Ball sports

Although ball sports were not part of the program in any contest, they were a popular pastime for the Greek youth of both sexes. Girls usually played at home, in a room or in an inner courtyard. Therefore, they had to play rather calmly. On vase paintings we see girls juggling, for example. Boys played ball sports as part of their physical education in the gymnasion. Those games could of course be more rough. The most popular kind of ball was a soft, filled, small ball, but also bouncing balls existed.

Children of both sexes played a kind of 'horse with rider', with one child riding on the back of the other. In the variation that was played mainly by girls, two girls, both standing on the ground, started by throwing a ball at a target. The girl who threw closest to the target won. The loser had to carry her on her back to the target to collect the balls, sometimes with the hands of the victor covering her eyes. In the variation for boys the 'kings' sat in the neck of the 'donkeys'. A trainer, seated in a chair, threw the ball, which the pairs tried to catch.

Another popular game for boys was called 'ball on the line'. The game started with a ball on a line in the middle of the playing field. On both sides of this line, there was a small square field, one for each team. Each team of boys had to stay inside its own square. The aim of the game was to throw the ball from the middle over the square of the other team, so that the others could not catch it.

For most ancient Greek ball games, however, the rules are unclear, e.g. for a kind of hockey, which was played not in teams, but one against the other.

In the Roman world, playing ball sports was common in all age categories. They were a typical pastime of the baths. Also elder men, and even prominent politicians, took part in the ball games in Rome. The famous doctor Galenus preferred ball sports to professional athletics to keep the body in good health.

© KU Leuven, 2012