History of Football

From Phantis
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Ancient times

The Greek epic "Odyssey" of Homer tells the story about Odysseus. He arrived on the island of Faiakes after being shipwricked. Nausikaa, the daughter of King Alkinoos, found him on the beach when she was playing a ball game with her servants. Thereafter, King's sons, Laodamas and Halios, started to play in honour of Odysseus. The first one threw with both hands a giant purple ball while the second caught it in air.

The National Museum of Archaeology in Athens has a marble relief, a tomb monument (500 BC) found in Piraeus, which shows a Greek athlete balancing a ball on his thigh, supposedly demonstrating a training technique to his pupil. The boy may possibly be bouncing another smaller ball.

Ball games were used as training technique, practised on a field (sfairodromion) or in a room (sfairisterion). Later, the playing-field was also called "palaistra" (palaestra) which became more popular as wrestling-field.


It is claimed that the game of "Episkyros", also known as "Ephebike", was practised in Greece as long ago as 800 BC. One of the basic rules was that you were allowed to use your hands, which really suggests that it is a closer relation to rugby than football. However, many of the characteristics of the game are similar to football, particularly the dimensions of the pitch and the fact that 12 players formed a team.

Julius Pollux (150-200 AD) was a teach and scholar of rhetoric and oratory. He was from Naucratis (Egypt), became tutor to the Emperor Commodus in Rome, and eventually took a job in Athens. He had a reputation for being unintelligent, his "Dictionary Onomasticon" (a collection of Greek names and terms, with explanatory notes, made about 180 AD) seems to many readers to be disorganized. However, Pollux' book contains many anecdotes that offer evidence about many aspects of the ancient world. In his book, he explained : "Two teams are separated with a line, made with piece of chalk, and behind each team there is another line. The purpose of the game is throwing a ball over the opposite team without passing the line in the middle, trying to reach to line behind the opponent."

Another Greek ball game that many have claimed to be a forerunner of football is the game of "Harpaston", also called "Phaininda". Something worth considering is that "Harpaston" is the Greek word for handball and not football.

Since the Greeks were the greatest intellects of their time, it is very hard to believe that they made such a fundamental error in naming one of their games. The greatest contribution made to football by the Greeks was that the Romans took the games of "Episkyros" and "Harpaston" and evolved them into a game called "Harpastum". They also added the vital ingredient of kicking. The Roman game of "Harpastum" is considered by many to be a real forerunner to football.

The "Ball-player Relief" (The National Museum of Archaeology in Athens) forms the decoration on one side of a square base that once supported a statue of a "kouros" (nude, standing male figure from the Archaic Period). The other two decorated sides of the relief (it must have been intended to back up against a wall) represent other popular sports in ancient Athens : athletics on the front (a jumper, wrestlers and a javelin-thrower) and on the other side a cat-and-dog fight amid onlookers. The side represented in the cast shows what seem to be two teams of players engaged in a game rather like volley-ball without the net, one player is about to lob the ball, while another seems concerned not to tread on his team-mate's toes. The base and its kouros would have been set up in the ancient city about 510 BC, shortly before the democratic reforms of Kleisthenes. The pink tint of the background represents the stain which on the original represents the ancient red-painted ground.

Of course, the Greeks were settlers of many sports games, e.g. athletics, field hockey, wrestling, and they were the first who held competitions.