Games and sports in ancient Egypt

Image | Pixabay

In the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean, the practice of sport was closely linked to religious celebrations and leisure. However, the concept of sport in ancient Egypt is very different from what it is now.

In fact, some researchers maintain that they practiced physical exercise and not sport as such because they did not even have a word to refer to this activity. So what was sport like in ancient Egypt?

What was sport in ancient Egypt?

The climate of the country was optimal to spend most of the day outdoors and that favored the practice of physical exercise, but without having the conception of being a sport as it is currently conceived. However, they did know perfectly the relationship between physical activity and good muscle tone.

Fundamentally, sport in ancient Egypt consisted of outdoor games and military fighting and combat training. In some archaeological sites tombs with images representing martial arts that resembled karate and judo were found. A pictorial representation was also found in the tomb of Jeruef where several people appear in a fighting position as if it were a boxing match.

Another sport in ancient Egypt that used to be practiced is athletics. It was about little races from one point to another to see who was faster. Being outdoors a lot, running or swimming were very common activities for them.

Another sporting activity of a sporadic nature practiced by the Egyptians is the hunting of hippos, lions or elephants. There are stories that say that Pharaoh Amenhotep III came to hunt 90 bulls in one day and that Amenhotep II was able to pierce a copper shield by shooting five arrows with the same bow. Regarding the people, they also hunted but it was small game such as duck hunting in the river.

The Egyptians also organized chariot races as well as archery competitions, which was the sport par excellence at that time.

Who played sports in ancient Egypt?

Thousands of years ago, life expectancy was not very long and in Egypt it did not exceed 40 years. That is why people who practiced sports were very young and prone to physical activity.

Did women play sports?

Although you may think otherwise, ancient Egyptian women did play sports but they were not activities related to racing, strength or water but to acrobatics, contortionism and dancing. That is, women played a prominent role in private banquets and religious celebrations as dancers and acrobats. Today we could say that these women did something similar to rhythmic gymnastics.

Image | Pixabay

Was sport considered a spectacle in ancient Egypt?

Unlike other peoples such as the Roman or the Greek, in Egypt sport was not conceived as a spectacle. Through the images and representations that have been found in archaeological excavations, it has not been possible to find references to large venues or scenarios related to large sports shows.

This means that in ancient Egypt there was no such thing as the Olympic Games but rather Egyptians competed in the private sphere and did it simply for fun. There was not even an audience.

However, by way of exception, there was a festival that the pharaohs practiced and that could somehow be related to a sporting event. This festival was held when the monarchs had been reigning for three decades, so it was a rare celebration due to the low life expectancy of the population at that time.

What was the festival of the pharaoh?

In this festival-anniversary for the 30 years of the reign of the pharaoh, the monarch had to go through a square enclosure in a kind of ritual race whose objective was to show his people that he was still young and had enough vitality to continue ruling the country.

The first festival of its kind was celebrated after 30 years of reign and every three years thereafter. For example, it is said that the pharaoh Ramses II died with more than ninety years, so he would have had plenty of time to do various festivals, being an exception within the time.

Was there a pharaoh who stood out as an athlete?

Pharaoh Ramses II was very long-lived and participated in several festivals-anniversary but it was Amenhotep II who was considered the prototype of the athletic monarch, from an aesthetic or physical point of view.

Image | Pixabay

What role did the Nile play for sport in Egypt?

The Nile River was the main highway in the country at that time, through which goods were moved and people traveled. For this, rowing and sailing boats were used, so the Egyptians were good at this discipline.

That is why in the Nile they could organize some private competition, either by boat or swimming, but they were not tournaments with public where the winner was awarded.

Regarding fishing, documentation is kept that shows that In the Nile there were also some private competitions to see who was capable of catching the most..

Was there a god related to sport in Egyptian mythology?

In ancient Egypt there were gods for almost all areas of life but curiously not for sport because, as I pointed out earlier, at that time sport was not conceived as we do today.

However, the Egyptians if they worshiped gods in the shape of animals for the qualities that were attributed to them. That is, the gods with the body of a bird were admired for their agility and ability to fly, while the gods with the shape of a bull were done by the force that these creatures possess, as happens with other animals like crocodiles.

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