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Harpastum – Roman rugby

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Sports were also practised naturally in ancient Rome. The game harpastum was especially popular in the army. It is considered the ancestor of today’s rugby, although some believe that today’s football also comes from this discipline.

According to descriptions from antiquity, the game had two versions. The first was to place the ball outside the end line, which had a rectangular shape similar to today’s soccer field. The ball was mainly passed from hand to hand, it was also allowed to kick it. The second version, it was about keeping the ball in your half and not giving it back to your opponents.

The ball could not touch the ground. The game was pretty brutal. The enemy could be stopped by grasping at him and fighting him. It was possible to knock down an opponent. Choking holds were used. They played in teams of 5 to 27 people. Injuries and wounds were the order of the day. A hard ball was played, made of a bladder filled with grass, or of animal skin stuffed with grass or rags. According to some sources, the legionaries Julish Caesar also played with the heads of defeated Gauls. Despite the brutality, which often caused protests among the Romans, who were familiar with bloody games, the famous doctor Galen believed that the game was a great fitness exercise.

  • Harold Harris, Sport in Greece and Rome
  • William Smith (red.), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities

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