The ancient Greek sports, Episkyros is the mother of modern-day soccer. Played between two teams and one ball, Episkyros was an ancient Greek game that has transformed slowly into the modern version we watch today. Two teams would have an equal number of 12 to 14 participants.
The rules of the game allowed the greek athletes to use their hands. The organizers would draw three lines. One straight line was positioned between the two teams, and the other two lines were behind each team.
The ball was quite large and light. Picture a soft plastic ball that you see children play with on the beach.
The aim of the ancient Greek game Episkyros was to get the ball while in possession over the opponent’s defending line. The team in control would kick or throw the ball between or over the head of their opponents to each other.
If you dropped the ball or your opponent intercepted, the other team takes possession and aims to get the ball down the other end of the field.
When Was Episkyros Played Primarily?
As Greece was heavily militarized during this time period, it should come as no surprise that the ancient greek ball game was based on team organization and defensive formation. Episkyros games were part of a young boy’s early military training.
Serious greek athletes would not play this game. It was something to be played by children, women, or the elderly.
Episkyros differs from the Chinese game Cuju in the way that players can use their hands, but it is very similar to modern soccer in terms of strategy, defensive communication, and means of scoring.
Each year in the city of Sparta, during the annual city festival, teams would play the ancient Greek ball game and represent their region.
In its raw form, the Sparta city festival was one of the oldest known organized football tournaments. Episkyros later spread across national borders, as the Romans created their own version of it, which they called Harpastum.
When Was It Created?
Episkyros was a very similar game to Phaininda, a game named after Phaenides. Phenakiein, meaning ‘to deceive’, came from the fact that the players would show the ball to one man but throw it to another contrary to expectations.
Although there is minimal history found on the game of Episkyros, it seems that Episkyros peaked before the Roman control of Greece. The best evidence of the game is displayed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
On the side of the marble vase is a young male keeping the ball up with his thigh. Archaeologists estimate that this vase was manufactured in 400-375 BC. (2400 years ago) You see an identical image on the current UEFA Euro Cup trophy.
The Romans transformed this game into their version called Harpastum. Harpastum is a word of Greek origin meaning ‘snatch’ or ‘snatching the ball.’ The term Episkyros was also a word of Greek origin meaning ‘team game.’
Footballs Coming Home
The next time you hear an English person singing ‘football’s coming home,’ remind them that Ancient Greece and Episkyros was the mother of modern soccer that we watch and play today.
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!