There is much evidence for the leisure activities of the ancient Egyptians. Men engaged in physical sports, such as hunting, fishing, archery, wrestling, boxing, and stick fencing. Long-distance races were organized to demonstrate physical prowess, and both men and women enjoyed swimming. Board games were popular, and games boards were constructed of a number of materials: wood, stone, clay, or simple drawings scratched on the ground. Moves on board games were determined by throw sticks, astragali (animal anklebones), or after the late New Kingdom, cubic dice that were usually marked in the same pattern used today. One of the most common games was senet, which was played on a board of thirty squares divided into three rows of ten squares. Like so many other aspects of Egyptian culture, senet had a religious significance, and the game was likened to passing through the underworld.
The “twenty square game,” which originated in Sumer and was known through the entire ancient Near East and Cyprus, was played on a rectangular board divided into three rows of four, twelve, and four squares, respectively. Both senet and twenty squares were played by two opponents. Another ancient game was mehen, played by several players on a round board that looked like a coiled snake. The playing pieces, tiny lions and small balls, were moved from the tail of the snake to the goal on its head. Although this game was played in Egypt only during the Old Kingdom, it continued to be played in Cyprus for another 1,000 years.
Tomb paintings indicate that banquets were a popular form of relaxation, at least for the upper class. At such events food, alcoholic beverages, music, and dancing were common forms of entertainment. The organization of the tomb scenes may be misleading, it seems that proprieties of the times kept male and female guests seated in separate areas although men and women performed together.
The foundation of all daily or banquet meals, regardless of social class, was the same: bread, beer, and vegetables. The latter included leeks, onions, garlic, a number of pulses (beans, peas, lentils, etc.), and several varieties of melons. Wealthier Egyptians had more opportunities to enjoy red meat, fowl, honey-sweetened cakes and other delicacies. Lower-class Egyptians relied on fish and fowl for most of their meat proteins. The ready availability of wild fish and fowl made them inexpensive, while beef and, to a varying extent, other red meats were expensive and considered by many to be a luxury.
The national drink in ancient Egypt was beer, and all ancient Egyptians–rich and poor, male and female–drank great quantities of it. Wages were paid in grain, which was used to make two staples of the Egyptian diet: bread and beer. Beer was made from barley dough, so bread making and beer making are often shown together. Barley dough destined for beer making was partially baked and then crumbled into a large vat, where it was mixed with water and sometimes sweetened with date juice. This mixture was left to ferment, which it did quickly; the liquid was then strained into a pot that was sealed with a clay stopper. Ancient Egyptian beer had to be drunk soon after it was made because it went flat very quickly. Egyptians made a variety of beers of different strengths. Strength was calculated according to how many standard measures of the liquid was made from one hekat (4.54 liters) of barley; thus, beer of strength two was stronger than beer of strength ten.