Ancient Ball Games – The Ones Preceding The Modern Ones

Everything had to start somewhere. With games like basketball, the origin was a college professor wanting to create a game for athletes to keep in shape in winter. For football and tennis, the origins are further in the past. Games like baseball also have their roots in history. Plenty of ball games, as we know them today, evolved from multiple iterations of some other ball game which is to an extent still played, or was at some time played. Here is a quick look at some ancient ball games which have either influenced our modern games, or are entertaining by themselves.

Japanese Kemari

The Japanese agree that this game was imported from China, even earlier than the 12th century.

Kemari courts were often found in nature, and it was considered honorable to do so. Later on, in the 11th century, kemari courts were created, or rather grown. Four trees were used, each put in a single corner. The appropriate trees are maple, willow, cherry and pine.

The ball was made out of deerskin and coated by glue and egg white. It was very light and a harder kick could destroy it easily.

Two versions of the game were player, shobu mari and marikai. The first one had teams of eight players doing trials, the better team winning. The second one had the goal of kicking the ball, juggling it, basically, but with feet.

The goal was to keep it in the air the longest.

Cuju – The Precursor of Football

Many great things started in China and it is no wonder that football also had its origins there. The first mentions of Cuju were in the second or third century BCE, as a part of military exercises, from a military manual, no less. During the second century, when the Han dynasty was the ruling one, cuju was reportedly popular due to the emperor enjoying it. A century or so later, its popularity fell off. Luckily, many people spread the knowledge of Cuju, leading to us having modern football.

The Mesoamerican Ballgame

This game has no official name, as none were discovered. It is known, however, that the game was played with a latex ball and that the ultimate goal was to get the ball through a stone circle mounted on a wall. You could use elbows, knees, legs, shoulders, but not your hands.

The game had quite a large religious meaning, as well, as the courts were always located in the sacred districts of a city. Winners would get a trophy, usually something with religious significance, while losers would not only lose the game, but also their lives. Sometimes the captain would be sacrificed, at other times, the entire losing team.

These are some of the most interesting ancient ball games. Some were used as pastimes by emperors, others played for fun. In today’s world, many of our modern games stemmed from such ancient ones and even though some of them were brutal, they still teach us about ancient life and have helped us develop our own ball games.