Antique illustration - Rip Van Winkle iSTock: Campwillowlake

A History of Bowling – Ancient Times

Ten Pin Bowling. A target sport with balls, pins, and epic shoes. An afternoon of bowling is a fond memory for millions. There’s nothing better than rolling a ball down a shiny wooden lane toward a pyramid of iconic white and red pins. If you’re like us you’ll agree it’s one of the best games to relax and have fun with friends. 

But where did it come from? You could be mistaken in thinking the game is relatively new. With its automatic pin setting machines, mini TV’s to show game scores and amazing modern venues.

However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, bowling is one of the oldest games in the world.

Over a series of posts, we’ll take you through the entire history of this amazing game. From the sand-swept pyramids of ancient Egypt to the modern-day bowling venues we all know and love today.

Bowl Like An Egyptian

The earliest form of bowling can be traced all the way to ancient Egypt. Wall drawings were found in an ancient royal tomb depicting the game (probably the first person to get a strike). In addition, a small set of pins and balls were found in an Egyptian child’s grave that dates back to 3200BC. This makes the first form of bowling over 5000 years old! In those days balls were made from husks of grain and covered in materials such as leather and bound with string. Other balls made from materials like porcelain have also been found. These tell us that the Egyptians would have both rolled and thrown the balls at the pins. 

Yet the Egyptians weren’t the only ones. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus also wrote about different bowling activities that were becoming popular all across ancient Asia at the time. This just goes to show the popularity of the game even back then.

Image: Musee de la Boule

The Barbarians Of Bowling

Now to one of the biggest contributors to bowling as we know it today. The ancient Germans. For them, bowling wasn’t just a game but part of their very religion.

The practice, introduced by German monks around 300BC , was designed cleanse themselves of sin.  They would roll a rock into a club, called a kegel, which represented the heathen or un-pure elements of themselves. Due to the club’s name, the bowlers became known as Keglers. The game is still played in Germany today and known as Kegel (German Bowling).

Friends, Romans and Bowlers

Around 2000 years ago a similar game was incredibly popular in ancient Rome. Evolving among legionnaires, the players would toss stone objects as close to other stone objects as they could. Though the goal wasn’t to knock them down this was incredibly similar to ten-pin bowing’s close cousin, lawn bowls. The game is still played in Italy today as Italian Bocce or outdoor bowls.

A bowling style game called Ula Maika, was played by people in Ancient Polynesia. Small disk shaped stones were thrown / rolled down a specially prepared path (a kahuamaika). The aim was to roll your stone further than your opponents’.

In our next post, we’ll look at how bowling evolved and grew in popularity over the middle ages. It became so popular that it was even outlawed in England.

Main image: Campwillowlake

Look out for part 2 of this series on our website blog.

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