Perhaps, it would suffice to say that our ancestors hated boredom. We may still have our share of crazy and extreme sports in the present times, but you would be surprised to know that the people of the yesteryears had it even crazier. Every so often, you will find yourself asking, “What in the world were these ancient people thinking, if they were thinking at all?” While most athletes don’t necessarily risk their lives to play soccer or football as we know them now, those sports (along with many others) find their roots in ancient times. This is the list of the 20 Most Intense Sports of the Ancient World.
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Table of Contents
Ever seen the movie Gladiator? This is what it looks like, except that you will be fighting with starved lions and bears for your life without any weapon whatsoever. It is quite hard to say which one had it worse, the slave or the animal. Roman games were very popular in those days. Ancient Romans really liked pitting the animals against humans, and even told stories or dramas that involved human slaves as central characters. This is actually an execution delivered in an “entertainment-style”, something to amuse or please the crowds of thousands. If you have ever dreamed of visiting the majestic Colosseum in Rome, then you would have been dreaming of being in a Venatio venue.
2. Camel Jumping
A common ancient sport among the members of Zaraniq tribe on the west coast of Yemen was Camel Jumping. This ancient practice has recently resurged with partakers jumping over as many camels as they can. Think it is a yawn fest? Full-grown camels stand at 6ft. at shoulder height, with a body length of around 10ft. Participants take of running, then try to leap over as many as possible, much like the modern drunken frat-boys of the nearby college.
3. Viking Skin Pulling
Familiar with the game “tug-of-war”? This is just like that one, except that the participants use animal skin instead of a rope, and they are playing over a pit of fire. As you may have guessed, the victors walk away with rights to plunder — a certain town, which usually included the rape-rights to the women. As for the losers? They can show cowardice by letting go, or be roasted to a perfect crisp. How this is considered “fun” is still beyond understanding.
Believe it or not, this is the national sport of Afghanistan. It was banned after the Taliban took charge, but now that they have been removed from power, it is all in the rage again. Sometimes, matches are even able to draw crowds of thousands. The sport involves a certain number of players mounted on horses, fighting over the carcass of a headless goat by trying to get it across a goal line. Yes, seriously. But hey, think about it, the round thing you use for your soccer game is also made of chemically treated animal skin shaped to look like a ball, so it’s not that different at all, right?
Think MMA is cool and tough? You haven’t seen anything yet. This ancient version pretty much involves (a lot of) kicking, boxing, and wrestling, and it was even considered as one of the ancient Olympic games. But here’s the catch: as long as you don’t bite or gouge out your opponent’s eyes, you can do whatever you want. No time limit, and in most cases, no one is there to judge the fight either. Pankration, or “all power”, is mostly just about beating your opponent to a bloody pulp and almost killing him… Almost, because if you did accidentally kill your opponent, he will be declared the winner. So unless he gives up or accidentally dies, you’re in for a long bloody ride.
Another spectacle (?) to behold in the famed Colosseum, naumachia is like a mock naval battle, only that the bloody results are real. The ancient Roman soldiers would fill the arena with water, add some ships, then attempt to recreate bloody naval battles… just for fun, of course. Except it wasn’t fun for the ones sentenced to death, and the only ones entertained are the authorities. Ancient Romans even went as far as placing actual sea creatures.
While it does not bear the same gore and bloodshed as the other ones mentioned in this 20 Most Intense Sports of the Ancient World list, it can still be considered hardcore because really, who would even think of knocking down your opponent off a horse using a ten-foot pole? Only our ancestors from Medieval England, that’s who. Injuries and death were common, but completely smashed armors are even more plenty.
8. Mesoamerican Ball Game or Ulama
Never heard of this sport before? Perhaps the strangest of them all, this game is just like basketball and volleyball, except that the “ball” has to be bounced on the players’ hips n attempt to get it through a hoop on a wall. The catch? The “balls” are often made out of human skulls. Wondering where the skulls come from? You may want to stick around until the end of the game to find out the answer.
9. Nguni Stick Fighting
This bizarre ancient sport is still practiced today, with participants from Zulu beating each other out with sapling branches. More of a child’s game than a sport, it entails endless whacking until someone gives up or accidentally dies. Yes, injuries and death aren’t unusual.
Think this sport is only for snooty people with access to huge amounts of cash? On the contrary, it was anything but posh and classy. Back in Persia where this game started, men would show off their horseback riding skills and attempt to fight each other, so it only follows that the sport also involved a lot of injuries and sometimes, even death.