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LEFT Ancient Greek youth practicing with a ball depicted in low relief. Now displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens. [1] RIGHT A bottle (Lekythos) in gnathia style depicting a figure - Eros - playing with a ball, third quarter of the 4th century BCE.

Episkyros (Ancient Greek : Ἐπίσκυρος, Epískyros; also Ἐπίκοινος, Epíkoinos, 'common-ball') [2] [3] was an ancient Greek ball game. Highly teamwork oriented, [4] the game was played between two teams of usually 12 to 14 players each, with one ball. The rules of the game allowed the usage of hands. While it was typically men that played, women also participated.


Although it was a ball game, it was violent, at least in Sparta. [5] The teams would try to throw the ball over the heads of the other team. There was a white line called the skuros [4] between the teams and another white line behind each team. Teams would change the ball often until one of the team was forced behind the line at their end. In Sparta a form of episkyros was played during an annual city festival that included five teams of 14 players. [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] It was played primarily by men but women also practiced it. The Greek game of episkyros, or a similar game called phaininda (φαινίνδα) [11] [lower-alpha 1] was later adopted by the Romans, who renamed and transformed it into harpastum . [13] [14] The name harpastum is the latinisation of the Greek harpaston (ἁρπαστόν), neuter form harpastos (ἁρπαστός), meaning "snatched away" [15] from the verb harpazo (ἁρπάζω), "(I) seize", "(I) filch". [16]

A depiction in low relief on the belly of the vase displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens [1] shows a Greek athlete balancing a ball on his thigh. This image is reproduced on the European Cup football trophy. [17] Other ancient Greek sports with a ball besides phaininda, were: ἀπόῤῥαξις (aporrhaxis, dribbling), [18] οὐρανία (ourania, "sky ball") [19] [20] and maybe the σφαιρομαχία (sphairomachia, lit.''ball-fight'') [21] from σφαῖρα (sphaira "ball", "sphere") [22] and μάχη (machē, "battle") [23] although it has been argued that the σφαιρομαχία in this context is in fact a boxing competition, and the "spheres" are a kind of boxing gloves. [24] Julius Pollux includes phaininda and harpastum in a list of ball games:

Phaininda takes its name from Phaenides, who first invented it, or from phenakizein (to deceive), because they show the ball to one man and then throw to another, contrary to expectation. It is likely that this is the same as the game with the small ball, which takes its name from harpazein (to snatch) and perhaps one would call the game with the soft ball by the same name. [25]

See also


  1. The name φαινίνδα probably means something like "deceiving game" from the verb φενακίζω, phenakizo, "(I) cheat", "(I) lie" [12]

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  1. 1 2 NAMA item 873 (photograph). Athens: The National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Archived from the original on 2016-07-22.
  2. ἐπίσκυρος . Liddell, Henry George ; Scott, Robert ; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  3. ἐπίκοινος  in Liddell and Scott
  4. 1 2 Elmer, David F. (October 2008). "Epikoinos: The Ball Game ; Episkuros and Illiad". Classical Philology. 103 (4): 414–423. doi:10.1086/597184.
  5. Miller, Stephen Gaylord (2004). Ancient Greek Athletics . Yale University Press.
  6. Craig, Steve (2002). Sports and games of the ancients. p. 101. ISBN   0-313-36120-7.
  7. Harris, Harold Arthur (1972). Sport in Greece and Rome. Cornell University Press. ISBN   0801407184.
  8. Kennell, Nigel M. (1995). The Gymnasium of Virtue: Education and Culture in Ancient Sparta. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN   9780807822197.
  9. "Origin of ball games". Archived from the original on 25 March 2010.
  10. Crowther, Nigel B. (2007). Sport in Ancient Times . Praeger Series on the Ancient World. Praeger Publishers.
  11. φαινίνδα  in Liddell and Scott.
  12. φενακίζω  in Liddell and Scott.
  13. "episkuros (or harpaston)". The New Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. The game episkuros was a ball-game popular in ancient Greece, with elements of football, soccer, and rugby. Among other names (which might actually refer to distinct games (consider how to distinguish rugby from soccer when describing them to a sportsman who knows neither game) it was also called harpaston; by the 2nd century BCE it had migrated to Rome and was then called harpastum.
  14. harpastum . Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project .
  15. ἁρπαστός  in Liddell and Scott
  16. ἁρπάζω  in Liddell and Scott
  17. Wingate, Brian (2007). Soccer: Rules, tips, strategy, and safety . The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. p.  2. ISBN   978-1-4042-0995-4.
  18. ἀπόῤῥραξις  in Liddell and Scott.
  19. οὐρανία, οὐρανιάζω  in Liddell and Scott
  20. Miller, Stephen Gaylord (2004). Arete: Greek sports from ancient sources. p. 124. ISBN   0-520-07509-9.
  21. σφαιρομαχία  in Liddell and Scott
  22. σφαῖρα  in Liddell and Scott
  23. μάχη  in Liddell and Scott
  24. Riaño Rufilanchas, Daniel (2000). "Zwei Agone in I: Priene 112.91–95". Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. Vol. 129. pp. 89–96.
  25. Julius Pollux (c. 1785–1871) [c.177 CE]. Bekker, Immanuel (ed.). Onomasticon. Wellcome Library (in Ancient Greek). Berolini / F. Nicolai (published 1846). 9.105. OCLC   1040670990.Check date values in: |date= (help)