Comenius Program 2010 - 2012PLAYING IN ANCIENT GREECE Toys and games in ancient Greece
• Ancient Greek children played games strikingly similar to many of the games children play today.• Like many modern psychologists, Greek adults saw such games as a valuable way to prepare children informally for adult tasks and vocations.• Plato, a classical Greek philosopher (428-348 B.C.), wrote: “He who is good at anything as a man must practice that thing from early childhood, in play as well as earnest, with all the attendant circumstances of the action”.• Various ancient works of art show children at play. Also, archaeologists have recovered the remains of some ancient Greek toys.
Ancient toysAncient Greek childrenplayed with many toysincluding:• little clay animals• horses on fourwheels that could bepulled on a string• yo-yo’s• terra cotta dolls
Terra cotta dollsThe doll is one of the most diachronic and widespread games inall cultures. Ancient Greece had a brilliant legacy in dolls, thepresence of which we detect continuously in all the historicalperiods, where various types of dolls with various names madetheir appearance: idols, plangôns, nymphs, korês, korokosmionor koryllia, dagudes, glynes and nevrospaston.
AioraAn age-old game that in ancient Greece we find with the name aiorain the Byzantium a hanging aiora, and today as a swing.It was mainly played with by girls and small boys. It was made with asingle or many ropes, the two utmost ends of which were tied to atree branch, a horizontal beam, from the transom of a door or fromwherever possible, thus shaping a U.
KrikilasiaGames involving rolling woodenhoops, quite similar to those childrenplay today, were also popular withancient Greek children. A child with ahoop appears in the Hood’sexhibition on an oinochoe entitledServing Boy Holding Tray and HoopThere are abundant literaryreferences to the popularity of hoopbowling: in Euripides’Medea, Medea’s young sons firstappear when “fresh from their hoopbowling.” Similarly, a wealthymagistrate who endowed agymnasium in Prirene encouragedthe young men who frequented it toroll hoops.
AstragaliThe “αςτράγαλοι”(knucklebones), were the itemswith which the game of“αςτραγαλιςμόσ” [astragalismos]was played, as well as severalgames of dexterity and games ofchance, and they were also usedas a means to predict the futureand to provide divinations. TheAncient Greeks also consideredthem protective items and manytimes they became pieces ofpendants, together with otherprotective items (amuletum).Today the “αςτράγαλοι” areknown to us as “κότςια”, a namethat originates from Byzantineterminology. We do not know theexact time the game of“αςτραγαλιςμόσ” firstappeared, and naturally the“αςτράγαλοι”.
Astragalismosknucklebone playing inancient Greek art. Childrentypically played thisgame, often regarded as theancestor of modern jacksgames, with the tarsal bonesof sheep or goats.There were numerousvariations on the games ofknucklebones
AthirmaThe amaxis was a toy-objectthat kept the same nameeven during the Byzantium.Today we know it as a buggyor wheelbarrow. It was asmall child’s toy, mainly forboys who were a maximumof 6-8 years old. In variousvessels, roughly-madebuggies areportrayed, effigies of smallchariots with twotires, usually drawn by achild carrying in this a smallanimal.
PetavronThe game that we knowcalled Aiora h Vrachionios is aswing game different from thehammock. No ropes wereused, but a large board thatthe ancient Greeks called“petavron”. At the same timethe Aiora h Vrachionios is alsoa gymnastics apparatus. Thegame enjoyed a widedistribution both in the Greekworld and in the Roman; itwas also played in theByzantium under the samename. Today it is called a see-saw.
EphedrismosEphedrismos was a popular game whose name isderived from the Greek word for “sit upon.” Twoplayers place a stone upright on the ground andthrow other stones at it from a distance. Theplayer who fails to knock over the upright stonethen carries the other player on his back whilethe winner’s hands cover his eyes. The pair runsaround in this fashion until the losing playertouches the stone.
OstrakindaGreek children also loved to play agame called ostrakinda.The name of the game is derived fromthat of the shell that is used duringplay. Greek children would take a shelland smear one side black. Theyreferred to this side as “night,” whilethe blank side was “day.” The childrenthen drew a line, divided into twoteams, and decided which team wasnight and which day. One player wouldtoss the shell, and the side whosecolor came up chased the other team.Anyone caught was forced to carry hispursuer on his back.Variations of ostrakinda are still playedin Europe. English children play aversion called “Crusts and Crumbs,”French children one called “Le Jour etLa Nuit,” and Austrian children a gamecalled “Schwarz-Weiss.”
PentalithaThe renowned game, evenknown today by the names of“πεντόβολα” [pentovola] (fivethrows), “πετράβολα”[petravola] (stonethrows), “πεντεκούκια”[pentekukia] (fivebeans), “πετράδια” [petradia](stones) and others, wasknown to the Greeks fromvery ancient times. In“πεντάλιθα” players used fivesmall, smooth stones, fiveknucklebones or five smalland flat pieces of shell.
Other games similar to many of the games children play today
Ball gamesAncient Greek playednumerous types ofball games
Ancient Greek football player balancing the ball
Episkyros - ArpastronArpaston was a ball game that, in allprobability got its name fromarpasti, the ball with which it wasplayed. This ball was of a small sizeand could be easily seized. It wasplayed as follows: A group of childrenor adolescents threw the ball up highand while it fell, the player had tocatch it in the air and throw it up highagain.The opponents pushed oneanother, ran, feigned, jumped alltogether in order to grab the ball, tiredthemselves out and raised clouds ofdust. Because of the violence thatcharacterized the game, it may havebelonged to “sferomachia”, a categoryof games that presupposed bodilystrength and the ability to wrestle. Inour times it is still played with thesame name, arpaston or arpasti.
TrigonoAn interesting ball gameestablished in ancient Greece ataround 500 B.C., without usknowing any other details aboutthe game or who devised it. It isin any case a fact that all gameswith a top or ball were popular.This particular game was playedwith three balls, that were calledtrigones and which werealternately thrown by theplayer, the trigonist, in the airforming a triangle.One was supposed to be inhis/her hand and the other two inthe air. The game could be playedboth by one player as well asmore, therefore there was alsocompetition
The three players thatsit on the shoulders ofthe other threeappear to be lookingfor something withoutstretched handsfrom someone olderwho, supported on awalking stick, isprepared to throw aball towards them.
Ball game like hockeyIt is a type of ball game where the players attempt with curvedsticks to draw the ball towards them, movements that remindus a lot of modern hockey, a fact that would have to directresearch around hockey and how it was invented.
A ball game like basketballHere two young boys areshown playing passé-boule, a game similar tomodern basketball. Theobject was to toss the ballthrough a hole in anupright board stuck in theground. Four other ancientGreek vases, all datingfrom the latter half of thefifth century, showversions of this populargame.
Strategy gamesThe Ancient Greeks alsoplayed games that did notinvolve much physicalactivity also, such asmarbles, dice, checkersand knucklebones. Belowis a famous vase from theVatican museum depictingAchilles and Aias playingPetteia checkers.
“Solon, you Greeks always remain children. There has never been an old Greek. You heart because your heart does not remember any of the old beliefs of tradition nor the age-old knowledge…”. Plato (great Greek philosopher, 428 – 348 B. C.)Comenius Program 2010 - 2012 Zoe Takavakoglou 2nd junior high school Teacher of ancient Greek literature Evosmos Thessaloniki Greece