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Ancient Greek football player balancing the ball. Depiction on an Attic Lekythos.

Episkyros (Greek: ἐπίσκυρος; also called ἐφηβική ephebike,[citation needed] "adolescence", and ἐπίκοινος epikoinos, "commonball")[1][2] was an ancient Greek ball game. Highly teamwork oriented,[3] the game was played between two teams of usually 12 to 14 players each, with one ball and the rules of the game allowed using hands. Although it was a ball game, it was violent, at least at Sparta.[4] The teams would try to throw the ball over the heads of the other team. There was a white line called the skuros [3] between the teams and another white line behind each team. Teams would change the ball often until one of the team is forced behind the line at their end. In Sparta a form of episkyros was played during an annual city festival that included five teams of 14 players.[5][6][7][8][9] It was played primarily by men but women also practiced it. The Greek game of episkyros (or a similar game called φαινίνδα - phaininda,[10] probably meaning "deceiving game", from the verb φενακίζω - phenakizo, "(I) cheat, lie"[11]) was later adopted by the Romans, who renamed and transformed it into harpastum,[12][13] the latinisation of the Greek ἁρπαστόν (harpaston), neuter of ἁρπαστός (harpastos), "carried away",[14] from the verb ἁρπάζω (harpazo), "(I) seize, snatch".[15] A depiction on an Attic lekythos in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, shows a Greek athlete balancing a ball on his thigh. This image is reproduced on the European Cup football trophy.[16] Other ancient Greek sports with a ball besides phaininda, were: ἀπόῤῥαξις (aporrhaxis) (bouncing ball game),[17] οὐρανία (ourania), "throwing a ball high in air game"[18][19] and σφαιρομαχία (sphairomachia), literally "ball-battle",[20] from σφαῖρα (sphaira) "ball, sphere"[21] and μάχη (mache), "battle".[22]

Julius Pollux includes Phaininda and Harpastum in a list of ball games:

Phaininda takes its name from Phaenides, who first invented it, or from 'phenakizein' (to deceive), because they show the ball to one man and then throw to another, contrary to expectation. It is likely that this is the same as the game with the small ball, which takes its name from 'harpazein' (to snatch) and perhaps one would call the game with the soft ball by the same name.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ἐπίσκυρος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. ^ ἐπίκοινος in Liddell and Scott.
  3. ^ a b [1] David F. Elmer, Epikoinos: The Ball Game ; Episkuros and Illiad.
  4. ^ Miller, Stephen Gaylord (2004). Ancient Greek Athletics. Yale University Press. 
  5. ^ Craig, Steve (2002). Sports and games of the ancients. p. 101. ISBN 0-313-36120-7. 
  6. ^ Harris, Harold Arthur. Sport in Greece and Rome. Cornell University Press. 
  7. ^ Kennell, Nigel M. (1995). The Gymnasium of Virtue: Education and Culture in Ancient Sparta. The University of North Carolina Press. 
  8. ^ "Origin of Ball Games". [dead link]
  9. ^ Crowther, Nigel B. (2007). Sport in Ancient Times. Praeger Series on the Ancient World. Praeger Publishers. 
  10. ^ φαινίνδα in Liddell and Scott.
  11. ^ φενακίζω in Liddell and Scott.
  12. ^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. In ancient Greece a game with elements of football, episkuros, or harpaston, was played, and it had migrated to Rome as harpastum by the 2nd century BC. 
  13. ^ harpastum. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  14. ^ ἁρπαστός in Liddell and Scott.
  15. ^ ἁρπάζω in Liddell and Scott.
  16. ^ Wingate, Brian (2007). Soccer: Rules, Tips, Strategy, and Safety. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-4042-0995-4. 
  17. ^ ἀπόῤῥραξις in Liddell and Scott.
  18. ^ οὐρανία, οὐρανιάζω in Liddell and Scott.
  19. ^ Miller, Stephen Gaylord (2004). Arete: Greek sports from ancient sources. p. 124. ISBN 0-520-07509-9. 
  20. ^ σφαιρομαχία in Liddell and Scott.
  21. ^ σφαῖρα in Liddell and Scott.
  22. ^ μάχη in Liddell and Scott.
  23. ^ Julius Pollux. "9.105". Onomasticon.