Many of today’s sports were practiced by the Ancient Egyptians, who set the rules and regulations for them. Inscriptions on monuments indicate that they practiced wrestling, weightlifting, long jump, swimming, rowing, shooting, fishing and athletics, as well as various kinds of ball games.
Ancient Egyptians played a game that is similar to our present-day hockey. Drawings on tombs at Beni Hassan in Menia Governorate show players holding bats made of long palm-tree branches, with a bent end similar to that of the hockey bat. The hockey ball was made of compressed papyrus fibers covered with two pieces of leather in the shape of a semicircle. The ball was dyed in two or more colors.
Drawings of this sport are found on the Saqqara tombs, five thousand years old. The ball was made of leather and stuffed with plant fibers or hay, or made of papyrus plants in order to be light and more durable. It was seldom used for more than one match.
The painting shows four girls playing handball. Each team throws the ball to the other at the same time. Players can either be on their feet or on top of their teammates’ backs while exchanging balls.
Gymnastics: Consecutive Vault
This painting represents pharaonic gymnastics. The players performed consecutive vaults without touching the floor with their heads and making more than one complete turn in the air.
At the end of the exercise the players stand firmly upright, which is one of the basic rules of floor exercise applied in today’s Olympics.
Fishing was one of the sports practiced by kings, princes and commoners. There are many drawings of scenes of fishing as a hobby on the Saqqara tombs of the Old Kingdom as much as there are on the New Kingdom monuments.
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo comprises numerous kinds of fishing rods and hooks of various shapes, which indicate the advance of such a sport in ancient Egypt.
Ancient Egyptians practiced field and track sports such as the high jump. Two players sat opposite each other with legs stretched, with one player’s feet on top of the toes of the other. If the third player managed to jump over that barrier, the two sitting players placed their palms on top of their feet to heighten the barrier which the third player had to jump across without touching.
This game is still practiced in the Egyptian countryside and is called “goose steps”.
Gymnastics (floor exercise)
The ancient Egyptians invented many sports, some for entertainment, and others for keeping strong, physically fit, and slim.
The picture dates back to 2000 years BC. It shows a gymnastics drill in which the body is bent backwards until the hand s touch the ground, revealing bodily flexibility. It is one of the most commonly practiced exercises today.
The picture shows four players performing rhythmic gymnastics in different positions. The one on the left stands on one foot, stretching his two arms horizontally, and lifting one leg as high as possible to the front to help him revolve swiftly and lightly.
The two players in the middle are standing facing each other, bending their arms near their shoulders while twisting their waists towards the left and right.
The fourth player stands on his head upside down in perfect equilibrium, without touching the floor with his arms. All these positions are close to some practiced in today’s rhythmic gymnastics.
Archery was a well-known sport in Ancient Egypt and was often recorded on plates in ancient temples. These plates show the kings’ and princes’ skill in accurate aiming at the target, and their strength in pulling the bow.
Archery competitions were common. In the 21st century BC King Amenhotep II boasted that he pierced the middle of a thick brass target with four arrows. He then set a prize for anyone who could do the same.
Swimming was the favorite sport of the ancient Egyptians, who made use of the River Nile to practice it. The Nile was not the only place for swimming contests. Noblemen’s palaces had swimming pools in which princes learnt the sport.
The calm waters of the Nile encouraged youths to hold swimming competitions in which they could show their skills.
Marathon races were of the utmost importance in ancient Egypt, particularly during celebrations marking the assumption of power of new kings. One of the rituals of these celebrations was to hold a marathon run by the king around the temples before spectators to reveal his physical strength and his ability to rule using his bodily as well as mental capabilities.
History records that the Pharaoh, together with those who were born on the same day of his birth, participated in hectic marathons. No one was allowed to have a meal before covering 180 stages of his race.
Posted by: Yasmine Aladdin