Who among you would be brave enough to travel back in time and be an athletic competitor?
Back in the days of mankind’s early history athletic competition was a serious activity. Losers were often killed or sacrificed. The Vikings relished tug of war contests which dragged the gallant losers over fire pits. The subsequent celebration was huge in honor of both losers and winners. The Romans certainly had their gladiator contests, but they also used elephants in spectacles and had an elephant war, according to The Elephant in Rome. Pitted against huge elephants with their own weapons and armor, the best foot soldiers of the Roman army engaged in a celebratory battle. So great were elephant losses in these contests and in war campaigns throughout Europe and North Africa that elephants were run to near extinction.
“The history of sport extends as far back as the existence of people as purposive, sportive, and active beings”. So says Wikipedia. The earliest rock art in caves reveals two sports—wrestling and running (sprinting). These paintings were discovered in France and date to 17000 years ago and similar paintings were from many centuries later in Japan.
Mongolian cave drawings depict wrestling from around 7000 BC. Swimming and archery showed up in cave paintings around 6000 BC. Sumerian artifact art reveals figurines and records about boxing and wrestling in 3000-2000 BC. The Chinese loved gymnastics and competed as early as 2000 BC. Much of what we see in later Greek and Roman life occurred in ancient Egypt between 3000BC and 2000 BC. These sporting events had many similarities. Rowing, shooting, and fishing were exceptions, it seemed. Hieroglyphic art, sculpture, engravings, and earthenware paintings were avenues for sharing their love of sport.
Meso-American arena ball games were also a battle to survive in the earliest days (the “death to losers” waned in later centuries). A 9 pound solid rubber or asphaltum ball was passed around a well-built pit-type arena with masonry/stone walls. If the ball was allowed to bounce more than twice on the ground during its passing a loss resulted. The ball was volleyed from all body parts to team members and then propelled through an upright stone hoop attached sideways high on the masonry wall. It is believed that point comparisons were part of the game, as well as often-imposed time-limitations. Sometimes the winners were sacrificed. The Hohokam Indians of the Southwest had elaborate pitz ball arenas. The use of them died out before 1000 AD.
What do you think? Was this the beginning of basketball?
I’ll be posting more on this subject next time. Until then remember the origins of sportsmanship.