Islamic Polo Project
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Islamic Polo Project


Polo was first invented in the Islamic Empire, during the Abbasid period (as far as we can tell). Of course it was originally played with horses. But today it's probably impractical for you to organize a polo game with real horses.

But maybe it wouldn't be so hard to play polo on bicycles, on a school playground or a tennis court or parking lot. Each player will need (in addition to a bicycle), a long mallet, like a croquet mallet (or a stick with a piece of 2x4 lashed to one end). You'll also need the kind of ball you use for field hockey.

woman playing polo on a horse
Chinese woman playing polo (T'ang Dynasty, ca. 1000 AD)

Divide the players into two teams, each with five people on a side (or more, or fewer, depending how many kids there are!). There are two goals, one at each end of the space. The object is to get the ball into your goal, by riding around on your bike and hitting it with your mallet. You can't touch the ball, and of course you can't hit anyone with your mallet.

The rules are a lot like soccer.

Some points for discussion:

Why did people play polo on horses before, and now it seems difficult to get horses? Why was polo a rich person's game? (Think also about how it trained men for the cavalry).

Other activities:

* Chess
* Archery
More projects
Medieval Islamic Games
More about the Islamic Empire

Bibliography and further reading about medieval Islamic games:

Birth of the Chess Queen : A History, by Marilyn Yalom (2004). How the game of chess changed from West Asia to Europe.

Arab Falconry: History of a Way of Life, by Roger Upton (2002).

Al-Mansur's Book on Hunting, by Sir Terence Clark and Muawiya Derhalli

A day in the Islamic Empire
More about the games people played in the Islamic Empire home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 27 March, 2017