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 Egyptian kings, princes and statesmen were keen on attending sports competitions, which they encouraged and provided with the necessary equipment.
Drawings on pharaonic monuments tell us that several thousand years ago, the Egyptians had laid down basic rules for games, chosen a neutral referee, a uniform for players, and a means of announcing the winners by awarding them different collars.
Both winner and loser were met with ovation, the first for his superiority and the latter for his sporting spirit.
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.
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.
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.
Tug of War
One of the ancient Egyptian plates at the "Marorika tomb" shows teams standing in two opposite rows, with the first players of each row holding hands and pulling back each other while the other members of each team hold each other tightly by the waist and try to pull back the opposite team.
The first contestant in the front has one foot supported by that of his opposite number. This sport is still practiced in the Egyptian countryside.
Javelin throwing during the Pharaonic age was first linked to hunting. Drawings show how the hunter could hit his prey by one single throw despite its speed. The javelin differed in length according to the kind of prey.
The javelin is thrown upwards lightly so that it revolves in quick spins until it returns to the player to be used again. The javelin is a stick with a twisted end.
The picture shows the player in a position of readiness to throw.
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.
Some ancient Egyptian scenes of boxing as a game were found in the tomb of "Mery Ra" in the Minia Governorate and in the "Ptah Hotep" tomb in Saqqara. In this picture, a player is depicted in a position ready to direct his blows with his fist to another player, who in turn, tries to repel these blows. Pharaohs and princes watched the boxing match, which indicates that it was an organized contest.
Weightlifting was one of the sports known by the ancient Egyptians. One method of weightlifting was the attempt to lift a heavy sack of sand with one hand (clean and jerk lift) and keep it high in a quasi-vertical position. The player had to stay in that position for a short period. This is one of the rules of weightlifting applied till now.
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".
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.
Rowing was one of the sports that required most physical strength on the part of the ancient Egyptian. Plates recorded team-rowing in which the players depended on harmonizing their rowing according to the directives of their leader who held the rudder. The leader also controlled their movement through a high-pitched systematic call to unify the moment when oars touched the surface of the water and that helped to push the boat forward more steadily and swiftly - a method still being adopted in rowing nowadays.
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.
Tug of Hoop
This is an ancient Egyptian game in which two players compete in pulling the hoop swiftly. Each contestant fixes a hooked staff to hinder any snatch of the hoop by the other player. This game needs sharp physical maneuvers and strict observation, particularly because the hooked staff is used both to pull the hoop and support it from falling flat on the floor.
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.
Source: Your gate way to Egypt- Egyptian Culture & Art
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