History of Games for Kids - what kind of games did people play?
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History of Games

greek girl juggling
Ancient Greek juggling

Many of the games people played a long time ago, we still play today. Other games have now been completely forgotten. All of them are fun to play, though.
Ball games have been known for thousands of years. People made balls out of leather stuffed with cloth scraps or wool, sewn together with leather thongs or string (like a football today). There are pictures of both boys and girls throwing balls to one another, and of boys in classical Athens playing a game like field hockey with curved sticks and a ball. (Unfortunately we don't know the rules). In this picture you can see a girl juggling three balls, on a vase from Athens in the 400s BC.
By this time, and possibly much earlier, people also played marbles, with small balls made out of clay (the crummy ones) and out of real marble (the good ones). (Glass marbles were not invented until much later. It is still possible, though not easy, to buy clay marbles, but I have not found a source for stone ones). Again we don't know the rules. But probably they played the same basic games of marbles that we know today: one version where you take turns tossing the marbles at a goal (another marble, a hole, or a wall), and another version where you take turns shooting the marbles within a circle drawn in the dirt, trying to get them out of the circle.

greek games

Another type of game was played with wooden hoops and sticks, either tossing the hoop up in the air and trying to keep it up in the air with the sticks (rather like a hula hoop), or rolling the hoop along the ground pushing it with the stick.

Many very simple games are also very old, like running races and playing tag, or competing to see who can jump the highest or the farthest. They also played hopscotch, which seems to have started out as a training exercise for the Roman army.

The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were also very fond of board games like backgammon and checkers. Archaeologists often find paving stones in houses and in public buildings and sidewalks which have had little hollows carved out of them to place stones in, to play board games. The hollows are made in different patterns for different games. Again we don't know the rules. These games may have been like the African game Mancala. Many times we find these boards in places where men were bored, like in the doorways of guardposts, where the men (maybe slaves) had to sit all day in case somebody came. Somewhere in China, chess was invented and became very popular, eventually making its way west to India, then the Islamic Empire, and finally to Europe.

More about ancient and medieval games

To find out more about ancient and medieval games, check out these books and games from Amazon or from your library:


Kids Around the World Play!: The Best Fun and Games from Many Lands, by Arlette N. Braman (2002). For kids. There are lots of ancient games in here too, even though the title doesn't say so.

Oxford History of Board Games, by David Parlett (1999). For adults - more like an encyclopedia, very complete but hard to read.


Chinese games (Kung Fu)
Indian games (Parcheesi, Chess, Chutes and Ladders)
Central Asian games (Wrestling and Archery)
Roman games (Gladiators)
West Asian games (Gambling and horse races)
Egyptian games (Dice)
Greek games (Olympics)
Islamic games (Polo and Chess)
Medieval games (Tournaments)
North American games (Lacrosse)
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Copyright 2012-2014 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated 2014. Powered by Dewahost.

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