Ranking the 6 Oldest Sports in World History

Which sport is the oldest in world history? Long jump or javelin? Wrestling or polo? These questions have plagued sports enthusiasts for ages. Below, Worldhistoryedu.com brings together the 6 oldest sports ever.

6. Gymnastics

The commonly held view is that gymnastics was invented around the 6th century BCE in ancient Greece. Historians reason that it first began as a training technique for soldiers. Back then the gymnasts trained and performed the sport naked. As a matter of fact the Greek word gymnazo actually translates to train naked.

Fast forward to the Hellenistic era (323 BCE – 31 BCE), and gymnastic stopped being the preserve of soldiers and became very popular with the civilian population. In time, it gained a call up to the ancient Olympic Games, which began in 776 BCE.

Following the ban on Olympics (by Emperor Theodosius) in the later part of the 4th century CE, gymnastics as a sporting discipline saw a sharp decline, almost to the point of extinction.

However, the sport was later revived in 1896, when it received a call up to the modern Olympic Games. Gymnastics is considered one of the most challenging sports, requiring the gymnast to be both physically and mentally prepared. Physical traits like having good balance, coordination, flexibility and strength all go a long way in determining how successful a gymnast can be.

Did you know: The German gymnastic educator Friedrich Ludwig Jahn is widely regarded as the father of gymnastics? Jahn, who started the German gymnastics movement in 1811,  made immense contribution to this sport, leading to the invention of gymnastic apparatus such as rings, pommel horse, high bar, parallel bars, etc.

5. Polo

Originally, polo was a sport often reserved for monarchs and the elites. The sport, which is almost like hockey, is played as a team sport with players on horseback using a curved stick.

The origins of polo can be traced to the Persian Empire, where it was generally played by the emperor and his royal family. There is ample archeological evidence that shows polo existed as at 316 CE. With the passage of time, the sport made its way to India, and it became very popular in the Asian country during the era of the British Empire. India even hosted the first polo club in 1833.

4. Javelin throw

Javelin, a track and field sport, requires the athlete to throw the javelin as far as possible. The sport dates back to 708 BCE, the time of ancient Olympic Games.

In terms of its history in the modern world, javelin made its Olympic debut at the 1906 Olympic Games for men; and for women, it debuted in 1932. Compared to the javelin that the early Romans used, the modern day javelins are a bit heavier.

3. Boxing

Modern history has seen the likes of boxing legends such as Mohammad Ali, Mike Tyson and the likes. But have you ever wondered where and when boxing first originated?

Many historians claim that boxing originated from ancient Mesopotamia, particularly the Sumerian civilization. It emerged around the third or second millennium BCE, according to a relief painting that shows two men with fists clinched in a boxing match.

Around 600 BCE, the sport made its way to ancient Greece. After Rome incorporated Greece in the 2nd century BCE, the sport became very popular among the Romans.

By the 16th century CE, boxing had found its way to the UK, with the rules of the game remaining relatively unchanged. Boxing received a call to the modern Olympics in 1908.

Today, boxing is a very popular and lucrative sport, often times requiring boxers to have very good reflexes, strength and stamina in order to excel at it.

Read More: 10 Greatest Boxers of all Time

2. Wrestling

If we were to go by the cave paintings of wrestlers found in Lascaux, France, wrestling would definitely be considered the oldest sport in history, considering the fact that those paintings are more than 15,000 years old. It was often an occasion used to determine who the strongest man in the community was. The rules in boxing are quite simple: Wrestlers are required to use only the arms and upper bodies in fighting.

This sport became very popular way back in ancient Greece, making its debut in the ancient Olympics in 708 BCE. About 3,000 years later, when the modern-day Olympic Games made a comeback in Athens in 1896, wrestling was added to the events.

1. Running

Running is perhaps the most popular sporting discipline in the family of athletics today. However, did you know that this sport is the oldest in human history? According to historians, running as a sport dates back to thousands of years before the ancient Greek era.

In ancient Greece, it started in the year 776 BCE, when the ancient Olympic Games was one of the biggest events on the Greeks’ calendar. Back then, running was quite popular; and since it was an individual sport, it received a lot of attention.

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