A BRIEF HISTORY OF SPORTS
By Tim Lambert
In Ancient Egypt men and women went swimming. Men also enjoyed boxing, wrestling and archery. They also played a game which involved standing on a boat and trying to knock the opposing team into the water with a stick.
The Olympic Games
In Ancient Greece athletic competitions were held during religious festivals in every Greek city. However the Olympic Games began in Olympia in 776 BC in honour of Zeus, the chief god and people came from all over Greece and the Greek colonies to take part in them. Wars stopped to allow everyone to take part.
Athletes competed in boxing, wrestling, running, horse racing, chariot racing and the pentathlon (five athletic events). Winners were not given medals. Instead they were given a crown of leaves.
Women were not allowed to take part in the games. They were not even allowed to watch. (If they were caught watching they were executed by being thrown off a cliff).
In Rome and other major cities in the Roman Empire gladiators were men (or sometimes women) who fought, sometimes to the death to provide entertainment.
The first gladiators fought in 264 BC at a funeral. Six gladiators fought to entertain the guests. The word gladiator means a man who fights with a gladius (a short sword) and the word for a gladiatorial fight was a munus, which means a duty owed to the dead.
In time gladiatorial fights became separated from funerals. They evolved into public shows put on by rich Roman politicians to please their supporters. Eventually Roman Emperors were expected to put on costly shows to keep the poor people of Rome happy.
At first gladiators were slaves but later some were criminals who were sentenced to be fight for a set period of time or a set number of games. Surprisingly some people volunteered to be gladiators. Again they fought for a set period of time or number of games and were given a large sum of money if they survived.
A gladiator training school was called a ludus. At its head was the owner and trainer of gladiators, called a lanista. Among types of gladiator were the Thracian, who carried a small round shield called a parma and a retiarius who carried a fishnet and a trident. A murmillo carried a sword and shield similar to those used by Roman soldiers. Other types of gladiator were equites who fought on horseback with lances. British gladiators fought from chariots. They were called essedarii. Gladiators called andabatae fought wearing helmets with no eye holes. As they were blind they had to listen for their opponent!
Gladiators also fought animals such as lions and tigers. Furthermore fights sometimes took place on artificial lakes. Small ships were launched on an artificial lake and sea battles called naumachiae were held on them.
The people of Rome were also very fond of chariot racing. There were four teams, greens, blues, reds and whites. Their supporters who often gambled on the outcomes of races treated the charioteers as heroes. However being a charioteer was dangerous and often ended in early death.
In the Roman Empire larger towns also had an amphitheatre where 'sports' such as cock fighting were held and sometimes gladiators fought to the death. Some Roman towns also had theatres.
Sports in the Middle Ages
Life in Anglo-Saxon times was hard and rough. Games for the poor must have been cheap like wrestling, running races and playing dice.
In the Middle Ages the main pastime of the upper class was hunting. Lords hunted deer with packs of dogs and killed them with arrows. They also hunted wild boar with spears. Both men and women went hawking.
Knights also took part in tournaments. These events drew large crowds of spectators. At them knights fought with wooden lances, swords or maces. This was called jousting. There were also tourneys (fights between teams). Tournaments often lasted four days. Two days were for jousting, one was for tourneys and one was for archery competitions.
Golf is believed to be a corruption of a Dutch word 'kolve', which meant club. The Dutch played games with clubs in the Middle Ages but golf developed in Scotland in the 15th century. Meanwhile the first recorded bowling green was laid out in Southampton in the 13th century.
Even for Medieval peasants life was not all hard work. People were allowed to rest on Holy days (from which we get our word holiday). During them poor people danced and wrestled. They also played a very rough form of football. The men from 2 villages played on a 'pitch', which might include woods and streams! There were no rules so broken limbs and other injuries were common. Furthermore in the Middle Ages people made skates from cow's shoulder blades and went ice skating.
People also enjoyed cruel 'sports' like cockfighting and bear baiting. (A bear was chained to a post and dogs were trained to attack it).
16th Century and 17th Century Sports
Although the days of armoured knights were over the rich still enjoyed tournaments. The contestants dressed in armour and rode horses. They fought with wooden lances and swords.
The rich also enjoyed hunting. They went hunting deer with bows and arrows. After it was killed the deer was eaten. The rich also went hawking and falcons were trained to kill other birds. However in Tudor times rich people did not hunt foxes.
The Tudors also liked wrestling and 'casting the bar', which was like shot-putting but with an iron bar. They also played billiards (but not snooker, which is a 19th century game).
Ordinary people played a rough version of football. There were no rules and the 'pitch' was often a large area including woods and even streams! It was a very rough game. Injuries like broken limbs were common. Furthermore cruel 'sports' like cockfighting and bear baiting were still popular.
In Tudor times people learned to swim using bundles of bulrushes as floats.
In the 17th century traditional games like bowls continued. So did games like tennis and shuttlecock.
The wealthy also played a game called pale-maille (Pall Mall in London gets its name from an area where the game was played). Furthermore Charles II also made yachting a popular sport.
18th Century Sports
In the 18th century people continued to play tennis and a rough version of football.
Horse racing was carried on for centuries before the 18th century but at this time it became a professional sport. The Jockey Club was formed in 1727. The Derby began in 1780.
Moreover a kind of cricket was played long before the 18th century but at that time it took on its modern form. The first cricket club was formed at Hambledon in Hampshire about 1750.
In the 18th century many people still watched cruel 'sports' like cockfighting and bull baiting. Rich people liked fox hunting.
Boxing without gloves was also popular (although some boxers began to wear leather gloves in the 18th century).
19th Century Sports
By the early 19th century many people disapproved of cruel 'sports' like bull baiting and cock fighting. Bull baiting was banned in 1835. Cock fighting followed soon afterwards.
During the 19th century sports became organised. The first written rules for rugby were drawn up in 1845. The London Football Association devised the rules of football in 1863. The first international match was held between England and Scotland in 1872. Meanwhile Australian rules football was invented in 1858.
In 1867 John Graham Chambers drew up a list of rules for boxing. They were called the Queensberry Rules after the Marquis of Queensberry. Then in 1880 the Amateur Athletics Association was founded.
Several new sports and games were invented during the 19th century. Although a form of tennis was played since the Middle Ages lawn tennis was invented in 1873. Snooker was invented in India in 1875. Softball was invented in 1887 and Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith. Volleyball was invented in 1895 by William Morgan. Netball also originated in 1895.
Baseball is believed to have evolved from earlier games but it became an organised sport in 1845. The National League was formed in 1876. American football evolved in the late 19th century. The American Professional Football Association was formed in 1920.
Ice hockey became an organised sport in the 1870s. The International Ice Hockey Federation was formed in 1908.
People have played games with mallets and hoops for centuries but modern croquet began in the 19th century. Similarly games similar to badminton have been played since ancient times. However modern badminton developed in the late 19th century.
At the end of the 19th century bicycling became a popular sport. The safety bicycle went on sale in 1885 and in 1892 John Boyd Dunlop invented pneumatic tyres (much more comfortable than solid rubber ones!) Bicycling clubs became common.
Meanwhile polo is an ancient game. We are not certain where it was invented but it was probably played in Persia about 2,000 years ago. In the 19th century the British learned to play polo in India and they brought it back to Britain. The first polo club in Britain was founded in 1872.
Then in 1896 the Olympic Games were revived. Wrestling, which had been a popular sport for thousands of years became an Olympic sport in 1904 and the first Olympic Winter Games were held in 1924. Meanwhile the first Tour de France was held in 1903.
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