Today is the first day of the American football season, and while couch potatoes everywhere are settling in to watch their favorite teams, I thought it would be fun to blog about the world's first "American" football team: the Spartans!
No, I'm not talking about the Michigan Spartans, sports fans. I'm talking about the actual Spartans, the military men of Southern Greece with their long hair and menacing scowls. As it turns out, they may have had their own version of football--or at the very least--rugby!
According to ancient authors, the Spartans (both men and women) played a game called Episkyros. Julius Pollux explains the game as thus:
"This is played by teams of equal numbers standing opposite of one another.They mark out a line between them with stone chips; this is the skuros on which the ball is placed. They then mark out two other lines, one behind each team.The team which secures possession of the ball throws it over their opponents who then try to get hold of the ball and throw it back, until one side pushes the other over the line between them. The game might be called a Ball Battle."
In Sparta, the game was played during an annual festival and involved five teams made up of fourteen players. Being Spartans, there's no doubt this game probably got violent. In fact, according to later accounts of these ancient ball games, players would often end up on the ground while attempting to get control of the ball , and even spectators weren't safe; one poor fan ended up with a broken leg when he got caught in the middle of a play!
Not much else is known about Episkyros, save that the balls may have been made from inflated pig bladders and you were not allowed to cross the middle line, the skuros. It should also be noted Episkyros (or versions of it) were played in other city-states as well. In fact, there was also another ball game known as Harpaston or Phaininda. Harpaston is the Greek word for handball, coming from the verb harpazo, meaning "to seize" or "to snatch." Eventually these games would be combined by the Romans to create the game Harpastum, which may be the origins of both our European and American football games today.
At any rate, now you know that even the Ancient Greeks enjoyed a good ball game...although I wonder if their fans were nearly as rowdy??
Thanks for reading!