The History of Sport Through the Ages
The origins of history of sport may extend as far back as the beginning of military training when competitions were used as a means to determine whether individuals were fit for training and service, and there is evidence that team sports may have been developed to encourage working together as team in battle. However, the further we go back in history, the lesser the evidence to support such theories.
Sport in Prehistoric Times
Cave paintings found in the Lascaux Caves in France are said to depict sprinting and wrestling in the Upper Paleolithic around 15,300 years ago, while cave paintings in the Bayankhongor Province of Mongolia dating back to the Neolithic age of 7000 BCE depicts a wrestling match surrounded by crowds. Neolithic rock art found in Libya has shown evidence swimming and archery in 6000 BCE, while prehistoric cave painting from Japan is said to depict a sport similar to sumo wrestling.
Various depictions of wrestling have been found on stone slabs recovered from the Sumerian civilisation, some of which date back to 3000 BCE. A cast bronze figurine which dates back to 2600 BCE has been found in Iraq which shows two figures in a wrestling hold and is believed to be one of the earliest depictions of sport.
Monuments to the Pharaohs dating back to 2000 BCE were found at Beni Hasan which indicates that a number of sports, including wrestling, weightlifting, long jump, swimming, rowing, shooting, athletics, fishing, and various ball-games were well-developed and regulated in Ancient Egypt. Horses were mostly used for travel, long before the joys of long before the joys of Melbourne cup betting were discovered! An earlier depiction of two figures wrestling was found in the tomb of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum in Saqqara which dates back to 2400 BCE.
Depictions of ritual sporting events can be found in the Minoan art of Bronze Age Crete, such as a fresco dating to 1500 BCE of gymnastics in the form of religious bull-leaping and possible bullfighting. Greek sporting festivals can be traced back to the funeral games of the Mycenean period of 1600 BCE and c. 1100 BCE, and there are extensive depictions of funeral games held in honour of deceased warriors in the Iliad.
Sports that are at least 2,500 years old include hurling (Ancient Ireland), shinty (Scotland), harpastum (Rome), cuju (China), and polo (Persia), while the Mesoamerican ballgame originated over 3000 years ago. First played around 2500 BCE, the Mayan ballgame of Pitz is believed to be the first ball sport, and there are artefacts which suggest that the Chinese engaged in sports as early as 2000 BCE.
Sport in the Middle Ages
Entire villages have competed against each other in rough and often violent ballgames in England (Shrovetide football) and Ireland (caid) for at least 100 years. In Florence, Italy, the game of calcio Fiorentino, an early form of football, has been played since the 16th century, and fencing and jousting were also popular choices.
Advancement of Modern Sports
Historian Bernard Lewis claims that team sports as we know them today are primarily the invention of Western Culture, and traditional team sports are seen as having originated in Britain and subsequently spread across the vast British Empire.