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Painting of men playing polo riding on horses

Men playing polo

When was polo invented?

Polo was first invented in the Islamic Empire, during the Abbasid period (as far as we can tell). Probably it comes from earlier Central Asian horseback games. Many Central Asian soldiers fought in the Abbasid army, so they may have brought their games with them. About the same time, people also started to play polo in China. Of course polo was originally played with horses. But today it’s probably impractical for you to organize a polo game with real horses.

Medieval Islamic games
Central Asian games
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What is polo?

You play polo in two teams, with a goal at each end, like field hockey. You try to get the ball into your goal. But you play polo riding horses, and you use your stick to hit the ball from your horse.

History of horses

Islamic polo project

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 just a stick). You’ll also need the kind of ball you use for field hockey (or just any ball bigger than a baseball).

History of bicycles

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

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 polo trained men for the cavalry).

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Medieval Islamic Games
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Bibliography and further reading about medieval Islamic games:

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