When we study about ancient Egyptians, they are often described as death-obsessed and stubborn. But did you know that they actually had a great appreciation for life? In fact, artworks, inscriptions, and even the pyramids and temple walls make it clear that the life of ancient Egyptians was focused on enjoying life. And one of the ways they enjoyed was through sports and games.
Most of the sports played in ancient Egypt were the same as the sports we play in the present time and they were played almost the same way. They played sports because physical fitness was an important part of their lives. Sports reflected the values of their culture showing that they were fun but also contributed to each of their overall well-being.
Just like how we play sports today, the sports played in ancient Egypt also required team work in an effort to display strength, skill, and sportsmanship. Let’s learn about the sports played in ancient Egypt.
This is one of the most popular sports played in ancient Egypt. In fact, it was often recorded on plates in ancient temples. The kings’ and princes’ skills in accurate timing at the target and their strength in pulling the bow were shown on these plates. It was also common to see archery competitions back in those times.
This sport started in the 21st century BC when King Amenhotep II bragged that he punctured the middle of a thick brass target with four arrows. After that, he set a prize for anyone who could do the same.
There were three types of gymnastics that were played by the ancient Egyptians. They are the consecutive vault, floor exercise, and rhythmic gymnastics.
The players performed the consecutive vaults with their heads not touching the floor while make more than one complete turn in the air. After the exercise, they will stand firmly upright, just like the rules in the gymnastics we have today.
Floor exercises were performed by the ancient Egyptians to stay strong, physically fit, and slim. One of the floor exercises during those time was bending their bodies backwards until their hands touch the ground, revealing how flexible they were. This practice is now common today.
Ancient Egyptians also performed rhythmic gymnastics. Just like today, they also had different rhythmic gymnastics positions which were close to some positions being practiced today.
Some drawings of this sport can be found on the Saqqara tombs which are five thousand years old. It consisted of two teams with two members each. Each team throws the ball to the other at the same time. They players can either be on their feet or on top of their teammate’s backs while each team exchanged balls.
The ball used in this sport was made of leather and stuffed with hay or plant fibers. Others were made of papyrus plants which were lighter and more durable. It was rarely used for more than one match.
There are some drawings on tombs at Beni Hassan in Menia Governorate that show ancient Egyptians playing a game that is similar to our present-day Hockey. They used bats that were made of long palm-tree branches which ends were bent like a hockey bat. The ball used in this sport was made of papyrus fibers which was covered with leather in the shape of a semicircle and dyed in two or more colors. They played this sport on the dirt in the excruciating hot desert and not in a special grass field.
Tug of War
In the present time, tug of war is played by two teams pulling on the opposite ends of a rope until one drags over a central line. The ancient Egyptians also played this sport but they did not used ropes. Instead, one player from each team just hold hands while pulling back each other and each of them have one foot supported by that of the opposite number. Their teammates hold one another tightly by the waist, to try to pull back the opposite team.
In ancient Egypt, javelin throw was linked to hunting. They have different lengths of javelin depending on the kind of prey. It was thrown upwards lightly so it will revolve in quick spins until it returns to the player to be used again. Their javelin sticks have twisted ends.
In ancient Egypt, fishing was one of the sports played by princes, kings, and as well as commoners. You will be able to find many drawings of scenes of fishing as a hobby on the Saqqara tombs of the Old Kingdom. There are Egyptian museums that hold many kinds of fishing rods as well as hooks. These museums show the advancement of such sport in ancient Egypt.
The ancient Egyptians also practiced track and field sports such as the high jump. In their high jump, there were two players who sat opposite each other with both of their legs stretched and each of their feet were in top of the toes of the other.
The third player would attempt to jump over that barrier while the two sitting players place their palms on top of their feet to add height on the barrier. The third player should be able to jump over it without touching. Up until today, this sport is still being played in the Egyptian countryside and they call it goose steps.
This is another well-known sport in ancient Egypt. One of the methods they used in weightlifting was lifting a heavy sack that was full of sand with just one hand. They will keep the sack in a high quasi-vertical position. They will have to stay in that position for a short period.
Some tombs in Saqqara proves that ancient Egyptians played boxing. Drawings show a which has his fists directed to another player ready to direct his blows, while the other player tries to repel the blows. Boxing matches in ancient Egypt were watched by pharaohs and princes, which indicates that it was an organized contest during that time.
Ancient Egyptians also enjoyed swimming and they practiced it in the Nile River. Its calm waters encouraged the youths to hold swimming competitions where they could show their skills. Noblemen on the other hand, practiced in their own swimming pools where princes in Egypt learnt the sport.
This was one of the sports that required ancient Egyptians great physical strength. There were drawings that showed ancient Egyptians team-rowing where the players depended on harmonizing their rowing based on the direction of their leader who held the rudder.
The leader was also the one who controlled their movement through a high-pitched systematic call to unify the moment when oars touched the surface of the water, helping the boat to move forward more steadily and swiftly. This method is still being practiced in rowing in the present time.
Tug of Hoop
This ancient Egyptian sport included two players who compete in pulling the hoop swiftly. Each of them fixes a hooked staff to hinder any snatch of the hoop by the other player. This sport required sharp physical movements and strict observation. It’s because the hooked staff was used to pull the hoop and support it from falling flat on the floor at the same time.
Marathon races were held during special celebrations in ancient Egypt. It marked the assumption of power of new kings. They held marathons that were run by the king around the temples. It was to reveal his physical strength and his ability to rule through his body and mental capabilities.
Based on history records, the Pharaoh, together with those who has the same birthdate as him participated in hectic marathons. And before covering 180 stages of his race, no one was allowed to have a meal.
These sports prove that ancient Egyptians had enjoyable times in their lives. Paintings and drawings of ancient Egyptians help us understand how they played their sports and it’s amazing to know that the sports we have today were also played by them.