What kind of games did people play?
Welcome to Quatr.us Study Guides!

History of Games

egyptian girls ride piggyback and toss a ball
Egyptian girls playing a piggyback ball toss game

April 2016 - There have been toys and games since before there were people; even young chimpanzees carry around wooden sticks and pretend they are babies. Many very simple games are also very old, like running races and playing tag or leapfrog, circle dances, seesaws, or competing to see who can jump the highest or the farthest, or throw a stone the farthest. Cat's cradle games with string probably go back as far as string does, to the Paleolithic, before the first people left Africa.

boys hit a ball with sticks
Greek boys playing field hockey

Tossing balls also goes back at least to ancient Egypt. People made balls out of leather stuffed with cloth scraps or wool, sewn together with leather thongs or string. Boys in Athens played a game like field hockey with curved sticks and a ball. Girls juggled in ancient Egypt, and also in ancient Greece.

girl juggling
Athenian girl juggling (400s BC)

Hopscotch seems to have started out as a training exercise for the Roman army, but it soon spread to Africa and all across Asia. By this time, and possibly much earlier, people also played marbles, first maybe with pebbles, then 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.

one boy jumps rope while two turn
Chinese boys jump rope (Song Dynasty (?), ca. 1100 AD)
boy rolling a hoop
European boy rolling a wooden hoop (Pieter Bruegel,
Kinderspiele, 1560, now in Vienna)

Children jumped rope in Song Dynasty China (about 1100 AD) and in medieval Europe just a little later. 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.

Learn by doing: play hopscotch or cat's cradle
More about knucklebones and dolls

Bibliography and further reading about ancient and medieval games:

African games
Central Asian games
Chinese games (Kung Fu)
Indian games (Parcheesi, Chess, Chutes and Ladders)
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)
Quatr.us home

LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Quatr.us Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
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.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Quatr.us Study Guides
  • Publisher: Quatr.us
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a Quatr.us "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more?
Quatr.us is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 23 April, 2017