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Recreation: Kids Play

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Children's Sports and Games


Unlike men and women, children and adolescence played less organized games, which tested their balance, strength, strategy, dexterity, and hand-eye coordination. Similar to today, in ancient times boys’ games were more fierce and competitive than girls’; however, girl were—and are—known to indulge in a little fighting and hair-pulling when the occasion called for it.


Most child’s play included games that implemented a ball. Rubber not having been invented yet nor known to the ancients, leather skin filled with chaff or dried papyrus reeds wound tight together with strings or rags were employed.


As for organized games played by adults, children’s games had some structure to them, setting up rules for the games they played. Different from organized games played by adults, children’s games had a very violent approach to refereeing games; if a player was found to be cheating, violating the rules, they were punished by receiving kicks and punches, and at times, by being tied up and flogged. How often this happened is undetermined, lost to history.


The oldest of all children’s games were marble games, probably played like the game of Skittles. However, instead of pins, the ancients used two large marbles—one black, the other white—and three smaller marbles and formed them in a semi-circle. This marble game, like Skittles, was probably played by setting the five marbles in a semi-circle a distance away from the players, of which there might have been two or more. The object of such a game would most likely have been to roll another marble or ball toward the semi-circle of marbles already described. Hitting one or more would most likely have meant that the player who rolled the marble or ball scored a number of points. Again, this is pure speculation.


Other equipment used in children’s games was spears or a block of wood. Boys played a gamed Shezmu, who was a god of the wine- and unguent oil-press as well as an underworld deity. This was a spear-throwing game of sorts, where the player was most likely competed with others. The concept of this game was similar to that of darts, where each player had to through his spear at a target, which was drawn on the ground. A variation of this appears to be an archery competition, where several players use bow and arrows to aim, shoot, and hit a target made of animal skin. Both the point system and the general set of rules for either variation of archery game are yet unknown to us. The child’s game for which one used a block of wood was a Middle Kingdom game and was called Tipcat. This was most likely a solitary game played by children. To enjoy this game, one held a stick in one hand and hit the end of the stick closest to the ground on one of the tapered ends of a block of wood. Hitting the piece of wood would cause it to spring up into the air and, while it is still airborne, one hit knocked it away, much like one would a baseball with a baseball bat.


One popular game played among boys—in particular—was a sort of wrestling match, where two boys faced each other, behind either as a column of more boys who held fast each other to form a chain. The leaders of each chain would begin wrestling, while those behind each player would cheer them on. Perhaps these cheering boys would be next in line to wrestle the winner; perhaps it was a game played in the style of Around the World, the last boy to beat all was the winner. This is pure speculation, of course. However, this was not the only form of wrestling done in ancient Egypt; boys and girls alike sat piggyback on each others’ backs and tested their ability to stay on; the object of this sort of game was to avoid being thrown off, almost like a human bull ride.


Yet another game that required physical contact between two or more players was a game that resembles the western version of ‘heads up seven up.’ The western version requires everyone but a few people to conceal their eyes and stick their thumbs out before the heads. The seven who are standing must go around the room or designated area and stick any person’s thumb into this person’s fist. When these seven have completed their task, they all say ‘heads up seven up’ whereupon everyone who concealed their eyes must open them. Those whose thumbs have been pressed down must guess who did this from the seven who are standing up. Depending on the way one plays it, if the person guesses correctly, then the person who pushed in the thumb takes the place of the person whose thumb he pushed in or the person who guessed correctly joins the seven. The way the ancient Egyptians played their version of this game was to have one person crouched down, with knees and arms folded under one’s torso. Two or more persons would then surround the crouched person and start pounding their fist on the crouched person’s back. The crouched person, not being able to see who is hitting him, would have to guess who hit him.


Another game played among children in ancient times as well as in present day in Lower Egypt was somewhat like Red Rover; in ancient times, this game was called The Kid is Made to Fall. The set up of the game was thus: two crouched players on one end of a designated area held on to each others’ arms, locking them tight to make a sort of fence, an obstacle over which a line of players on the opposite end of the area jumped. All jumpers announced when they were going to jump; the two players on the opposite end then raised or lowered their arms in order to prevent the jumper from succeeding in hurtling of them. Perhaps the following is the same sport, a game still played in Egypt called ‘goose steps,’ where players jumped over the obstacle that two others created with their arms and legs. After all the jumpers went through their turns, they would go again, where, on the other end they would meet a high obstacle, which would consist of leg stack on leg stacked on hand stack on hand, getting higher and higher as the high jump competition grew harder and harder. Evidence of such a game appears in the tomb of Mereruke in Saqqara, which dates to Dynasty 6, circa 2250 BCE


Other games played in ancient times that are still seen in modern day are tug of hoops and tug of war. The former was a game that required good hand-eye coordination. Two players would compete against the other, trying to keep his hoop rolling as he ran, using a hooked staff that could also be used to off-set the opponent, a rather nasty tactic, but part of the game. The latter game, tug of war, was employed by a much larger group of people, no less than two people for this game. This game is like the modern game that usually employs a rope that is pulled from both ends by a group of people vying for victory, pulling the opposite team over the center and on the ground. In ancient Egypt, two opposing teams would execute this game in much the same fashion, yet without the use of a rope. Instead, the two leading people, one from each group, stood face-to-face, grasped each others’ arms while each team’s participants grabbed the waist of the person in front of them, planted the soles of their feet to the other’s foot for support, and started to pull. This game no doubt measured a group’s strength and equilibrium.


The last of children’s sports is that of swimming; the river Nile was the heart of Egypt, so it was no wonder there has been evidence of leisurely swimming and competitions found, mostly of different swim strokes, found in the tombs of those buried at Beni Hasan.





Toys were a popular item among children during all dynasties, starting as early as the Pre-dynastic Period—the oldest toys ever found, which date from the Pre-dynastic Period, were small toy boats made from wood. Certain toys were made to represent both various animals and people and where made from baked clay, bone, ceramics, ivory, stone, or wood. Royal children had access to toys made from any material, whereas children of the lower class had access to really only clay, which was commonly formed into dollies. The loveliest of toys found are dolls of Nubians or dolls with jointed limbs—some of these dolls date to Dynasty 11 and other were made in the fore of pincushion dolls with long hair or, in some cases found without hair either by accident or on purpose, as would be the case by taking scissors to a Barbie’s hair; pull-string dancing dolls, evidence of such was found at el Lisht, where three of such dolls were set in an ivory stand and could be made to spin when one pulled strings attached to them or another from elsewhere that represented a slave crushing corn; toy animals such as horses and crocodile, whose mechanical mouth would open and shut when pulled; spinning tops; and jumping jacks. Some such wooden toys were in the shape of horses on wheels and, as mentioned before, in the shape of boats.

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