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Gladiatorial games and 5 other strange sports of ancient civilisations

Sports have always been a part of human culture as entertainment and a show of physical prowess.

The gladiatorial games [Quora]

Ancient civilisations, in particular, engaged in a variety of intense, unusual, and sometimes terrifying sports.

People back then loved competition and entertainment just as much as we do today. But their idea of "sports" might leave you scratching your head.

Here are some of the most fascinating and strange sports from ancient times:

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We can't talk about strange ancient sports without mentioning the gladiatorial games. These brutal contests, popular in the Roman Empire, pitted heavily armed gladiators against each other, or even against wild animals. The goal? Fight to the death (or at least until the crowd was sufficiently entertained).

While gruesome, these games were major social events, drawing in huge crowds who cheered for their favourite fighters​.

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Imagine a mix of wrestling and boxing, with almost no rules. That's pankration, a brutal sport from ancient Greece. Competitors could use punches, kicks, throws, and even chokes to subdue their opponent. The only way to win? Force your opponent to give up or render them unconscious. This no-holds-barred combat was a highlight of the ancient Olympics, and only the toughest athletes dared to compete.

In ancient Rome, naumachia was a type of spectacle that involved staged naval battles. These events were held in large basins filled with water, where combatants reenacted famous naval encounters.

These battles were highly choreographed and involved a large number of participants, usually prisoners of war or condemned criminals, who would fight until one side was defeated.

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Pelota purépecha, a sport from pre-Hispanic Mexico, was akin to field hockey but with a fiery twist. This game involved a ball set on fire, which players hit with wooden sticks.

The goal was to knock the flaming ball into the opposing team's goal area. Played mostly at night, the sight of a flaming ball flying across the field added a spectacular and dangerous element to the game. Efforts have been made in recent years to revive this sport as part of Mexico's cultural heritage​.

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He'e hölua, or "sled surfing," was an ancient Hawaiian sport that involved racing wooden sleds down steep volcanic slopes. Competitors would ride these sleds at high speeds, reaching up to 50 mph, on their stomachs or in a surfing stance.

The sport was a test of skill and bravery and it also held religious significance, as it was seen as a tribute to Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes. Christian missionaries banned the sport in the 19th century due to its dangerous nature, but it has seen a revival in recent times​​.

Buzkashi, the national sport of Afghanistan, is a highly intense game where players on horseback attempt to drag a headless goat carcass across a field and into a scoring area. The sport, which has roots in the Turkic cultures of Central Asia, is extremely physical and violent.

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Riders use whips to control their horses and fend off opponents. Despite its brutal nature, buzkashi remains a popular and culturally significant sport in Afghanistan and neighbouring regions​​.

These ancient sports might seem strange and even brutal by today's standards. But they tell us a lot about the values and priorities of the civilisations that created them. These games showcased strength, courage, and a willingness to push oneself to the limit.

This content was created with the help of an AI model and verified by the writer.

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