A Brief History of Sport – Well At Least up to the Middle Ages

The history of sports

We're all about myths and legends here are Myth*Ing Persons so rather than bore you with a full and unadulterated history of sport we're only going to discuss its progress as far as the Middle Ages. After that sport was pretty much well on its way to being a popular pastime and for us it's what happened before that is more interesting. The further back we go in time, the more difficult it is to reliably chart its history, but we'll give it our best shot as we've done lots of research and can share with you the evidence that others have found.

Prehistoric sports

Evidence has been found that suggest sporting events such as sprinting and wrestling were taking place as long as 15,300 years ago in the Upper Paleolithic period. The evidence is in the form of cave paintings that were found in the Lascaux caves in France. A wrestling match was depicted in a cave painting found in the Bayankhongor Province of Mongolia that was done during the Neolithic age, 7000 BCE. There has also been rock art depicting swimming and archery that was created around 6000 BCE. And prehistoric cave painting found in Japan show a sport that looks remarkably like sumo wrestling.

Sport in Sumerian civilization

Again it is wrestling that appears to have been a popular sport in Sumerian civilization. A number of representations have been found made on stone slabs. One, for example, shows three pairs of wrestlers and is though to date from around 3000 BCE. A bronze figurine, dated around 2600 BCE shows two figures in a wrestling hold. The figurine was found at Khafaji, Iraq. Boxing can also be traced back to ancient Summer. Historical records from The Epic of Gilgamesh tell of him taking part in a form of belt wrestling with Enkidu. During excavations at Ur, fishing hooks that look very similar to the ones we use today indicate that angling was also a popular sport.

Sport in Ancient Egypt

Monuments that were built for the Pharaohs contain evidence that sport was enjoyed. These sports included wrestling, swimming, rowing, shooting, long jump, fishing, weightlifting and athletics. Ball games were also very popular in Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptians also enjoyed throwing the javelin and the high jump.

Sport in Ancient Greece

The Ancient Greeks we've got to thank for the first instituted sports events, with the first Olympic Games being recorded as held in 776 BCE. The games were held in Olympia until 393 CE. They were held every four years, the same as they are today. The first events were initially just one sprinting event but over time other events were added. These include more footraces, both run naked and run wearing armor, boxing, wrestling, long jump, javelin throw, chariot racing and discus. Winners were given laurel wreaths and countries were able to participate in safety thanks to an Olympic Truce.

Other important sporting events held in Ancient Greece were the Isthmian games, the Pythian Games and the Nemean Games. The first recorded sporting event for women was held in the 6th century BC and was called the Heraean Games.

Other ancient sporting events

Other sporting events that are known to have taken place more than 2,500 years ago include hurling events that were held in Ireland, shinty events in Scotland, and harpastum (a game very similar to rugby) that was held in Rome. The Chinese were known for playing a game that was very like association football, called cuju. And in Persia they played polo.

The first game played using a ball was played around 2500 BCE. It is thought to be the Mayan ballgame of Pitz. Much evidence has been found to indicate that the Chinese were enjoying sports in 2000 BCE. One of the most popular was gymnastics. In the USA, a polished bone has been found, dating from around 5000 BCE that could have been used in a type of ring and pin game. It was found at Eva in Tennessee and is the earliest evidence of sports found in America.

It is possible that many of the team sports we enjoy today began as a way of training and for people to show how capable they were of fighting and working as a team. Whatever the reason, sport is a great way of looking at how we've changed socially over the years and how it has been involved in our development.