Episkyros (Ancient Greek: Ἐπίσκυρος, Epískyros; also Ἐπίκοινος, Epíkoinos, 'common-ball') was an ancient Greek ball game. Highly teamwork oriented, the game was played between two teams of usually 12 to 14 players each, with one ball. The rules of the game allowed the usage of hands. While it was typically men that played, women also participated.
Although it was a ball game, it was violent, at least in Sparta. The teams would try to throw the ball over the heads of the other team. There was a white line called the skuros between the teams and another white line behind each team. Teams would change the ball often until one of the team was 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. It was played primarily by men but women also practiced it. The Greek game of episkyros, or a similar game called phaininda (φαινίνδα)[a] was later adopted by the Romans, who renamed and transformed it into harpastum. The name harpastum is the latinisation of the Greek harpaston (ἁρπαστόν), neuter form harpastos (ἁρπαστός), meaning "snatched away" from the verb harpazo (ἁρπάζω), "(I) seize", "(I) filch".
A depiction in low relief on the belly of a vase displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens shows a Greek athlete balancing a ball on his thigh. This image is reproduced on the European Cup football trophy. Other ancient Greek sports with a ball besides phaininda, were: ἀπόῤῥαξις (aporrhaxis, dribbling), οὐρανία (ourania, "sky ball") and maybe the σφαιρομαχία (sphairomachia, lit. ''ball-fight'') from σφαῖρα (sphaira "ball", "sphere") and μάχη (machē, "battle") although it has been argued that the σφαιρομαχία in this context is in fact a boxing competition, and the "spheres" are a kind of boxing gloves. Julius Pollux includes phaininda and harpastum in a list of ball games: