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The Fascinating History of Handball
Variations on the game of handball have been played all over the world for thousands of years. Known as one of the oldest ball games, handball was played in Egypt over four thousand years ago, in ancient Rome, and by many South American cultures.
Ancient Egyptians played a variety of ball games. Drawings of Egyptians playing handball have been found decorating five-thousand-year-old tombs at Saqqara, which depict girls in teams of two playing the game. The balls used in Egyptian handballs were designed to be both light and durable – they were made of a leather hide stuffed with hay or other plant fibers like papyrus.
In the Roman Empire, the game was called expulsim ludere and was played on courts called sphaeristas. Alexander the Great is said to have been responsible for spreading the game among the Greek colonies in Italy in the first millennium BCE, and from there it spread to other countries of the Roman Empire. Details of how the game was played at this time are sketchy, but it is believed to have been similar to what is known today as one-wall handball.
In France during the Middle Ages, the game was called jeux de paix and was popular with the nobility and peasants. The ball was made from tightly wrapped pieces of cloth sewn together, and as the game progressed gloves were used to allow the ball to be hit with greater force. This form of handball is believed to be one of the earliest forerunners of tennis – as the game evolved in France players began to use larger and larger gloves, until they began to use items that resembled the first tennis rackets.
In America, handball is over three thousand years old and originated in Mexico. Handball players are depicted on painted pottery, sculptures, and murals found at archaeological sites in many parts of Central America. Among the games played by these ancient civilizations, the one that most resembles modern handball is Rebotea a mano con pelota dura, or “Hardball pelota bounced with the hand”. This game was played by the Chichimeca people, on courts measuring 20 feet by 40 feet. Many ancient ruin sites in Central America contain such courtyards and, together with the multitude of art that depicts gambling, indicate that it was an important part of the life of these ancient cultures.
Nowadays, handball is an increasingly popular sport – it is now part of the Olympics, and many international tournaments are dedicated to handball – unsurprisingly, the Egyptian team is known to be very talented, perhaps because of all the civilizations of the world. , they’ve been playing it the longest!
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