Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian Sports

It is obvious from the scenes depicted on pyramid and temple walls that ancient Egyptians knew how to keep fit; obviously in ancient Egypt sports must have been a part of the daily life and culture. Archaeologists and scholars have uncovered interesting bits of information about the ancient Egyptian sports practiced thousands of years ago.

People have played sports since before the written word. Thus, it is no surprise that Ancient Egypt had sports and athletics. Remember that while Egypt is older, Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt existed at the same time for thousands of years. Greece is famous for its sports, but Egypt had much the same activities at the same time and even before.

Ancient Egyptian sports are recognizable from that period on, across the world. We play them today in playgrounds, fields and arenas. In general, participating in sports in Ancient Egypt was not much different from today.

Ancient Egyptians had equipment provided by the wealthy, an audience that included important individuals and enough sports to keep everyone entertained.

Team Sports in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian sports included multiple team sports, all of which we recognize today. Like today, they required team work in an effort to display skill, strength and sportsmanship.

Ancient Egyptians had a version of field hockey. Hockey sticks were pieces of palm tree branches with the tell-tale bend at the end. The inner core of the ball was papyrus. The covering was leather. Equipment makers dyed the ball different colors.

Tug of war is a playground and fitness sport we play today with a rope. Players stand on either side of a line or pit and pull until one team goes over the line. In Ancient Egypt, tug of war was two players pulling each other's arms at the front of the line. Everyone else grabs the waist of the player in front of him and pulls until one team pulls the other team across.

Ancient Egyptians had boats for traveling, fishing and sport. Rowing as a team was a way to get exercise and compete. Rowing in Ancient Egyptian sports was no different from rowing today. Everyone works together according to the demands of a leader who uses verbal cues to command his team.

Model Boats

© mararie - Model Boats

There is evidence that sports were part of pharaoh coronation ceremonies. This is not the only connection between the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt and sports, given that athleticism was part of daily life. Pharaohs would go on hunting expeditions like the kings of Europe.


Egyptian Soldiers on a hunting expedition

© Tim Dawson - Egyptian army hunting expedition


Olympic Games Sports in Ancient Egypt's History

The Olympics did not originate in Ancient Egypt, but the sports were present. They were a part of everyday Ancient Egyptian life. Athleticism was important.

Archery was common in Ancient Egypt and is still part of the Summer Olympics. Athletes shot at targets with their bows and arrows just like they do today.

Other Olympic sports included:

  • Handball
  • Competitive swimming
  • Hockey
  • Weightlifting
  • Tug of war
  • Gymnastics
  • Javelin
  • Jumping
  • Running
  • Boxing
  • Wrestling
  • Rowing
  • Equestrian sports

Hunting and Fishing in Ancient Egypt

Some of the aforementioned sports would have come from hunting activities in Ancient Egypt. For example, archery was definitely done for sport, but it was also a way to hunt. The javelin likely developed from spear hunting techniques. No list of sports in Ancient Egypt would be complete without hunting and fishing. However, it was more of a survival tool than it is for modern societies.

Ancient Egyptians had several methods for catching fish and fish were plentiful, thanks to the Nile. Woven nets, fence traps and baskets caught fish without hooking or piercing. Harpoons pierced the fish in the water. A line and hook allowed the angler to catch the fish by the mouth and pull it out of the water. Anglers beat fish they caught until they were dead and carried them away in baskets.

Egyptian Men Fishing

© Maia C - Depiction of Egyptian Men Fishing

Using hunting dogs, spears, bows and the like, Ancient Egyptians hunted big cats, hoofed mammals, birds and elephants. The prey was fierce, such as lions and crocodiles.

How do We Know Which Sports Were Popular in Ancient Egypt?

Art is our main source of information regarding Ancient Egyptian sports.

Paintings of people engaging in sports helps us understand how athletes played. There are also written accounts of games and particularly hunts with pharaohs.

We know archery was a sport because paintings show archers aiming at targets and not animals. Paintings of gymnastics also make it clear that it was sport. They show people using other people as hurdles and demonstrating specific tumbling actions. Likewise, rowing, hockey, handball, etc. are in Ancient Egyptian paintings.

Ramses II with a bow and arrow, expedition in Nubia

© LaurPhil - Ramses II depicted with a bow and arrow

Fun Facts About Sports in Ancient Egypt:

  • Hunters used Pharaoh Hounds to hunt in Ancient Egypt. They are the oldest known breed on record and look like paintings of the god Anubis.
  • Ancient Egyptians who played sports in a formal setting had uniforms.
  • Winners of competitions got collars of a color indicating where they placed, like today's bronze, silver and gold medals.