In some areas, players used wooden paddles to move the ball around the court. Winners of the game received trophies, many of which have been excavated and include hachas and palmas. In Mexico, local organizers have been trying for over a decade now to revive an ancient Mesoamerican ball game because of its cultural and religious significance for the people of Central America. In Mayan mythology, the game was associated with the underworld. Such scenes are depicted in the decorative sculpture on the courts themselves, perhaps most famously on the South ball court at El Tajín and at Chichén Itzá, where one relief panel shows two teams of seven players with one player having been decapitated. El Tajín also has a remarkable number of courts (at least 11) and it may well have been a sacred centre for the sport, much like Olympia for athletics in ancient Greece. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 16 Sep 2013. Different versions of a ball game were played from very early times. Some of these markers from Maya sites have a quatrefoil cartouche indicating the underworld entrance which has led to speculation that the game may have symbolised the movement of the sun (the ball) through the underworld (the court) each night. It is frequently mentioned in the Mayan mythological episode of the Hero Twins who go the Mayan underworld, Xibalba,to play the game with the gods of the underworld. Ball games were played throughout Mesoamerica in pre-Columbian times. Related Content Pok-A-Tok is a Mayan ball game invented around 2000 BCE. Goal, Ball Court of Chichen Itzaby KÃ¥re Thor Olsen (CC BY-SA). In another legend, a famous ball game was held at the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan between the Aztec king Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin (r. 1502-1520 CE) and the king of Texcoco. Click here for our comprehensive article on the Mayans. Think about the pace of play, as well as the agility and muscles required to keep the ball in play and get it through the hoop. The game was invented sometime in the Preclassical Period (2500-100 BCE), probably by the Olmec, and became a common Mesoamerican-wide feature of the urban landscape by the Classical Period (300-900 CE). The length of the court could vary but the 60 m long court at Epiclassic El Tajín (650-900 CE) represents a typical size. This was played by two opposing teams, with a variable number of players. In Central America, a modern version of the ancient Mayan fire ball game is still played in the Michoacan of Veracruz, Mexico. Mayans played a variation of the ballgame, a sport which originated in the Olmec civilisation. A historian of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey, he is a publisher of popular history, a podcaster, and online course creator. The rubber balls they used were of varying weight and size, from the size of a softball to a soccer ball. A small rubber ball, which usually weighed about 6 pounds, was to be bounced through the small hoops. It was played in teams with the objective of getting a ball through a narrow stone hoop placed high on the court wall. Solid rubber balls were heavy—up to eight or nine pounds—and could cause serious injury or even death. To see a more serious game, look out for the Mayan Ballgame World Cup. Mayans added a number of variations of their own to the game. Surviving courts abound and are spread across Mesoamerica. Maya Ballgame, which is a branch of the Mesoamerican Ballgame, is a sporting event that was played throughout the Mesoamerican era by the Maya civilization. Thirteen hundred ball courts are scattered throughout Mesoamerica and all of them have the same I shape, that is, two sloping walls for the ball to bounce on, a long narrow playing field and two end zones. Ancient History Encyclopedia Foundation is a non-profit organization. The game also had a strong association with warriors and war captives were often forced to play the game. It was the first team sport in history, as far as historians know. The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology, Ballgames and Ballcourts in Prehispanic Mesoamerica: A Bibliography, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. His special interests include pottery, architecture, world mythology and discovering the ideas that all civilizations share in common. Mayan Games – Ballgame. As well as some odd rules and a fascinating history, what the English language knows as the Mesoamerican ballgame also goes by many other titles; in Nahuatl, it’s known as ōllamaliztli, in Maya it’s pitz and modern Spanish knows it simply as juego de pelota. Ancient History Encyclopedia Limited is a non-profit company registered in the United Kingdom. In 1500 B.C, the Mesoamerican ball players began to use a rubber ball instead of the previously used wooden or leather balls. It was usually played with a large rubber ball at a huge court made of stone. In this game, two teams of two to four players each would pass a ball back and forth in an attempt to keep it in play, similar to volleyball. Motecuhzoma lost the game and did, of course, lose his kingdom at the hands of the invaders from the Old World. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the Publishing Director at AHE. Cartwright, Mark. The Epiclassic city of Cantona has an incredible 24 courts with at least 18 being contemporary. Around the court was a slope, surrounded at the outer edge by walls about 8-11 feet high. One of the common links of the Mayan culture of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize is the game played with a rubber ball, about which we have learned from several sources. This article is part of our larger resource on the Mayans culture, society, economics, and warfare. There was also an alternative version, less-widespread, where players used sticks to hit the ball. Zapotec relief stones at Dainzú also depict ball players wearing grilled helmets as well as knee-guards and gauntlets. Ballcourt, Xochicalcoby Wikipedia User: Maxtreiber (Public Domain). Maya ballgame was played with big stone courts. Other trophies for game winners include stone yokes (typically u-shaped to be worn around the waist in imitation of the protective waist gear worn by players) and hand stones, often elaborately carved. Pic 18: Cross section of a building at the Maya site of Chichén Itzá showing a bench upon which a patolli scoreboard was inscribed. Ancient History Encyclopedia. The Mesoamerican ball was solid rubber, weighing as much as 4 kilograms (9 pounds), while basketballs weigh only 624 grams (22 ounces). While getting a ball through the hole was rare, if a player got the ball through the hole, it was an instant win. The game is called ‘Purepecha’ ball and there are two versions, the first with teams of five a-side, players using hand hewed sticks to play a game similar to field hockey. The captives would lose the game and then be sacrificed. The Maya civilization was spread out throughout much of Central America. The ballgame was probably played by people from all ranks of Mesoamerican society, much like sports today, but surviving depictions of the game feature elites playing and watching the ballgame. Ancient History Encyclopedia. The ball game ulama was played throughout Mesoamerica (the region of Mexico and Central America once occupied by the Maya, Aztecs, and related cultures). The players in these works of art also typically wear a padded helmet or a huge feathered headdress, perhaps the latter being for ceremonial purposes only. Courts were usually a part of a city’s sacred precinct, a fact which suggests the ball game was more than just a game. Players could be professionals or amateurs and there is evidence of betting on the outcome of important games. 10 Dec 2020. This was more difficult than it seems as players could not use their hands. The impressive stone courts became a staple feature of a city’s sacred complex and there were often several playing courts in a single city. All of these trophies are frequently found in graves and are reminders of the link between the sport and the underworld in Mesoamerican mythology. The Mesoamerican Ballgame was played on a court bordered by stone walls with a stone circle that players attempted to put a ball through. The largest ballcourt found in Mayan cities ran the length of 459 feet. Books The ball could be a lethal weapon in itself, as measuring anywhere from 10 to 30 cm in diameter and weighing from 500 g to 3.5 kg, it could easily break bones. to 400 B.C.E., played the Mesoamerican ballgame. Cite This Work Mark is a history writer based in Italy. Remarkably, seven rubber balls have been preserved in the bogs of El Manatí near the Olmec city of San Lorenzo. Submitted by Mark Cartwright, published on 16 September 2013 under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. The pair annoyed the gods of the underworld with their noisy playi… Players were frequently depicted in Mesoamerican art, appearing in sculpture, ceramics and architectural decoration - the latter often decorating the courts themselves - and these depictions often show that the players wore protective gear such as belts and padding for the knees, hips, elbows and wrists. Tlachtli, the ball court, or field, used for the ritual ball game (ollama) played throughout pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. 400 bce) or even earlier, the game spread to subsequent cultures, among them those of Monte Albán and El Tajín; In Mesoamerican mythology the game is an important element in the story of the, by Wikipedia User: Maxtreiber (Public Domain), by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (CC BY-SA). The Mesoamerican ball game was played, experts think, by all the cultures in the region, beginning with the Olmecs who may have invented it. The ball games we play today are much less deadly, but there are still some similarities. The walls could be perpendicular or sloping away from the players and  the ends of the court could be left open but defined using markers or, in other layouts, a wall closed off the playing space to create an I-shaped court. "The Ball Game of Mesoamerica." Players were not allowed to use their hands or feet and the losing team was sacrificed to … The ball court was usually in the shape of an I, although there were some variations. More than just a game, though, the event could have a religious significance and featured in episodes of Mesoamerican mythology. © HistoryOnTheNet 2000-2019. The Classic Maya even invented a parallel game where captives, once defeated in the real game, were tied up and used as balls themselves and unceremoniously rolled down a flight of steps. Ōllamaliztli, usually called the Mesoamerican ball game, was a religious sport played by many Mesoamerican tribes from 1600 BC at the latest. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/article/604/. Maya ball courts were aligned in a north-south direction, which was indicative of the solar cycle and the growing seasons: the north represented the beginning of the sun’s descent at the summer solstice. The pair annoyed the gods of the underworld with their noisy playing and the two brothers were tricked into descending into Xibalba (the underworld) where they were challenged to a ball game. One can imagine that good players became highly skilled at directing the ball using their padded elbows, knees, thighs and shoulders. At centre court against the walls were two stone-carved rings, roughly 35 … Web. Other articles where Ball game is discussed: Central American and northern Andean Indian: Traditional culture patterns: Ball courts and large ceremonial plazas were constructed only among the Antillean Arawak, who were unusual in having communities with as many as 3,000 people. Alternatively, the ball may have represented another heavenly body such as the moon and the court was the world. All rights reserved. While there is no court for the players to use, a crowd gathers round to watch them play in traditional Mayan dress. Before sports were cancelled — 3,400-year-old Mesoamerican ball court sheds light on origins of the game The site suggests highland communities played a role in developing the game. The … Mayans loved the game and everyone played at various times, but it also held deep religious, ritual meaning as well. A palma was also most likely a trophy or element of ceremonial costume worn by ball players. There is little doubt that the primary purpose of the Mesoamerican ballgame was theological and at least during the Classic Period, it was a recreation of the Mayan cosmogony and other religious ideas. The story also supports the idea that the ball game was sometimes used for the purposes of divination. The ball game goes back 3,500 years, making it the first organized game in the history of sports. Ancient History Encyclopedia. The ancient Mayans played the game; they called it pitz in Classical Maya. Last modified September 16, 2013. Another ominous indicator of the macabre turn that this sporting event could take is the presence of tzompantli (the skull racks where severed heads from sacrifices were displayed) rendered in stone carvings near the ball courts. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms. These balls range from 8 to 25 cm in diameter and date from between 1600 and 1200 BCE. Evidence suggests that a wide variety of types of games, all played with a rubber ball, existed in ancient Mesoamerica, but the most widespread was the "hip game". While no one knows the exact rules of the ball game, Spaniards who saw the Aztec games in the 1500s reported that two teams of two to five players had to keep the ball in the air without using their hands or feet. The Olmecs, who lived from 1,200 B.C.E. How the Game Was Played . excavations of historic ballcourts, documents from the colonial period (written either by Europeans or indigenous peoples who learned to write in English or Spanish) and from iconography — that is, indigenous glyphs depicting the game and its players Ancient Mesoamerican players would have played a ball game using a rubber ball on a masonry field in an I-shaped court. License. Some Rights Reserved (2009-2020) under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license unless otherwise noted. The gods needed human blood and hearts to keep the sun and moon in orbit. Learn vocabulary, terms, and more with flashcards, games, and other study tools. The game was invented sometime in the Preclassical Period (2500-100 BCE), probably by the Olmec, and became a common Mesoamerican-wide feature of the urban landscape by the Classical Period (300-900 CE). Besides the orientation of the ball courts… They may have created the game. The games were played as part of rituals during the equinox celebrations. Around A.D. 1200, stone circles with a hole in the middle were attached high up on the walls of the ball court, up to six meters high. The Mesoamerican ball game was played, experts think, by all the cultures in the region, beginning with the Olmecs who may have invented it. Players were not allowed to use their hands or feet to get the ball through the hoop. Since several versions of the rubber ball game are played even today in northwest Mexico, we can say that the Mesoamerican rubber ball games have been popular for at least 3600 years. In Mesoamerican mythology the game is an important element in the story of the Maya gods Hun Hunahpú and Vucub Hunahpú. The Olmecs, who lived from 1,200 B.C.E. It was the first team sport in history, as far as historians know.. Each side could have a large vertical stone ring set high into the wall. Cartwright, M. (2013, September 16). Mayan Ball Game Facts Mayans borrowed the sport of ballgame from the Olmec civilisation. The ball court itself was a foca… Thus, the game symbolizes regeneration and life. The earliest known court is from the Olmec city of San Lorenzo whilst the largest surviving stone playing court is at the Mayan-Toltec city of Chichén Itzá. In addition to being a sport, it had a religious significance. Numerous educational institutions recommend us, including Oxford University and Michigan State University and University of Missouri. For only $5 per month you can become a member and support our mission to engage people with cultural heritage and to improve history education worldwide. Eventually, the game was even exported to other cultures in North America and the Caribbean. Start studying The mesoamerican ball game. Scott Michael Rank, Ph.D., is the editor of History on the Net and host of the History Unplugged podcast. Bibliography The exact rules of the game are not known for certain and in all probability there were variations across the various cultures and different periods. Hoops on either side are visible. Site created in November 2000. The mysterious Olmec civilization, located in ancient Mexico, prospered... Joshua J. For that reason, it was sometimes played just as a game, with lots of gambling on the teams. https://www.ancient.eu/article/604/. They may have created the game. Guatemala, home of the earliest Mayan cities, holds over 500 ball courts alone. The court at Monte Albán, Oaxaca is a typical example of the I-shaped court. Some ball games were played to resolve bitter disputes between rival cities or as a proxy for war. The Mesoamerican ball game is a sport that people in Mesoamerica have played since about 1,400 B.C.E. Please note that content linked from this page may have different licensing terms. 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