Football of Greek And Roman Periods
Football, which essentially involves kicking a ball and negotiating it to the goalpost using only the feet - has been a popular sport for several centuries in many countries across the world. The game is known by a variety of names - rugby, soccer, football etc
During ancient times, the Greeks and the Romans played many types of ball games and a few prominent ones resembled the present-day football. Though there is not much of recorded history of Greeks playing football, it is seen that the game of Episkyro which is similar to football was regularly played throughout Greece as early as 800 BCE.
However, the Episkyro game permitted the use of hands as well, which means the game was more in the nature of rugby than football. But the other features of Episkyro were in accordance with football. For instance, the size of the playing field and each team having twelve players were in accordance with the latter day football.
Historians of sports suggest that it was not so much Episkyro but another Greek ball game Harpastron that was the forerunner to football. Strangely, the Greek word Harpastron means handball and not football. The fact is the Greeks did not popularize the game much in their own country but allowed it to develop in a big way in Rome.
There is evidence to suggest that Romans borrowed the basic concept of both the Greek games of Episkyro and Harpastron and evolved a new a game called Harpastum. They also insisted on kicking the ball and using all other parts of the body during the game except the hands. The Roman game of Harpastum can be truly considered as the forerunner to football.
Although it is difficult to state in a pinpointed way when the Romans started playing Harpastum, it can be safely presumed that they must have introduced the game after the Romans conquered Greece in 146 BCE. Harpastum principally resembled the rugby style of the game and it appears it was played even by Julius Caesar and his generals for improving the overall physical fitness of the Roman Army.
It is known that the Harpastum ball was made from leather skin and stuffed with chopped sponges or animal fur and was much smaller measuring 8 inches in diameter. They used a smaller rectangular pitch and the number of players in each team varied and occasionally, they played even with a hundred players to a side. Harpastum was indeed a fast and exciting game that often turned violent leading to even physical assault.
Harpastum soon gained immense popularity and became known in almost all European countries where the then powerful Roman army went. In the year 1968, excavators discovered near Gardun Trilj a Roman tomb with a picture of a boy holding a ball that resembles a football. The International Football Association has acknowledged this finding to be the first artifact of the football in the world.
So, it can be said, without fear of contradiction, that it was the Romans who were largely responsible for introducing football in other countries around the world - particularly England where the game developed into the modern day football.