The Origins of Sports

I will be writing a series of articles giving some of the more notable dates in the evolution of sports. This isn’t a detailed analysis of those events, but gives the earliest knowledge we have of some modern-day sports, together with details of some of the first major sports festivals and  outstanding athletes.

The dates here are all Before Christ (BC) or as it is also known Before Common Era (BCE)

The origins of sport can be traced from the time when self-preservation ceased to be the only thing occupying the time of early man.

8000 BC/BCE  Archery used as a hunting skill in the Mesolithic Era
6500 First sledge made in Heinola, Finland
5200 Ancient Egyptians played a game similar to bowls
c5000 Evidence of horse racing in Egypt

Neolithic flint miners in Norfolk,England practised rope-pulling.

4000 Evidence of boxing in Ethiopia
3800 Earliest evidence of organised running in Memphis,Egypt.
3000 Persian engraving gives first evidence of horse riding
2750 Earliest depictions of wrestling on wall plaques and a statue
2500 A ski from this date was found in a peat bog at Hoting,Sweden.
2500-1500 Evidence of gliders in ancient Egypt
2050 Representation of two players with curved sticks in a “bully-off” position found in tomb at Beni Hasan,Egypt
1829 The Tailteann Games were an ancient sporting event held in Meath, Ireland in honour of the goddess Tailtiu. They ran from 1829 BC to 1169-1171 AD.The games were held over thirty days and included hurling,high jump, “pole vault”,stone throw and javelin type events.
1520 Boxing with gloves depicted in a fresco from the island of Thera, Greece
1450-1425 Records of a boat being stroked, as in rowing, for three miles.
1400 Hittites in Anatolia practise horsemanship
1370 Possible origins of ancient olympics
1360 Fencing with sticks was a sport or part of a religious ceremony in Egypt
1350 Sculpture from Thebes showing boxing in front of spectators
1150 An archery competition is described in the Iliad by Homer
2nd milennium Game similar to badminton played in China
10th cent Pok-ta-Pok played by Olmecs in Mexico. The sport was a forerunner of basketball
c.900 Homer refers to games organised by Achilles following the death of Patroclus at the siege of Troy
8th century Probable origins of ice-skating
776 The First Ancient Olympic Games were held. Only free men who spoke Greek could compete. Koroibos, a cook from Elis, won the foot race called the stadion (190 metres approximately) and was the first known Olympic champion,the only event at the first games.

Competitions for lifting weights of stone,wrestling and gymnastics held in Ancient Olympics

724 The two stades race (384 metres), the diaulos, was introduced into the Olympics
720 The 24 stades race over 4600m, the dolichos, was held at the Olympics (won by Acanthus of Sparta who also won the diaulos)
720 Orsippus won the stade race at the Olympics, probably the first to win running naked, which became traditional.
708 A pentathlon (discus,standing long jump,javelin,stadion and wrestling) was held in the Olympics
688 Boxing held in the 23rd Olympic Games
656 Chionis of Sparta long-jumps 7.05 metres at Olympics.He also wins his third consecutive titles at stade and diaulos. Protesilaus throws the discus 100 cubits (over 46 metres).
648 Horse racing known to have featured in the 33rd ancient Olympic games
600 The Heraea Games, the first recorded competition for women in the Olympic Stadium, were held as early as the sixth century BC. It originally consisted of foot races only.
A sprint race for umarried girls was held in the pan-Hellenic games, which date from this time, but not in the Olympics The Olympic Games were more important and more prestigious than the Pythian,Nemean and Isthmian games (the Pan-Hellenic games) which were sports festivals held in Greece in a cycle which included the Olympics.
525 Probable origins of polo in Persia as the game of Pulu
520 hoplitodromos, or “Hoplite race”, introduced and traditionally run as the last race of the Olympic Games. The runners would run either a single or double diaulos in armour, carrying a shield
500 Greeks play a form of hockey
490 Pheidippides runs from Marathon to Athens with news of the battle. The basis of the modern marathon.
488-480 Astylos of Croton won on three separate occasions the stade and diaulos events in the Olympics
480 Theagenes of Thasos won at Olympics. One of 1300 titles he won at different sports events.He was an outstanding boxer and runner.
464 Diagoras of Rhoddes wins one of at least nine boxing titles at Hellenic games
4th to 3rd cent Tsu-Chu,similar to football,played in China
3rd or 2nd cent bc Chinese nationalist Golf Association claim a game of Chinese origin called Ch’ui Wan was played
396 and 392 Cynisca, a Spartan princess bred horses which won the four-horse event and became the first woman in history to win at the ancient Olympic Games. She didn’t compete herself.
264 A woman,Bilistiche, wins two horse races at Olympics according to some sources
164-152 Leonidas of Rhodes wins twelve running titles at Olympics 3 at each games – a record for the Games
36 Swimming competitions known to have been held.
Orgins of Petanque over 2000 years ago
Records of shinty developing from the ancient game of Camanachd, the sport of the curved stick, in Celtic history.

For each of the time periods described I will give my choice for the best sportsmen and women (if possible), and also teams.

For this period it is difficult to choose because so few details are known. From what I have read I would choose:


1st: Leonidas of Rhodes for his twelve Olympic titles over four games.

2nd Theagenes of Thassos – an outstanding all-round sportsman. Supposedly unbeaten for twenty-two years at boxing.

3rd Chionis of Sparta – double champion at three Olympics. His long jump mark if true would have been competitive in the early modern Olympics.


Not much choice so it goes to Bilistiche for her horse race wins at the Olympics.

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