Did the Romans play football?

A fragment from the Metropolitan Museum of Art showing Nike

Nike: the goddess of Victory

© Metropolitan Museum of Art

    • It turns out that the Romans did play football, in their own way of course.

      We don't know the exact Roman rules for their version of football, known as 'Harpastum', but historians have tried hard to piece together as much as possible from Roman paintings, vases, poems and stories. Roman generals would use the game to keep their soldiers fit and healthy.

      It looks as if the game was played on a pitch a little smaller than a modern football field, with a ball roughly the same size as a football. There would have been a line drawn across the middle of the pitch. There were two teams, with between five or twelve players on each team.

      The aim of the game seems to have been for each team to keep the ball in the air and on their half of the pitch. They would start by tossing a coin. The team that won the toss started the game with the ball on their side.

      Players were allowed to use their hands to pass the ball (rather like modern rugby). They were also allowed to tackle each other for the ball.

      Some historians think that goals were scored by letting the ball touch the ground on your own team's side of the pitch.

      Why not get your mates together and have a game? You could add your own rules if you need more. Keep those tackles safe, we don't want to hear of any Roman-style broken bones.

      While you're playing, think of those Roman soldiers sweating it out on a training pitch, preparing for a battle!
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