Forgotten Games and Competitions of the Ancient Times

Ancient sports, competitions and forgotten games were all part of people’s everyday lives at one point. Today, we may see some of these competitions as barbaric or unsafe, but, hey, they complemented the society’s behavior back in those times. Win-win situation, really. What we would never permit in the 21st century was all in good fun at the ancient times. And if somebody got hurt or died? All for the fun of it! Such attitude should explain the mortality rate characteristic for those times, but later on that in a different article. That being said, let us look at some of the forgotten games that once plagued the ancient civilizations.

Chariot racing – Ancient NASCAR

Competitions such as chariot racing was extremely popular back in ancient Rome. Not to mention deadly. Only the rich could afford to keep horses and chariot, therefore, not everybody could participate in this dangerous sport(Romeo, 2016). Chariot races used teams of two to four horses and would race in a circle, making the turns the dangerous points. That is where charioteers would get thrown off or their horses would slip and fall, taking the rest with them. This ancient sport would include 12 chariots racing in teams (factions) of four that were separated by different colours: blue, green, red, and white (Fagan, 2017). Therefore, three chariots from each team would participate. The charioteers would have to compete seven laps in order to complete the race. It would have made sense to use more horses to increase chances of winning. However, the higher the number of horses, the more difficult they were to control. Hence, increasing the risk of this ancient competition. Usually, four horses were the biggest number people would use. As anything larger only increased risk of injury or death.

This sport sounds rather dangerous – and it was – so, how did the wealthy men gain the courage to participate? Well, they did not. They hired charioteers to compete instead, thus, avoiding the risks and claiming their victories (Romeo, 2016). Sounds unfair, but many ancient games were not just. At least chariot racing drove the crowd wild!

Cottabus (Kottabos) – Ancient Drinking Competition

Competitions were not always limited to sports and smaller games. The ancient Greeks liked to drink too. With some effort, archaeologists managed to decipher the rules of the game from the texts and artworks that were found. Turns out there were two ways to play this ancient drinking game. One way included knocking down a disc placed on top of a tall stand, the other way – sinking small dishes floating in a bowl filled with water (Gannon, 2015). This would have to be done using leftover wine in their kylixes. Those were small wide cups with loops on each side. If one of the players fails to hit the target, they must drink the contents of a jug placed in the centre of the room.

But who is the winner? The one who gets the drunkest? Sometimes, yes and sometimes, no. That would really depend on the circumstances and how intoxicated one got. Kottabos was one of the ancient competitions where there would not be a real winner. Everybody wins and everybody loses. The point is – drink, drink, drink!

Ourania – Forgotten Girls’ Game

The ancient Greeks had another interesting forgotten game. However, this game was favoured mainly by children. While ancient depictions show that mostly girls played this game, it is not absolutely ruled out that boys have not participated as well. The rules of Ourania are extremely simple. Players formed a circle and one who held the ball would throw it in the air and call one of the participant’s name (Nenova, 2016). That person would then have to run in the centre of the circle and catch the ball before it hit the ground. If the player caught it, he or she would then throw it up in the air again and call out another person’s name. That child would then have to catch it, throw it, call someone else’s name and so on. Game ends whenever you are tired of it.

Senet – Ancient Egyptians are Complicated

Ancient Egyptians loved to play and party. Such conclusion can be deducted from the depictions on tombs, walls, study of their culture and so on. One of the forgotten games that was played at that time period is called Senet. It seemed to be a rather popular one. However, it is quite complicated. First, the players have to determine who shall go first. This is done by what we would call today a dice roll, however, ancient Egyptians were casting sticks. Four sticks with a flat and rounded side would be used as dice. The amount of flat sides that were up equalled the number of spaces a figure would make. Therefore, if one flat side is up, then one step shall be taken; an exception was when all four flat sides were down – that is when a player takes six steps (Dove, 2017). Number five was not a possible throw, because the ancient Egyptians gave it a spiritual meaning. Therefore, they tried to avoid using it. The figures used were either shaped as cones or spools and represented dancers that would dance across the board.

The board itself consisted of three columns and ten rows. The figures would move in an S pattern and always started from the 15th square (Dove, 2017). The player who would throw one, four or six would be the first one to go, but also they would re-throw the dice as the next step would also belong to them. Several squares on the board had a special meaning. Those were the numbers from 26 up to 30 (Dove, 2017). The number 26 meant the player would get a free turn, 27 – lost turn and removal of a game piece, 28 – game piece can only leave this square upon tossing three, 29 – leave this square only when two is tossed, and 30 – the most important square, can be left only when one is thrown. However, the last three squares also had extra rules. If a number is rolled that is larger than the number necessary to step off the square, then the extra number of spaces is used to move the piece backwards (Dove, 2017). So, if a person throws four on a 28, he shall take three steps forward and one back. The winner is the one who gets all their pieces off the game board.

Aseb – Forgotten Game of 20 Squares

Much as the title suggests, this was a game based off the ancient Middle-Eastern Game of 20 Squares. Aseb was a race game, similar to Senet, however, it was much shorter and simpler (Eli, 2017). The exact rules of this game are not fully known, although, from the very few information that is collected, several assumptions can be made.

It is a board game with three rows that contain four squares and the middle square protrudes into further eight squares (Thompson, 2017). The start is on the top or bottom of the short rows and the figures are moved towards the protruding row. As soon as all figures are off the board, the game ends. To decide who goes first, a dice must be rolled and either a four or a six has to be tossed. Then, the dice has to be rolled again to determine how many moves a player should make. Just like in Senet, the winner is the one who moves all of their pieces off the board first.

Tali (Venus Throw) – Ancient Yatzee

Tali was a very simple ancient Roman game. It is rather similar to today’s Yatzy. The principle of the game is straightforward: players roll a dice and whoever gets the highest score wins. The highest score one could throw was called the Venus Throw that consisted of a one, three, four and a six (Thompson, 2017). However, as dice was widely unavailable in ancient Rome, people resorted to using animal bones and created their own scoring system. Either by marking sides or determining which bone would be counted as the one carrying the largest score.

Tlachtli – Ancient Aztec Football

Competitions were fairly common in ancient Aztec times and tlachtli was one of them. The objective of the game was to throw a ball through the opposing team’s hoop, which was located on a wall (Hill, 2015). The rules of the forgotten game sound simple, but it was far from. Tlachtli was a dangerous game and its players, oftentimes, ended up covered in bruises, bleeding or, rarely, even dead. This is why players had to wear protective clothing on their hips, elbows or knees. Another catch of the game was that the ball was not supposed to hit the ground. It always had to be in the air, thus, many players would rush to keep it from hitting the ground. That would often result in injuries.

Tlachtli was thought to be played by two to six players in each team. Points were also scored and not only for success, but each time an opposing team missed a shot at the hoops, or if the ball got outside of the boundaries (Hill, 2015). In that case, the team with most points would be the winning one.

Patolli – Ancient Betting Bean Board Game

Patolli was a very unique board game in the sense that it was played with beans. The board used for this was shaped like an X and contained 60 squares. Eight of them are reduced in size by wedge markings and eight are rounded at the edge (Cyningstan, 2017). Each player has game pieces of different colour and the more players – the less pieces each player has. So, if two people play, each gets six figures, if three – five figures, and four players – four figures. The dice, or more accurately, the beans, are marked on one side and there are five of them. Normally, one side equals one point, unless all five marked sides are thrown, in which case the score is ten. When all beans show an unmarked side, then no points are counted. The beans are used to determine which player shall go first and once the winner is chosen, they throw again to determine their next steps. Once a score is thrown, the game piece must be placed in the centre of the board closest to them and be moved either in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction (Cyningstan, 2017). The player who gets all of their game pieces off the board wins.

However, this was usually a betting game. Therefore, before the game started, everyone would put items in a pot. All of the items in the said pot would, upon winning the game, belong to the winner.

Totoloque – Ancient Aztec Marbles

Compared to the previous forgotten games in the ancient times, this was a very simple competition. Much like the ancient Greek drinking one. A game of totoloque involved hitting a target with a small flat disc (Hernandez, 2015). Points were scored for each player and the one with the biggest score or one who hits all of the targets is proclaimed the winner. Apparently, this ancient game was abused in order to gain someone else’s possessions (Hernandez, 2015). However, it was more often used as mainly a fun game.

Flyers – A Good Way to Kill Yourself

It is debatable whether this can really count as a game or not. However, it was done for enjoyment as well as part of a ceremony in the ancient Aztec civilization. A musician would sit atop of a long pole and play music, sometimes, even dance. Four people would climb on top of it and strap themselves upside down to the pole. The ropes that held the four flyers would then circle lower and lower until the people reached the ground. This was done not only as a display of bravery but also to celebrate and bring good luck to their people.

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Cyningstan. (2017). Patolli. Cyningstan. Retrieved from http://www.cyningstan.com/game/1165/patolli

Dove, L. (2017). How Senet Works. HowStuffWorks. Retrieved from https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/leisure/brain-games/senet1.htm

Eli. (2017). Aseb – Game of 20 Squares. Ancient Games. Retrieved from http://www.ancientgames.org/aseb-game-20-squares/

Fagan, G. (2017). Chariot Racing: Ancient Rome’s Most Dangerous Sport. The Great Courses Daily. Retrieved from https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/chariot-racing/

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Nenova, S. (2016). Sport in Antiquity: Ancient Greek and Roman Ball Games. Ancient World Alive. Retrieved from http://www.ancientworldalive.com/single-post/2016/06/11/Sport-in-Antiquity-Ancient-Greek-and-Roman-Ball-Games

Romeo, N. (2016). Olympic Games We No Longer Play. National Geographic. Retrieved from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/olympics-olympic-games-no-longer-play-ancient-greece/

Thompson, G. (2017). Ancient Egyptians Board Games. LoveToKnow. Retrieved from http://boardgames.lovetoknow.com/Ancient_Egyptian_Board_Games

Thompson, G. (2017). Ancient Roman Board Games. LoveToKnow. Retrieved from http://boardgames.lovetoknow.com/Ancient_Roman_Board_Games