10 Ancient Sports That Are Completely Terrifying
Littered with cultural and religious significance, the sport known to the Mayans as pitz is one of the oldest games in human history, believed to have originated as early as 2,500 BC. A number of different variations existed, with the rules on ball size or what was used to hit it changing to fit the context of the game. Nevertheless, the game was originally much like racquetball, with the later addition of hoops that served as goals. The main focus of every town in the Mayan empire, the ball court was often used as a proxy for war, a way for enemies to settle their disputes without bloodshed.In addition, Mayan kings, much like their Aztec counterparts, would often stage dramatic reenactments of their myths right on the court. The most popular myth played out on the court was that of the Maize Gods and the Hero Twins. As they were avid fans of pitz, the Maize Gods would often play loudly, which angered Xibalba, the god of the Underworld. So he killed the two of them and buried them on the court; he also took one of their heads and hung it from a tree in the Underworld. It spat on one of the princesses of the Underworld, who became pregnant, and she gave birth to the Hero Twins, who resurrected the Maize Gods.Human sacrifice also played a role—captured kings or the captains of the losing team would often be decapitated after the game, although the games may have just been an elaborate ritual, with the outcome predetermined.
The game of choice for the poor and lower-class fisherman of the Nile River, fisherman jousting was exactly what it sounds like. Two teams of boatmen would square off, utilizing their hands or feet to knock the other team off balance and send them careening into the water. Papyrus boats, propelled by poles which would also be used to defeat the other team, were the stage for the contests, some of which were believed to have been impromptu games designed to settle territorial disputes.Generally a very violent sport, fisherman jousting often ended in the deaths of a large number of the participants. Hippos and crocodiles roamed the waters, ready to maim the contestants who fell overboard. In addition, swimming was not as universally practiced as it is today, and many of the fishermen drowned simply because they didn’t know how to swim.Some scholars believe there may have been a religious aspect to some of the fights as well, with murals depicting competing boats filled with offerings. The boatmen appear to be racing to be the first to honor the gods, with combat coming into play during a close race.
Developed by the Turkic people sometime between the 10th and 15th centuries, the sport of buzkashi is still played to this day, predominately by the descendents of its inventors. The national sport of Afghanistan, it involves two teams, riding on horseback, whose goal is to drag a headless goat carcass across the field and drop it inside a predetermined area, usually a circle. Occasionally, a sheep or calf is used instead of a goat.Banned under the Taliban’s rule, buzkashi is a violent sport, with the riders equipped with whips with which to beat the other riders’ horses. They’re not supposed to use their whips on the riders themselves, but that rule is often disregarded. Often, the social status derived from owning the horses of the winning team is enough to cover the costs associated with maintaining the health of the animals between matches. The origins of this violent sport are lost in time, but the story goes that Genghis Khan and his Mongols would steal livestock from the Turkic people, who would brave death to snatch it back from them on horseback.
Derived from the Spanish word for duck and also known as horseball, pato is the official sport of Argentina and an eclectic mix of polo and basketball. The youngest sport on this list, it was created in the 1500s and was originally played with a duck in a basket rather than the ball that today’s participants use. A violent sport, riders would often attack each other in order to win, often because a large amount of money was at stake.Throughout its history, the sport has been banned numerous times, mostly due to the increasing violence which often resulted in the deaths of many of its participants. In the 17th century, the Catholic church was so concerned with the sport that they would excommunicate anyone found playing. Up until the 20th century, it remained underground, until rule changes made it much safer to play; the duck in a basket was also replaced with a unique ball with six leather handles. The goals themselves have changed over time, evolving from a simple box on the ground to a hoop with a net that is in use today.
One of the oldest games still played today, hurling is sort of like hockey mixed with lacrosse. Basically, there are two teams and the object is for the players to use a wooden stick, known as a hurley, to hit a small ball called a sliotar into a goal. The fastest field sport in the world, ball speeds reaching up to 145 kilometers per hour (90 mph) are extremely common, and participants are often left bruised and bloodied after a match.However, that’s nothing compared to the 3,000-year-old history of the sport, where it was more like warfare, with relatively few rules and matches that could last for days. In addition, there could be teams numbering in the hundreds squaring off against one another, only adding to the violence. Believed to have been brought to Ireland by the Celts, the sport has tales of mythological heroes playing which date as far back as the 12th century BC.