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Chowgan in a Persian miniature from Tabriz, Iran of the 16th century (from Arifi's "Ball and club" manuscript)[1]
Playing time30 minutes
Chovqan, a traditional Karabakh horse-riding game in the Republic of Azerbaijan
RegionEurope and North America
Inscription history
Inscription2013 (8th session)
Chogān, a horse-riding game accompanied by music and storytelling
Inscription history
Inscription2017 (12th session)

Chovgan, Chowgan or Chogan (Persian: چوگان, romanizedčōwgan), is a sporting team game with horses that originated in ancient Iran (Persia).[2][3] It was considered an aristocratic game and held in a separate field, on specially trained horses. The game was widespread among the Asian peoples. It is played in Iran, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.[4]

It was later adopted in the Western World, known today as polo.


Chovgan originated in ancient Iran (Persia) and was a Persian national sport played extensively by the nobility.[2][3] Women played as well as men. Chovgan originated in the middle of the first millennium A.D., as a team game. It was trendy during the centuries in the Middle East. Fragments of the game were periodically portrayed in ancient miniatures, and detailed descriptions and rules of the game were also given in the ancient manuscripts. Chogān is an Iranian traditional horse-riding game accompanied by music and storytelling. It has a history of over 2,000 years in Iran and has mostly been played in royal courts and urban fields.[5] Some authors give dates as early as the 5th century BC (or earlier)[6] to the 1st century AD[7] for its origin by the Medes. Certainly, the earliest records of polo are from the Median (an ancient Iranian people).[8] During the period of the Parthian Empire (247 BC - 224 AD), the sport enjoyed great patronage under the kings and noblemen. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity, polo (known as čowgān in Middle Persian, i.e., chovgan), was a Persian ball game and an important pastime in the court of the Sasanian Empire (224–651).[9] It was also part of royal education for the Sasanian ruling class.[9] Emperor Shapur II learned to play polo when he was seven years old in 316 AD. Known as "chovgan," it is still played in the region today.[citation needed]

Englishmen had a significant role in the distribution and development of the game in Europe and around the world. So chovgan, brought from India to England in the 19th century, became more popular, and the addition of new rules favored the spread of this game in Europe and the United States. Namely, on the initiative of Englishmen, this game acquired its present name, "polo," and was included in the program of the Olympic Games held in 1900 in Paris.[citation needed]

Chovgan in Iran

Chovgan, known as chowkan in the Sasanian Empire (Middle Persian: čowkān),[10][11] was part of royal education for the Sasanian ruling class.[9] The neighboring Eastern Romans adopted chovgan from the Sasanians and called it tzykanion, which derives from the Middle Persian word.[9] During the reign of Theodosius II, the Roman imperial court started playing tzykanion in the tzykanisterion (polo stadium).[9] By the time of the Tang dynasty (618–907), records of polo were well-established in China.[8][12] According to The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity, the popularity of polo in Tang China was "bolstered, no doubt, by the presence of the Sasanian court in exile".[9]

Polo was, at first, a training game for cavalry units, usually the king's guard or other elite troops.[13] In time polo became an Iranian national sport played generally by the nobility. Women as well as men played the game, as indicated by references to the queen and her ladies engaging King Khosrow II Parviz and his courtiers in the 6th century AD.[14] Certainly Persian literature and art give us the richest accounts of polo in antiquity.[citation needed] Ferdowsi, the famed Iranian poet-historian, gives several reports of royal chogan tournaments in his 9th-century epic, Shahnameh (the Book of Kings). In the earliest version, Ferdowsi romanticizes an international match between Turanian force and the followers of Siyâvash, a legendary Iranian prince from the earliest centuries of the Empire; the poet is eloquent in his praise of Siyâvash's skills on the polo field. Ferdowsi also tells of Emperor Shapur II of the Sasanian dynasty of the 4th century, who learned to play polo when he was only seven years old. Naqsh-i Jahan Square in Isfahan is a polo field which was built by king Abbas I in the 17th century.[citation needed]

Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan is the site of a medieval royal polo field.[15]

Sultan Qutb al-Din Aibak, the Turkic military slave from present-day Northern Afghanistan who then became Emperor of North India, ruled as an emperor for only four years, from 1206 to 1210 but died accidentally in 1210 playing polo. While he was playing a game of polo on horseback, his horse fell, and Aibak was impaled on the pommel of his saddle. He was buried near the Anarkali bazaar in Lahore (now in Pakistan). Aibak's son Aram died in 1211, so Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, another military slave of Turkic ancestry who was married to Aibak's daughter, succeeded him as Sultan of Delhi.[citation needed]

From Persia, polo spread to the Byzantines (who called it tzykanion), and after the Muslim conquests to the Ayyubid and Mameluke dynasties of Egypt and the Levant, whose elites favored it above all other sports. Notable sultans such as Saladin and Baybars were known to play it and encourage it in their court.[16]

A Persian miniature from the poem Guy-o Chawgân ("the Ball and the Polo-mallet") during Safavid dynasty of Persia, which shows courtiers on horseback playing a game of polo, 1546 AD

Later on Polo was passed from Persia to other parts of Asia, including the Indian subcontinent[17] and China, where it was trendy during the Tang dynasty and frequently depicted in paintings and statues. Valuable for training cavalry, the game was played from Constantinople to Japan by the Middle Ages. It is known in the East as the Game of Kings.[14] The name polo is said to have been derived from the Tibetan word "pulu", meaning ball.[18] In 2017, Chogān in Islamic Republic of Iran was included in the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List.[5]

Chovgan in Azerbaijan

A 16th century miniature depicts a chovgan game in the story of Khosrow and Shirin of Nizami Ganjavi

In Azerbaijan, chovqan (Azerbaijani: Çövkən) is considered a national sport.[19] Various antique prints and ceramics suggest that the sport has a long history there. For example, a vessel with fragment pictures of a chovgan game was found during archaeological excavations in the Oran-Gala area, suggesting indirectly that the game existed during the 11th century around Beylagan city. Mentions of the chovgan game also appear in “Khosrow and Shirin”, a poem by the Persian poet and thinker Nizami Ganjavi, and in pages of the Turkic epic “Kitabi Dede Korkut”.[citation needed]

One of the varieties of this game was broadly cultivated in Azerbaijan. Here two teams strive to score a goal with special clubs. Rules in the modern edition of the game are the following: two goals with a width of 3 meters with semi-circled areas with a radius of 6 meters are fixed in enough big place. The game was held with a rubber or woven leather belt ball. Clubs can be different in form. In Azerbaijani, the clubs are reminiscent of a shepherd's crook.[4] There are six riders in each team, 4 of whom act as attackers and two as fullbacks. The latter can play only in their half of the area. Goals can be scored behind the borders of the penalty area. The duration of the game is 30 minutes in two periods.[4]

Azerbaijani Chovgan players in 12th All Union Cup

In 1979, a documentary called “Chovgan game”, shot by Azerbaijan's Jafar Jabbarly film studio recorded the sport's rules and historical development. However, overall the Soviet era saw a decline of the sport to near 'oblivion'[20] and the dislocations of the immediate post-Soviet period proved difficult for the breeding of horses. In recent years, however, the sport has rebounded somewhat. Since 2006, Azerbaijan has held a national tournament in December known as the President's Cup at the Republican Equestrian Tourism Center,[21] at Dashyuz near Shaki. The first of these, held from December 22–25, 2006, pitted teams from eight cities of Azerbaijan – Shaki, Aghdam, Ağstafa, Balakən, Qakh, Gazakh, Oğuz, and Zagatala with those from Aghstafa taking overall victory.[citation needed]

In 2013, chovqan in the Republic of Azerbaijan, was included in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in need of urgent safeguarding.[22]

See also


  1. ^ Л. С. Бретеницкий, Б. В. Веймарн. Искусство Азербайджана IV—XVIII веков. — М., 1976.
  2. ^ a b Massé, H. (24 April 2012). "Čawgān". In Bearman, P.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C.E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W.P. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Vol. 2. Brill Online. The game originated in Persia, and was generally played on horseback (...)
  3. ^ a b "The origins and history of Polo". Historic UK. Retrieved 2020-10-04. It is since these origins in Persia that the game has often been associated with the rich and noble of society; the game was played by Kings, Princes and Queens in Persia.
  4. ^ a b c В. Парфенов. (2004). Кавказские национальные конные игры. HORSE.RU. Archived from the original on 2019-06-06. Retrieved 2012-09-04.
  5. ^ a b "Chogān, a horse-riding game accompanied by music and storytelling".
  6. ^ R. G. Goel, Veena Goel, Encyclopaedia of sports and games, Published by Vikas Pub. House, 1988, excerpt from page 318: Persian Polo. Its birthplace was Asia, and authorities credit Persia with having devised it about 2000 BC..
  7. ^ Steve Craig, Sports and games of the ancients, Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, ISBN 0-313-31600-7, p. 157.
  8. ^ a b Singh, Jaisal (2007). Polo in India. London: New Holland. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-84537-913-1.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Canepa, Matthew (2018). "polo". In Nicholson, Oliver (ed.). The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-866277-8.
  10. ^ Janin, Raymond (1964). Constantinople Byzantine. Développement Urbaine et Répertoire Topographique (in French). Paris, France: Institut Français d'Etudes Byzantines. pp. 118–119.
  11. ^ "Welcome to Encyclopaedia Iranica".
  12. ^ Finkel, Irving L; MacKenzie, Colin (2004). "Chapter 22, Polo: The Emperor of Games". Asian games: the art of contest. New York: Asia Society. p. 283. ISBN 978-0-87848-099-9.
  13. ^ Richard C. Latham. "Polo". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 26 April 2007.
  14. ^ a b "Polo History". Archived from the original on 2010-09-25.
  15. ^ "Playing Polo in Historic Naqsh-e Jahan Square?". 29 October 2007. Retrieved 25 January 2012.
  16. ^ "". Retrieved 25 January 2012.
  17. ^ Malcolm D. Whitman, Tennis: Origins and Mysteries, Published by Courier Dover Publications, 2004, ISBN 0-486-43357-9, p. 98.
  18. ^ Sports and Games of the 18th and 19th centuries by Robert Crego. page 25. Published 2003. Greenwood Press. Sports & Recreation. 296 pages ISBN 0-313-31610-4
  19. ^ David C. King (2006). Cultures of the World. Azerbaijan. Marshall Cavendish. p. 108. ISBN 0761420118.
  20. ^ Film interview at 7'36"
  21. ^ Azernews report on the 2013 President's Cup competition
  22. ^ Chovqan, a traditional Karabakh horse-riding game in the Republic of Azerbaijan