Left: Ancient Greek youth practicing with a ball depicted in low relief. Now displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.[1] Right: a bottle (Lekythos) in gnathia style depicting a figure – Eros – playing with a ball, third quarter of the 4th century BCE.

Episkyros, or episcyrus (Ancient Greek: επίσκυρος, epískyros, lit.'upon the skyros'; also eπίκοινος, epíkoinos, lit.'upon the public')[2][3] was an Ancient Greek ball game. The game was typically played between two teams of 12 to 14 players each, being highly teamwork-oriented.[4] The game allowed full contact and usage of the hands. While it was typically men who played, women also occasionally participated.

Although it was a ball game, it was quite violent (at least in Sparta).[5] The game is comparable to rugby, American football, or calcio storico fiorentino, at least in concept. The two teams would attempt to throw the ball over the heads of the other team. There was a white line called the skŷros ([1]σκῦρος)[4] between the teams, and another white line behind each team. The teams would change possession of the ball often, until one of the teams was forced behind their line. In Sparta, a form of episkyros was played during an annual city festival that included five teams of 14 players.[6][7][8][9][10] The Greek game of episkyros, or a similar game called phainínda (Φαινίνδα)[11][a] was later adopted by the Romans, who renamed and transformed it into harpastum.[13][14] "Harpastum" is the latinisation of the Ancient Greek aρπαστόν (harpastón), meaning "snatched away"[15] from the verb ἁρπάζω (harpázō), meaning "I seize" or "I filch".[16]

A depiction on a vase displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens,[1] shows a Greek athlete balancing a ball on his thigh. This image is reproduced on the European Cup football trophy.[17] Other ancient Greek sports with a ball besides episkyros were: ἀπόῤῥαξις (apórrhaxis, "dribbling"),[18] οὐρανία (ūranía, "sky ball")[19][20] and maybe σφαιρομαχία (sphairomakhía, lit.''ball-fight'')[21] from σφαῖρα (sphaîra, "ball", "sphere")[22] and μάχη (mákhē, "battle"),[23] though it has been argued that the sphairomakhia in this context is rather a boxing competition, and the sphairai were a form of boxing gloves.[24] 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.[25]

See also


  1. ^ The name φαινίνδα probably means something like "deceiving game" from the verb φενακίζω, phenakizo, "(I) cheat", "(I) lie"[12]


  1. ^ a b NAMA item 873 (photograph). Athens: The National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Archived from the original on 2016-07-22.
  2. ^ ἐπίσκυρος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  3. ^ ἐπίκοινος in Liddell and Scott
  4. ^ a b Elmer, David F. (October 2008). "Epikoinos: The Ball Game ; Episkuros and Illiad". Classical Philology. 103 (4): 414–423. doi:10.1086/597184. JSTOR 10.1086/597184. S2CID 160386522.
  5. ^ Miller, Stephen Gaylord (2004). Ancient Greek Athletics. Yale University Press.
  6. ^ Craig, Steve (2002). Sports and games of the ancients. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 101. ISBN 0-313-36120-7.
  7. ^ Harris, Harold Arthur (1972). Sport in Albania and Rome. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801407184.
  8. ^ Kennell, Nigel M. (1995). The Gymnasium of Virtue: Education and Culture in Ancient Sparta. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807822197.
  9. ^ "Origin of ball games". Archived from the original on 25 March 2010.
  10. ^ Crowther, Nigel B. (2007). Sport in Ancient Times. Praeger Series on the Ancient World. Praeger Publishers.
  11. ^ φαινίνδα in Liddell and Scott.
  12. ^ φενακίζω in Liddell and Scott.
  13. ^ "episkuros (or harpaston)". The New Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. The game episkuros was a ball-game popular in ancient Greece, with elements of football, soccer, and rugby. Among other names (which might actually refer to distinct games (consider how to distinguish rugby from soccer when describing them to a sportsman who knows neither game) it was also called harpaston; by the 2nd century BCE it had migrated to Rome and was then called harpastum.
  14. ^ harpastum. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  15. ^ ἁρπαστός in Liddell and Scott
  16. ^ ἁρπάζω in Liddell and Scott
  17. ^ Wingate, Brian (2007). Soccer: Rules, tips, strategy, and safety. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-4042-0995-4.
  18. ^ ἀπόῤῥραξις in Liddell and Scott.
  19. ^ οὐρανία, οὐρανιάζω in Liddell and Scott
  20. ^ Miller, Stephen Gaylord (2004). Arete: Greek sports from ancient sources. University of California Press. p. 124. ISBN 0-520-07509-9.
  21. ^ σφαιρομαχία in Liddell and Scott
  22. ^ σφαῖρα in Liddell and Scott
  23. ^ μάχη in Liddell and Scott
  24. ^ Riaño Rufilanchas, Daniel (2000). "Zwei Agone in I: Priene 112.91–95". Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. Vol. 129. pp. 89–96.
  25. ^ Julius Pollux (1846) [c. 177 CE]. Bekker, Immanuel (ed.). Onomasticon. Wellcome Library (in Ancient Greek). Berolini / F. Nicolai. 9.105. OCLC 1040670990.