Mankind is driven by its innate competitive spirit. We thrive on competition, and we have cultivated our competitive streak and integrated it in our daily lives by creating a healthy and relatively safe platform for it through sports.
While modern sports have been finetuned in such a way that the possibility of getting seriously injured has significantly been reduced as time went by, it cannot be denied that these physical activities still pose some danger to those who engage in them. But that degree of danger is nothing compared to the many sports and games from our ancient past that no longer exist today. And as much as many of us enjoy a little risk in exchange for some adrenaline-fueled exhilaration, some of these ancient sports were too bloody, violent and just utterly insane by modern standards that they died out over time as they required the loss of life and limb of most of their players all for the sake of entertainment.
And so, for this video, here are eight ancient sports that are just too crazy for the modern world.
Also known as the Mesoamerican Ballgame, this sport dates back to 1400 BCE and was played by the pre-Columbian inhabitants of ancient Mesoamerica. The game is said to be similar to that of racquetball and the players’ objective was to keep a solid, heavy ball in play though vertical stone rings were introduced later on. The sport is brutal as it inflicted serious injuries on the players that left them perpetually bruised and may have possibly killed some of them. Even worse, the sport also had ritual aspects which required the human sacrifice of the losing team and the decapitation of its members, particularly the captain.
Translated in English, this Roman sport means “The Hunt” and it was a popular form of gladiatorial combat and a source entertainment in Rome around 54 A.D. It entailed a team of slaves facing off against the “Beast of Carthage,” which equated to 20 aggressive elephants charging at the competitors at full speed. The players only had around 2% chances of surviving the whole ordeal, and needless to say, the game was very violent and resulted in the deaths of countless humans and elephants alike.
3. Cretan Bull Leaping
From the name itself, you could probably already tell that this coming-of-age sport from the island of Crete in Greece involved young men jumping over speeding bulls. To the ancient Cretans, successfully leaping over a bull marked a boy’s transition into manhood, but sadly, some of these boys never got to grow up as adults as their miscalculated attempts at bull leaping often led to their untimely demise. Some were lucky and survived the experience with serious injuries, but others were extremely lucky and potentially heaven-blessed since they successfully made the jump relatively unscathed.
We credit the Ancient Greeks for many things and one of them is probably the development of what is arguably the first known mixed martial art sport on the face of the Earth – Pankration. It’s a combination of striking and wrestling and quite similar with modern-day MMA tournaments. However, this ancient Greek combat sport didn’t have weight divisions, time limits and rests in-between rounds. The rule was simple – almost anything was allowed and the fighting didn’t end until someone surrendered. Interestingly, while the fighting can be brutal and almost deadly, competitors were not allowed to kill their opponents. Doing so resulted in a loss as it meant that the other contestant had a stronger warrior spirit for refusing to quit.
5. Skin Pulling
Known as the Viking’s version of the game tug of war, it had the same rules as the classic sport we play today although with a few minor details that made it one of the Vikings’ favorite pastimes. First of all, the Vikings did not pull a rope; they pulled on animal hides which were tied together. And second of all, the Vikings made the game even more interesting by holding the tournaments over open pits of fire. Losing was more than just an unsavory option as the team that got dragged into the burning pit faced a very gruesome and fiery end.
6. Chariot Racing
If you’ve watched the 1959 film classic “Ben-Hur,” then you probably recall the iconic “chariot race” scene from the movie and saw how violent and dangerous this ancient sport could get. Chariot racing was a popular event during the thriving civilizations of the Ancient Greeks, Romans and the Byzantine Empire. Charioteers of the time were paid handsomely and enjoyed considerable fame. However, they also lived relatively short lives as chariot racing did not have strict rules to follow and contestants could do anything they wanted to prevent their opponents from finishing the race. They could ram against other chariots to destroy them and even use weapons to slaughter the horses so the other charioteers would crash.
7. The Fisherman’s Joust
A very popular aquatic combat sport in ancient Egypt, the Fisherman’s Joust had a simple principle: two teams on their respective boats would venture into the crocodile-infested waters of the Nile and attempt to knock off their opponents from their boats using paddles or long poles. Hitting each other senselessly could get very brutal but that wasn’t the only life-threatening situation that contestants would encounter in playing this sport. If they ended up falling into the water, they would be lucky to swim their way back to dry land but before they could, they risked getting eaten alive by the crocodiles, hippos and other beastly creatures that were lurking in the waters.
This ancient Roman sport in English literally means “naval combat,” and it’s essentially the staging of naval battles in which the objective of the contestants involved is to destroy the opponent’s fleet of ships and kill all of its crew, which were made up of prisoners. The competitions did not take place at open sea but were held in specially-designed man-made basins that in some cases included various sea creatures. The earliest recorded event of Naumachia was organized by Julius Caesar in 46 BC in celebration of his military accomplishments. However, the largest recorded event of this violent sport was arranged by Emperor Claudius in 52 AD and took place at Fucine Lake. This naval battle involved the participation of 100 vessels and around 19,000 men.
We cannot deny that our ancient ancestors were capable of coming up with ingenious ways to push the limits of what the human body could achieve while entertaining themselves at the same time. But these ancient sports eventually died out with the passage of time and with good reason. In the world we live in today, we no longer welcome the idea of forcing people into participating in bloody and deadly games for the sake of mass entertainment. But that doesn’t mean we are not capable of finding fun and interesting ways to amuse ourselves. We enjoy dangerous sports too just as much as our ancestors once did, only we no longer think athletes must lose their lives and their limbs for us to deem modern sports events to be worth our while.