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History of Sports in Ancient Egypt

 

Sports in Ancient Egypt

by Mr Ahmed D. Touny (EGY), Member of the IOC

The civilization which arose in the lands around the Mediterranean was the cradle of human civilization.

 

Wrestling, the National Sport in Egypt

It started first in Egypt and from there it moved to Phoenicia, Carthage, Greece and Rome.

Egypt is the gift of "Hapy", and the Nile is an area surrounded by the barren desert.

Hapy is in fact the ancient name of the Nile, which left a deposit of rich soil that formed the Delta of Lower Egypt.

The contrast between the barren deserts and the fertile valley, as well as the cyclical rhythm of the Nile, brought to the Ancient Egyptians a deep sense of order, tradition, justice and sincerity.

The mighty sun, which sails across the sky from east to west every day, and which gives life to everything on earth, was to the Ancient Egyptian people the most powerful image in their life.

Our study is restricted to a span of some thirty centuries; from the time of the uniting of Upper and Lower Egypt about 3000 years before Christ, when the history of dynastic Egypt begins, until the Roman occupation of the country.

One can not find, on this subject, more truthful references than the carvings on stone, or more accurate indications than the pictorial records on murals which the Ancient Egyptians left in their temples and tombs.

These carved and painted records left by the Ancient Egyptians are too plentiful and varied to be reviewed within the scope of this paper, and one must, therefore, be content with no more than a single specimen for every type of Sport.

The Ancient Egyptians engaged themselves in sports with the intention of training and strengthening their bodies, and also for pleasure and recreation.

The Stela of Amenophis II in the vicinity of the great Sphinx in Giza is proof that sports were practised in higher strata of society and must have been very popular and widespread in Ancient Egypt.

Amenophis II was very proud of his skill in archery, running, rowing and his love of horses.

The same was true for Thutmosis IV who was proud of his skill in shooting, hunting and other major sports.

The high standard which the Ancient Egyptians reached in physical fitness is revealed in their standard portrayals of the male and female forms in sculpture and painting.

The men are strong, and radiate a muscular vigour, while the ladies are slender, and redolent with femininity.

There are numberless representations on tomb and temple walls, but none is more striking than the oldest document relating to sport. It is a unique mural, not only because of its historical date, but also through its social implications, for it depicts the Pharaoh himself, Zoser the Great, the founder of the third dynasty nearly 3000 years before Christ or about 5000 years ago.

This mural shows Zoser participating in the running programme of the Heb Sed festival, as a symbol of the significance of physical fitness of the Ancient Egyptians.

The artist has brought out, with a thorough knowledge of anatomy, the harmonious play of muscles. The positions of Zoser's arms, trunk and legs denote an expertise of technique and movement which only advanced development can achieve.

Queens were no less aware of the importance of sports in all round culture, for on a wall of her sanctuary in the Karnak Temple, Queen Hatshepsut of the eighteenth dynasty had herself represented in a similar attitude in the Heb Sed.

Hardly any of ancient Egypt's rulers during the thirty centuries under view failed to have themselves depicted as a sporting figure in the Heb Sed festivals.

The most notable instances of this are Seti and his son Ramses second, both of the nineteenth Dynasty, on their temples at Abydos and Abu Simbel respectively.

Another example is the mural of Ramses III of the twentieth Dynasty on the walls of his funerary temple in Medina Babu.

Fully aware of the invaluable role of sport in raising the standard of health, and hence of national productivity, the Ancient Egyptians as a whole, men, women, youths and children, were all engaged in sporting activities with a zeal which amounted to a cult.

The SAQQARA tombs generally, and those of PTAH HOTEL and MERIROKE in particular, are show places for children's sports. They contain many illustrations of athletics, wrestling and some other games.

It is difficult to think of a sport which the Ancient Egyptians did not practise. The Benni Hassan rock tombs are a show place for most sports such as: athletics, swimming, wrestling, dancing, gymnastics, hockey, yoga, and many others.

 

 

Bowling Invented in Ancient Egypt?

in: Science & Technology News

Did the ancient Egyptians invent bowling?

Throwing stone balls along a lane might have been a popular game in ancient Egypt, according to evidence unearthed some 56 miles south of Cairo by Italian archaeologists.

A mixture of bowling, billiard and bowls, the game was played at Narmoutheos, in the Fayoum region, in a spacious room which appears to be the prototype of a modern-day bowling hall. [...]

"We first discovered a room with a very well-built limestone floor. Then we noticed a lane and two stone balls," Edda Bresciani, an Egyptologist at Pisa University, told Discovery News.

 

Ancient Bowling

 

Sporting Documents

The following documents are not comprehensive but only a sample presentation of the different types recorded.

For reference, I have identified every document with the name, the date and the place.

The following is an expose of some ancient Egyptian sports:

Hockey Handball Gymnastics (floor exercises)
Gymnastics (consecutive vault) Javelin Throw Fishing



Boxing Weightlifting Equestrian Sports
High Jump Swimming Rowing

Archery Rhythmic Gymnastics Tug of Hoop
Marathon Equilibrium Tug of War

Athletics

A. Heb Sed Running:

  1. Zoser, 3rd Dynasty, 2650 B.C. Saqqara
  2. Hatshepsut, 18th Dynasty, 1480 B.C. Karnak
  3. Seti, 19th Dynasty, 1300 B.C. Abydos
  4. Ramses second, 19th Dynasty, 1280 B.C. Abu Simbel
  5. Ramses third, 20th Dynasty, 1180 B.C. Medinet Habu

B. Children Running:

  1. Petah Hotep tomb, 5th Dynasty, 2300 B.C. Saqqara
  2. Mereruke tomb, 6th Dynasty, 2250 B.C. Saqqara

C. High Jumping:

  1. Mereruke tomb, 6th Dynasty, 2250 B.C. Saqqara

Knife Throwing

  1. Mereruke tomb, 6th Dynasty, 2250 B.C. Saqqara

Archery

  1. Amenophis Third, 18th Dynasty, 1420 B.C. Luxor Museum
  2. Taharka, 25th Dynasty, 700 B.C. Karnak Temple

Ball Games

  1. Khiti tomb, 11th Dynasty, 2000 B.C. Benihasan
  2. Baket tomb, 11th Dynasty, 2000 B.C. Benihasan

Boxing

  1. Kheroef tomb, 18th Dynasty, 1500 B.C. Luxor
  2. Boxing cat and mouse, Unknown date, Carlberg Museum

Fencing

  1. Meriroke tomb, 5th Dynasty, 2300 B.C. Saqqara
  2. Petah Hotep tomb, 6th Dynasty, 2250 B.C. Saqqara
  3. Kheroef tomb, 18th Dynasty, 1500 B.C. Luxor
  4. Ramses tomb, 19th Dynasty, 1300 B.C. Luxor
  5. Ramses III temple, 20th Dynasty, 1100 B.C. Medinet Habu

Gymnastics

  1. Menu tomb, 5th Dynasty, 2300 B.C. Saqqara
  2. Mereruke, 6th Dynasty, 2250 B.C. Saqqara
  3. Paket tomb, 11th Dynasty, 2000 B.C. Benihasan
  4. Khiti tomb, 11th Dynasty, 2000 B.C. Benihasan
  5. Hatshepsut sanctuary, 18th Dynasty, 1480 B.C. Karnak Temple
  6. Cairo Museum, 20th Dynasty, 1000 B.C.

Horse Riding

The horse was not native to Egypt, but was introduced by the Hyksos about 1650 B.C.

Horses were used exclusively for drawing war-chariots and wheel-mounted war weapons.

The Egyptians, however, trained that noble animal for riding purposes.

  1. Horemhab tomb, 18th Dynasty, 1900 B.C. Luxor
  2. Cavalry, 18th Dynasty, 1280 B.C. Luxor Temple
  3. Dressage & Side Saddle, 20th Dynasty, 1180 B.C. Medinet Habu
  4. Cavalry, 25th Dynasty, 700 B.C. Louver Museum

Life Saving

  1. Cades Battle, 19th Dynasty, 1300 B.C. Abydos Temple

Weight Lifting

  1. Paket tomb, 11th Dynasty, 2000 B.C. Beni hassan

Swimming

  1. Free Style, 5th Dynasty, 2400 B.C. Saqqara
  2. Free Style, 6th Dynasty, 2200 B.C. Cairo Museum
  3. All Strokes, 11th Dynasty, 2000 B.C. Beni hassan
  4. Breast Stroke, 18th Dynasty, 1800 B.C. Metropolitan
  5. Breast Stroke, 18th Dynasty, 1800 B.C. Louver Museum
  6. Free Style, 18th Dynasty, 1800 B.C. Pushkin Museum
  7. Breast Stroke, 20th Dynasty, 1100 B.C. Turin Museum
  8. Swimming, 600 B.C. Cairo Museum

Wrestling

  1. Petah Hotep tomb, 5th Dynasty, 2300 B.C. Saqqara
  2. Paket tomb, 11th Dynasty, 2000 B.C. Benihasan
  3. Khiti tomb, 11th Dynasty, 2000 B.C. Benihasan
  4. Brussels Museum, 11th Dynasty, 2000 B.C. Benihasan
  5. Tell Elamarna, 18th Dynasty, 1500 B.C. Benihasan
  6. Cairo Museum, 20th Dynasty, 1000 B.C. Benihasan
  7. Ramses Funeral Temple, 20th Dynasty, 1000 B.C. Medinet Habu

Yoga

  1. Petah Hotep tomb, 5th Dynasty, 2000 B.C. Saqqara
  2. Khiti tomb, 11th Dynasty, 2000 B.C. Benihasan

Sports Competitions

Sports were not simply enthusiastically practised on a universal scale, but competitions and championships were also organised.

International competitions were held and great store was set by the impartiality of Referees. For international competitions, umpires from different countries used to judge the games.

  1. Ramses III Funeral Temple, 20th Dynasty, 1000 B.C. Medinet Habu

Games

There is a theory, in fact, that the Ancient Egyptians began the custom of holding international games regularly at Akhmem in Upper Egypt.

It is my hope that the research of scholars in Akhmem will shed more light on this subject.

Last, but not least, it remains to be said that in Egypt, sport was born and flourished, and from there spread to Greece, Rome and to the rest of the world.

 

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Last modified: 11/17/10