In ancient world, death was a sport

Congratulations, Boston! The Red Sox won the World Series on Oct. 30, and it reminded us of our investment in sports. The crowd celebrated their Boston pride relatively calmly. Only one car was flipped over.

Compared to ancient times though, the sacrifice of one car in the name of sports was nothing. The games played in our early days involved blood, brute, and beheadings. The games were extremely violent and the losers (sometimes even the winners) were punished with death….so our love of sports has deep roots. Greeks cared so much about it that they even doped themselves to gain an advantage.

Despite their brutality, ancient sports were strikingly similar to modern games. The similarity of your favorite modern game to one of these ancient blood baths might shock you.

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Check out this interactive to see how ancient sports were played.

Most similar to battleship: Naumachia

 A game of battleship can get intense—but not nearly as intense as how the Romans played it.

The game was played on a lake or in an amphitheater filled with water. Thousands of men and a few ships were placed inside and the goal was simple: sink that battleship. The origins of the game started with Julius Ceaser, who wanted to recreate and celebrate his battle with Egypt. The game was used to commemorate famous naval battles until 550 AD.

Staying true to life, the game was bloody. Bloated corpses began to fill the water as the battle ensued. Competitors even used flamethrowers fueled by napalm known as Greek Fire. Men were burned alive. The more death, the more blood. With nowhere for the blood to go, the water would be stained red.

 Most similar to quidditch: Mesoamerican Ballgame

Flying around on broomsticks with witches and wizards seems fun and all, but Mesoamericans brought this intensity to life. The game began 3500 years ago and was the first team sport in known history.

It was a game of strategy and of strength. But mostly a game played for sacrifice. Behind the arenas, archaeologists find racks of skulls. Archaeologists are unclear of what the motivation of the game was, but they do know that the end result was beheading. Sometimes the losers were beheaded, and sometimes the winners were.

It was a complicated game, with set rules. Competitors were clad with protective gear and fought to gain control of the nine-pound rubber ball.  The ball had to constantly be in play. If the ball hit the ground twice, you lost.

And the only way to keep the ball in play was to propel it through the air using their bodies: hit shots, head shots, leg shots. But Harry Potter would be the most proud of the ingenious way you could win the game: by shooting the ball through a tiny hoop placed on one side of the court. Try doing that without magical powers.

Most similar to tug-of-war: Skin Pulling

This is the game that makes tug-of-war seem like a game for toddlers. Using the same concept, the Vikings played this game like warriors.

Instead of pulling on ropes, the Vikings pulled on animal hides. Not too bad, right? Except it was also played inside a ring of fire and took place in a town that they had recently ransacked. The winners of the game won rape-rights to the town’s women.

While tug-of-war challenges your strength, skin pulling challenged your manliness.

Most similar to Lord of the Rings battles: Venatio

Okay, so Lord of the Rings battles aren’t exactly a sport or a game. But they are just as entertaining as this Roman game translating to “the Hunt”.

Nearly impossible to win, this game was forced upon Roman slaves. They had about a two percent chance of surviving. The reason: they had to fight something known as “the beast of carthage”. What is this beast? Twenty elephants ready to trample and skewer them.

This game was not intended to win. It was intended to entertain. And the Romans enjoyed watching and playing it so much that they eventually drove the northern African elephant to extinction because of it.

Most similar to MMA: Pankration

Greeks knew the sport of mixed-martial arts long before us. Pankration was a combination of boxing and wrestling performed to the extremist degree. The only thing outlawed was biting and eye-gouging.

Besides that, there were no rules. The goal was to get as close to killing your opponent as possible. But even dying wasn’t a loss; it was considered a sign of masculinity and honor to refuse to give in.

Oh, and it was played completely in the nude.

Most similar to fencing: Fisherman’s Joust

This one sounds pretty self-explanitory. A group of eight fishermen would paddle into the middle of the Nile River and fight to the death—using only their paddles as weapons.

There was an added danger though: the bloodier they got, the more excited the alligators became. And even if they escaped the jaws of the alligators, they would probably regret it. Alligators were a sacred animal in ancient Egypt, and disrespecting their hunger could very well be considered a sin punishable by death.

And did I mention the hungry, hungry hippos ready to eat them too?

A simple game, but one that has not been forgotten. Re-enactments of the joust are still done around the globe.

It seems that not much has changed…except for the fact that our sports now don’t involve fire, flame-throwers, beheadings, or even getting eaten. 

Doesn’t this make over-zealous car flipping seem rather insignificant?

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Harvesting Moon Worship

The harvest moon settled over the Northern Hemisphere last night- looking exceptionally beautiful above the Boston skyline!

If you are anything like me, that strange floating rock had some sort of impact on you. I found myself stopping mid-bike ride to stare at the orb nestled so nicely above the Boston skyline. And I wasn’t alone. Crowds flocked to admire the celestial object in all its beauty.

For centuries, people have been admiring the moon. But the moon served different purposes for ancient people than it does for us now.

 In Central America, the moon was a big deal– even 2,000 years ago.

Moon worship in Central Mexican cultures dates back to origin stories involving the sun and the moon. According to legend in Central Mexico, the creation of the Sun and the Moon took place in the central city: Teotihuacan. Here, two gods threw themselves into Creation and two suns were formed. Not needing two suns, an assembly of gods then threw a rabbit at one of the suns. This event dimmed one of the suns and created the moon.

The Maya (Classic Period: AD 250-900) creation story is a more elaborate tale, known as the Popol Vuh. But in both stories of history, the moon was created through a divine action. From this was born their reverence for the moon. The Mayans showed their respect for the moon through their worship of a moon goddess: Ix Chel.

Ix Chel was portrayed as a young woman who was so beautiful that supposedly all the gods were captivated by her. All except for one: Kinich Ahau, the Sun God. Aggravated by this, Ix Chel followed him around, thus creating the cycle of the sun and the moon.

There is a mystery though. Throughout history, there have been two depictions of Ix Chel: one as an old-woman with serpents for hair and the other as a young pale woman. Some interpretations suppose that the old Ix Chel is associated with the full moon and the young Ix Chel is associated with the crescent moon.

This dichotomy might explain all the strange happenings that come with every full moon...

The Maya also used the moon to develop a highly sophisticated calendar system. They had three different calendars in use! All of these calendars were based on one smaller unit: the lunar cycle.

The time between two successive new moons is called a lunation. The Mayan lunation cycle was between 29 and 30 days. Our recent calculations have shown their lunation cycle to equal 29.53086 days. Just for comparison: our modern lunation is known to be 29.53059 days.

There are 250 known inscriptions that depict the Mayan lunar calendar. These inscriptions shed more light on the purpose of their calculations. Each inscription provides certain information: the name of the current moon, the number of days in the lunation, how many days have already passed in the lunation, and which of the six lunation cycles the moon is in.

The oldest (known) Mayan lunar calendar was discovered in December 2012 by professor William Saturno of Boston University.

Our current calendar is called the Gregorian calendar. It is a Catholic solar calendar that was adopted in 1582. The Gregorian calendar was meant to align with the seasons and not moon cycles. However, we do continue to recognize the cycles of the moon.

The extra light provided to farmers from the harvest moon is still celebrated today. This is precisely why this time of year we are reminded of the lunar roots in our calendar system.

While the harvest moon holds less meaning to modern urbanites, it is still celebrated as a welcoming sign of Fall.