History of Football, Part 2: The Aztec and The Oriental Version of the Game

Stefan Vasilev@https://twitter.com/GoonersLoungeAnalyst IJanuary 29, 2009

This is my second article about the origins of football.

As we learned from the previous article about ancient football, it was widely spread throughout the world in the form of different versions of ball games, serving a wide variety of purposes to the different civilizations.

Archaeological finds prove that games of ball, resembling modern football, have existed even in China, Japan and Latin America.

Maybe at about the same time the Chinese played their game Tsu’Chu, other great civilizations have also played similar games to modern football. It is not a surprise that games of ball resembling football were widely spread even in South America.

There is evidence found which reveals that civilizations such as the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incas have played games of ball that football could have originated from.

Maybe this is one of the reasons why South American national teams have been so dominant in modern football. Their love affair with game has been there for thousands of years.

As early as 3000 BC, in the land of what is today's Mexico, the Aztecs and other peoples invented games that could have served their religious and political aspirations, in contrast with the military-minded games of ball of the Chinese and the Romans.

Some peoples such as the Tainos, pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Bahamas, used the game as a bonding ceremony between their tribes and communities. The celebration was also coupled by dancing, singing and feasts. The game that resembled football was usually played on a cemented field which was lined with stones.

Another ancient game, called Tlachtli, played in South America by the Aztecs rivaled the Chinese Tsu’Chu as to which one was the oldest. It was played in every major city in the Aztec empire and served an important role in their religious rituals. Tlachtli was sacred for the Aztecs and was used for deeply religious purposes.

The game was played on courts, usually placed near a temple to emphasize the sacred meaning of the game.

The game itself was a mix of some of our modern games such as volleyball, basketball and football. The use of hands was prohibited, and the ball that was usually used was made of natural rubber.

The object of Tlachtli was to put a ball into a hoop, approximately 30 centimeters wide, and in this way defeat the opposing team (It must be noted that it was quite difficult to do that).

There were also penalty points given to the opposing team when a player used his hand or if the ball touched the ground. Whatever the score was if a team was successful in putting the ball through the hoop they were immediately pronounced winners.

It was an entirely different thing when it came to the rewards for the win. In some cultures across ancient South America, the “fortunate” winners were sacrificed to the gods. In others, which was most often the case, the losers of the game Tlachtli were the ones who were sacrificed.

Another ancient game with similarities to modern football originated in the Far East, specifically Japan.

They called it Kemari. It is believed that the game has been influenced by its Chinese counterpart Tsu’Chu. Kemari originated around year 600, during the Asuka period.

The game involved kicking about a ball, called Mari, made of deerskin with the hair facing inside, filled with barley grains, and it was sewn together using horse skin.

The kicker of the ball was called Mariashi. It was not as spectacular as the Chinese game and it was not that competitive but it still involved a lot of exercise for the whole body.

The Japanese Kemari was considered a game that produces a dignified and ceremonial experience in whoever took part in it. It still plays an important part in the Japanese culture even today.

The games of ball that were played throughout the world during these times had very little in common with their modern counterpart.

Nevertheless, they played an important role in the cultures of the great civilizations then, and served a variety of social needs. We would not be wrong to say the same about our modern game of football.

After all, history just shows the path that led it to become what it is today.

Next up, The History of Football: The Medieval Times.


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