Description

What were ancient peoples really like? Did they have the same desires, emotions, and needs as we do today? How did they cope with larger questions about existence and life? Were games played for fun? Or were they played to contend with larger questions about life and death? Can it be both? These are just a few of the questions which we will touch on as we use ancient games as a lens to examine the ancient world. Far too often, the peoples of ancient societies are characterized as too distant to understand, but weren’t these people simply humans just like us? By examining these cultures through their games, we will see both the playful humanity present in our own games and sports but also the struggle to deal with questions about mortality that still exist today. In addition, we will see some of the problems which scholars face when attempting to reconstruct aspects of ancient society.

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 you with knowledge of Egyptian burial practices and archaeology. The next section will be on Mesopotamia. You 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. You 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 you have learned about and experienced these ancient games, you will be able to make connections with modern society.

During this course, you are going:

• To see the peoples of the ancient world not as distant relics, but humans just like us;
• To problematize the issues surrounding scholarly reconstructions of ancient cultures, particularly through games;
• To experiment in creating alternate interpretations of written tradition and material culture; and
• To play ancient games and have fun while doing so (and also maybe find the answers to life after death?)!


There are no prerequisites.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: July 11, 2022 - July 22, 2022
Duration: 2 Weeks
Meeting Times: Online - Asynchronous
Status: Closed
Format: Online
Instructor(s): Shane Thompson
Course Number: 10229