Ivory game box


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

Ivory carving flourished in Cyprus in the twelfth century BC, with a rich mixture of influences from Mycenaean Greece and from the East. The ivory itself must have been imported from Egypt or Syria. This gaming box has its top laid out for a board game; the playing pieces were probably kept inside. The layout is for the 'game of twenty squares', which had a long history: similar game boxes were used in Ur in the third millennium BC, and Egypt of the New Kingdom (about 1550-1070 BC). Sadly, though, we do not know how the game was played. The box is beautifully carved, and must have been a rare and valuable object. The sides of the box are decorated with animal scenes and scenes of the hunt. On the best-preserved of the two long sides a figure, perhaps a king, stands in a chariot drawing his bow. His charioteer controls the pair of horses pulling the light, two-wheeled chariot, while behind him a man on foot carries an axe, presumably to despatch any wounded prey. A third hunter, on the extreme left, stabs a lion with his spear. Five animals, apparently a mixture of deer, wild goats and bulls, flee the hunters, but a third, larger bull, pierced by an arrow, has turned with his head down to charge the oncoming chariot. A large bird is shown over the horses' backs, and a hunting dog runs beside the horses. The style of this hunting scene, and the similar, though rather less well-preserved scene on the other side, show a strong influence from Western Asia. In contrast, the ends of the box are very Mycenaean Greek in style, one showing a pair of bulls sitting quietly in front of a tree; the other two goats flanking a central tree.


  • Title: Ivory game box
  • Date Created: -1250/-1050
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 29.10cm; Width: 8.10cm; Height: 6.30cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: carved
  • Subject: hunting/shooting; charioteer/chariot
  • Registration number: 1897,0401.996
  • Production place: Made in Cyprus
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Enkomi
  • Period/culture: Late Cypriot IIC; Late Cypriot III
  • Material: ivory
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Excavated by Turner Bequest Excavations, Enkomi. Funded by Turner, Emma Tourner

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