Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Palla

Today I came across this post on Facebook:

Ancient ceramic From Indus Valley

5-7,000 years ago, someone could have told you what these symbols represented, but not today. Today, no one is really sure about the culture that produced this and other pieces, even though it was one of civilization's 4 cradles. Still, this piece and the others make quite an impression even today.



Well.... 

Let me see if I can decipher this image...

Indus Valley civilisation was a river valley civilisation and as all the other river valley civilisations it saw fish as one of the main sources of food. 

The main fish species fished in Indus River is "palla".


Palla is a migratory fish, very much like salmon. In migrates into and out of Indus River during the monsoon season which in Indus Valley lasts between July and September. 


This is why fishing for palla on Indus River is a seasonal activity. Fishermen usually catch palla during the four-month season, which starts in May and ends in August. This is also the main fishing season in general. 

Now what does the above picture mean then?

Considering how important fishing was for the people of the Indus Valley civilisation, which we know from all the fish bones found in their settlements, they would have wanted to somehow mark this season. I believe that this picture marks the main fishing season on the Indus River. 

A while back, in my post "Fishes" I talked about the fact that the Zodiac symbol Pisces (Fishes) marks the main Salmon fishing season in Continental Europe. 

Before that in my post "Ram and Bull" I talked about the fact that Zodiac signs Aries (Ram) and Taurus (Bull) mark the lambing season of wild Eurasian sheep and the calving season of wild Eurasian cattle. 

In those two and several other posts I postulated that Zodiac signs were symbols marking extremely important natural events on the Solar vegetative circle (solar year) and that they predate the Actual star constellations. I believe that one of these old natural zodiac symbols, Bull, is used on this picture in its old original meaning: Summer. And interestingly summer coincides with the fishing season on Indus River...

So here is what I think the above picture means:



1. The bull symbolises summer months, between the 6th of May, the beginning of summer in Taurus, to the 2nd of August. 
2. The bull's hump represents the summer solstice, 21st of June. This is symbolised by the sun placed above it(???). Maybe it is just a symbol of summer, like the other sun symbols around the bull's head...
3. The shower like symbol above the tree represents air water, monsoon, which peaks in the middle of August.
4. The same symbol can also be seen below the bull between the two "wave" symbols which all together represents ground water, river. 
5. The tree represents the revival of vegetation which monsoon brings. 
6. Between the beginning of summer (May) and the end of summer (August) is the main palla fishing season on Indus River 

I have no idea what the other things on the picture mean. For instance I would love to know what the 35 "moons" along the bull's back mean...Ben Johanson since commented on Facebook that: "Palla reaches sexual maturity between 1-2 years and lives between 2-4 years. 35 moons is between 2 and 3 years which would be when the mature fish would come back to the river to spawn..." 

So what do you think?

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Long puck

A game was recorded as taking place on February 26, 1297, in Loenen aan de Vecht, where the Dutch played a game with a stick and leather ball. The winner was whoever hit the ball with the least number of strokes into a target several hundred yards away. This game was also recorded in subsequent centuries as being played by the Dutch under the name of kolf, kolven. The game is widely accepted as the precursor of modern golf.

Historians try to classify medieval games as either forms of ‘hockey’ or otherwise ‘golf’ from a modern perspective, but other than ‘hockey’ players battling with each other to get to the ball and ‘golf’ players taking turns to hit it, the histories of the two games probably overlap far more than one might imagine from seeing them played today. 

That this is true can be seen from these games. 

In France, as early as 1426 a letter mentions the game of ‘longue boule’ in which players had to hit a ball from village to village "with the fewest strokes of the wooden ball".

In the 16th century in the counties of Devon and Wiltshire, southwestern England, bandy (Welsh and English version of the Irish Hurling that I wrote about in my post "The invasion of hurlers") was played on Palm Sunday, though in these areas the game was played differently. There, boys and men would try to get the ball up a hill, instead of towards a goal. 

We find the same type of competition in Ireland. Poc Fada is Irish for "long puck". An All-Ireland Poc Fada Championship is held annually testing the skills of many of the top hurlers.

Competitors must puck a sliotar with a hurley (they may lift and strike or hit the ball from the hand). They play to the top of Carn an Mhadaidh and after a short break continue back down to finish in Aghameen. The whole course measures over 5 Km.


The concept of the competition originates in the Irish legend of "Táin Bó Cuailgne" when Cúchulainn, who as the boy Setanta set out from his home to the King's court at Emain Macha hitting his sliotar before him and running ahead to catch it.

I don't know if this type of game was played in Ireland before 1960 when the Poc Fada Championship was instituted. 

In Ireland there is also a game called "road hurling". 


It is a team sport, played by two teams each consisting of three players. Each member of the team takes turn in striking the ball as far as possible along the pre specified route from the place where the ball landed previously. The team that covers the distance with the least number of strikes wins. The detailed rules can be found on "Kinvara road hurling rules" page. Again I could not find any information about how old this game is. 

I would love to know what is the earliest recorded game of "long puck" type of hurling in Ireland. The earliest mention of anything similar is found in the Táin Bó Cuailgne, which was preserved in the 12th century manuscript, but probably originated in the Irish Iron Age (500 BC – 400 AD). This predates all the other description of any similar game. The origin of the all the other western and northern European curved stick and ball games can be traced to the Irish hurling. So I would expect that the long puck is also ultimately an Irish invention which spread to Europe during Middle Ages. But I might be wrong.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The invasions of hurlers


In my post "The cross between hockey and murder" I talked about the history of Hurling, Irish stick and ball game.


Hurling is of course not the only European ball game that once was or is still played using a curved stick. We have shinty in Scotland, cammag in Isle of Man, bando (bandi) in Wales, field hockey in England, choule in France, knattleikr in Iceland and Bandi in Scandinavia and in Russia.

The historians generally agree that these games are related. But in this article I would like to explain why I believe that these games are all descendants of the Irish hurling. 

As I already explained in my post about hurling, we have medieval written sources talking about hurling being played in Ireland during the Bronze Age, Iron Age and early Medieval time. We have depictions of hurling stick and ball on two high crosses from Kells and Monsterboice dated to the 9th/10th century AD. 

Particularly important is the fact that hurling, together with some 20 other stick and ball games is discussed in Brehon Law, the native Irish system of law, which developed from customs and which was passed on orally from one generation to the next until it was finally written down in the 7th century AD. The Brehon Law tract called "Meallbreatha" (Judgements related to games) lists rules and regulation related to stick and ball  games most of which resemble hurling.

This is two centuries earlier than the next earliest written record of a ball game played with a curved stick anywhere in the Northern and Western Europe.

The next earliest mention of a stick and ball game is believe or not from Iceland. The game was called "Knattleikr" (Literally ball-game). It was described as early as late in the 9th century and also appears in many of the Icelandic legends.




Today, no one knows exact rules of Knattleikr, but some information has survived from the Viking Age in Iceland (beginning around the 9th century).

The most complete descriptions of the game in the sagas are: Grettis saga (Gr.s.) chapter 15; Gísla saga (G.s.) chapters 15 and 18; Egils saga (E.s.) chapter 40, and Eyrbyggja saga (Ey.s.) chapter 43.

I love this reconstruction of the game based on the description from the sagas compiled in "ReCreating Knattleikr" by Folo Watkins:

1. Any sober person, man or woman wishing to play must be chosen for one side or another, and each player must be set up against another player of comparable skill and strength. Captains are chosen in any manner acceptable to all players, and these captains then choose players on their side. Only an even number of players may be chosen unless the captains agree. The players wear scarves to show which side they are on. The captains shall agree on an umpire, who shall make certain that play is legal.

2. The captains agree on the size and placement of the playing field. Spectators may set up anywhere outside the limits of this field. Players may position themselves at will within the confines of the field when play begins.

3. To begin play, the umpire shall throw the ball onto the field.

4. Play ceases if the ball leaves the field but not if a player does.

5.The ball may be struck with the bat on the ground or in the air. Theball may be struck with the hand or carried. Players may be tackled, but may be intercepted only above the waist. Players may not strike another player with hands or bat.

6. Any person who break these rules may be removed for a set period or permanently by the umpire, who may also levy a weregild against the transgressor, to be paid to the injured party.

7. Any player may remove himself from the game for any reason. After this, sides may be uneven. A substitute may be put into the game with the agreement of both captains.

8. Play continues until the players decide to end or to suspend the game or the umpire decides that it has become too unsafe.

9. Players get drunk.

I believe that Knattleikr was brought to Iceland by immigrants from the Ireland as it had large similarities to the games played by the Irish, Hurling. As in Iceland, the Irish legends often have heroes who display their skill with their hurley (hurling stick).

But wait. What immigrants from Ireland?

In my post "I(r)celand" I wrote about the huge genetic and cultural influence that the Irish seem to have had on the early Iceland.

There is a popular story in Iceland which says that the first humans who set the foot on the shores and volcanic terrain of Iceland were Christian monks from the north-west of Ireland, in the eighth century. The story is based on one written source, the Islendingabok (‘Book of the Islanders’) by  Ari Þorgilsson, written between 1122 and 1133, about 250 years after the first Norse settlements. Even in such established works as The history of Iceland by Gunnar Karlsson the arrival of the monks has become accepted history. Apparently the monks, having initially discovered a stable sea route from Ireland to Iceland, made repeated return journeys over the course of several decades until the arrival of the first Norse settlers.

There is little to suggest that these monks established any permanent settlements in Iceland. While conclusive archaeological evidence of the presence of monks has been unearthed on the remote Orkney and Shetland Islands, no such proof has ever been found in Iceland and so this story about the Irish monks being the first colonizers of Iceland remains under question.

But it seems that when the settlement of Iceland got underway some time around 800AD, there were a lot of Gaelic people among the original settlers. Genetic analysis has shown that a quarter of the men and up to half of the women among the founding population would have been of "Gaelic" origin.

The presence of Gaelic people among the first arrivals in Iceland is confirmed by numerous written references in both the Book of Settlements and the Book of Icelanders. In the former is found a comprehensive list of 400 names, of which at least 60 are distinctly Gaelic.

On top of that there are huge Gaelic cultural influences found in early Icelandic sagas. Icelandic oral and written traditions of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were completely unique development in the Nordic world and historians agree that the influence of the Gaelic presence in Iceland is the most plausible explanation for the emergence of the Icelandic sagas tradition. There are undeniably striking resemblances in the literary output of Iceland and Ireland during the 12th and 13th century not just in form but in content too. In both traditions we find leprechaun-like creatures and boy stalwart heroes like Cú Chulainn from Irish sagas, and Starkaðr (Strong man) from the Icelandic Fornaldarsogur sagas, popular in the early fourteenth century.

The Gaelic influence is even more obvious when we look at the Icelandic family sagas. The sagas that come from the west of Island have a more powerful Gaelic element than others, which could be explained by the stronger Gaelic presence in this area. How come? The western area of Iceland would have been the exact place where a boat coming from Ireland would have landed. And if the Irish settled permanently on Iceland, that would have been the exact place where they would have done so...Interesting...

And of course there is Knattleikr the Icelandic version of Irish hurling. The Irish settlers definitely brought with them their favourite game, and it probably very quickly became everyone's favourite game.

But how did the Early Medieval Irish reach Iceland? Well because at that time, the Irish ruled the north western seas. They invaded and settled Western Scotland and gave it its name. The name Scotland comes "Scoti" which was the old name for the Irish. They invaded and settled Northern Wales, giving the name to the Llŷn Peninsula which was named after one of the Irish tribes, the Laigin. They also settled in the Isle of Man.

In all three places we find ball games played with curved sticks.

Since the beginning hurling was played by one clan against another clan, and one tribe against another tribe. This later turned into village against village matches and finally county against county matches. These inter-village and inter-county hurling matches flourished throughout the 19th century and became the base for the modern hurling which is still organised around village (parish) teams and county teams.

The stick and ball games found in Scotland, Isle of Man and Wales were also played as inter-clan games.

In Scotland, we find Shinty (camanachd or iomain in Scots Gaelic)


The old form of hurling played in the northern half of Ireland, called "commons", resembled shinty more closely than the standardised form of hurling of today. Like shinty, it was commonly known as camánacht and was traditionally played in winter.

In the "In Shinty's place in time and world" by Hugh Dan MacLennan Shinty we read that Shinty arrived to Scotland with the Irish, nearly two thousand years ago. "...Indeed, it is worth noting, 1,400 years after St Columba's death, that the venerable Saint is said to have arrived on these shores as a result of a little local difficulty at an Irish hurling match..."

We know that it was a very popular game during medieval time, as it was played by, among others, King Alexander I (died 1124).

In 1589, in the Kirk Session Records of Glasgow, The Club of True Highlanders regarded shinty as being: "...undoubtedly the oldest known Keltic sport or pastime. The game is also called Cluich bhall, shinnie, shinty, bandy, hurling, hockey, and at one time was a universal and favourite game of the whole of Keltland....The origin of this game is lost in the midst of ages... indeed, it is said, and, no doubt, with great truth, that the game of Camanachd, or club playing, was introduced into the Green Isle by the immediate descendants of Noah. On such authority we may rationally conclude that it was played by Noah himself; and if by Noah, in all probability by Adam and his sons..."

This engraving from 1750, shows early shinty being played, probably between two clans.



In "The Correspondence of James Boswell and John Johnston 1759–95" we can read that: "There is a ball thrown down in the middle of a space above the house, or on a strand near it; and each party strives to beat it to one end of the ground with clubs or crooked sticks. The club is called the shinny. It is used in the low-country of Scotland. We corrupt it to shinty."

And in the "History of the the Burgh Schools of Scotland 1876" we find "The rough but manly old game of “shinty” has not yet quite fallen into desuetude: it is played at Forfar academy, Inverness academy, Moffat grammar school."

"Dictionary of the Scots Language" has a lot more info about historical and linguistic info about shinty.


In the Isle of Man we find cammag. Once the most widespread sport on Man, it ceased to be played around 1900 though it has experienced a revival in the 21st century.


Cammag was played on roughly marked out fields, lanes, highways or shores. Any hooked piece of wood was used as a stick, from a rough root of gorse to a carefully hewn ash or elm branch. The cammag stick is known in Manx as the maidjey. The cammag ball, the crig, was made of cork or wood, varied from circular to egg shaped, differed from two inches to the size of a fist and was occasionally wrapped in a rag. Matches were remembered with as little as four players on each side whilst others had no limit on the number of participants, up to 200 was not unusual! These matches were played amongst local teams, as travel outside walking distance was unusual. Consequently, this isolation meant that rules varied from district to district.

The earliest known mention of the game is from the March 1760. The church court for Kirk Michael examined three men and a boy who were reported for playing cammag on a Sunday: "They also present John, son of William (Willy) Cannell, Thomas Kneen, said Cannel’s servant, and John, son of John Cannell, of Kerrooglass for prophanation of the Lord’s day, by playing at what is called the cammag. They also present there William Cannell for suffering John Caine, his ward, a child under age, to prophane the Lord’s Day in manner above mentioned.

This being the first complaint against these persons, and the Vicar recommending them to the clemency of the court, and the persons themselves, after being admonished in court, faithfully promising not to offend in prophanation of the Lord’s Day for the future, their censure for this time is remitted, and the Vicar and Wardens are to have a strict eye over their future behaviour."

The Manx word Cammag, as in modern Scottish Gaelic and Irish camán, is derived from the Gaelic root word cam, meaning bent. This linguistic link also points to Ireland as being the most likely origin of the game.

In Wales we find Bando (bandy)


There are two etymologies for the name of the game.

1. The name is derived from the Germanic word "bandja" meaning a "curved stick". I have no idea where this etymology came from but it is all over internet.
2. bandy (v.) 1570s, "to strike back and forth, throw to and fro," from Middle French bander, from root of band. Also Irish ball game, precursor of field hockey, 1690s, played with a curved stick, also called a bandy (1620s).  From English Etymological Dictionary.


A couple of historic Bando sticks can be found in the Welsh folk Museum.


The game was first recorded in the late eighteenth century, and in 1797 a traveller en route from Cowbridge to Pyle noted "the extraordinary barrenness" of the locality in ash and elm trees, hard woods ideal for bando bats, and came across hordes of people hastening to the sea shore to watch a game of bando. Whereas the sticks were made of hard wood, the ball, known as a "colby", was normally of yew, box or crabapple. The sport was often played between local villages, with fierce rivalries in the west of Glamorgan between Baglan, Aberavon and Margam and in mid Glamorgan between Pyle, Kenfig and Llangynwyd. Edward Matthews of Ewenni records that no-one above the age of twelve-month would be seen without a bando stick


The oldest known depiction of bando (bandy) is the 13th century painted glass window in the Canterbury cathedral where a boy is holding a curved stick in one hand and a ball in the other. Unfortunately I couldn't find a picture of that window anywhere. If anyone has it I would really appreciate if I could add it to this post.

There is also this stained glass window from Gloucester Cathedral, dating from about 1350, which is often cited by scholars as a portrayal of bando (bandy)


This picture from a 14th century book of prayers is another early record of what looks like Bandy.


Shakespeare also mentions Bandy in "Romeo and Juliet" - "The Prince expressly hath forbidden Bandying in the Verona streets". Except that "bandying" seems to be synonym for violent fight.

The game was also known as "cambok". In the "Middle English Dictionary: C.1" By Hans Kurath we find that "cambok(e (n.) Also cambake [ ML cambuca]: A curved staff or stick; also, a game played with curved sticks"

In "Daily Life in Chaucer's England" by By Jeffrey L. Forgeng, Jeffrey L. Singman, Will McLean: "Cambok or Cammock was a game played with a curved stick, similar to a shepherd crook and a ball. Variants (or other names) of the same game were Goff and Bando (Bandy)"

The game was also played in eastern English counties of Suffolk and Norfolk at that time, although in Norfolk it was called bandy-hoshoe and in Sufolk the game was known as "hawkey".

In England we today find field hockey.


The modern game grew from English public schools in the early 19th century and was probably standardised Bando (hawkey). The word hockey itself has no clear origin. Some believe that it is a derivative of "hoquet", a Middle French word for a shepherd's stave.


The curved, or "hooked" ends of the sticks used for hockey would indeed have resembled these staves.

One more game which I believe was derived from Irish hurling is French game called "choule".


To put it simply, it is a game for which you have to bring a "ball" (or something that will be used as a ball like a stone or a oval piece of root) with a curved stick into an area that serves as a "goal". There is no information regarding any additional rules. Age and status of the players was not restricted: adults, rural or urban, children, priests. For example,  in 1248 the Archbishop of Rouen, Eudes Rigaud, condemns the behaviour of a priest of his diocese who was playing choule with his flock. Perhaps even some members of the gentry also played it. On the other hand, it seems that players were exclusively male. It is certain that the game was tough but it does not seem that free violence was tolerated.

In the article "La soule à la crosse" by Par Bernard we read that: "The choule (from Normand "to fall", "to jostle", and corresponding phonetically to "soule" in French), is a traditional Norman sport. There are two types of choule: the big choule and the croule crosse, or choulette. The first is played by hand and foot, is cousin of Gaelic football, calcio, rugby, football and footy Australian; the second uses a curved stick just like Irish hurling. The stick would have been introduced in England in the 11th century at the time of its conquest by William the Conqueror..."



Walters Ms. W.88, Book of Hours, French Flanders (Cambrai?), is a small Book of Hours, made for use in the diocese of Cambrai ca. 1300. It contains illustrations depicting a variety of activities, such as cooking, playing games, climbing, fishing, making music, and dancing. One of them depicts two men playing a curved stick and ball game.


Another depiction of "choule" can be found in the "Decretals of Gregory IX with gloss of Bernard of Parma (the 'Smithfield Decretals')", which was made in the first half of the 14th century in southern France (probably Toulouse). However the marginal scenes were added in England (London), so the game depicted could actually have been Bando...


There is one more team game which is played with curved stick and a ball. Bandy. Not Welsh Bandy (Bando). The other Bandy.


Bandy is a team winter sport played on ice, in which skaters use sticks to direct a ball into the opposing team's goal. The playing field is the size of a Football (Soccer) field and is played with eleven players in each team. Many rules, like offside, are the same as, or very similar those in Soccer. Hence, Bandy is sometimes referred to as "the winter soccer".

A game that could be recognised as essentially modern bandy was very popular among Russian nobility in early 1700s, with the royal court of Peter the Great playing bandy on Saint Petersburg's frozen Neva river. In the early 18th century ball hockey was played almost everywhere, and these games always attracted crowds of spectators. The number of players in a team was strictly limited. Russians played bandy with sticks made out of juniper wood. Peter I brought iron skates from Holland and Russian hockey players started using them first.


Bandy appeared in English records in the late 19th century. There is a record of a game of "hockey on the ice" being played in 1875 at The Crystal Palace in London. Members of the Bury Fen Bandy Club published rules of the game in 1882. They also introduced the game into the Netherlands and Sweden, as well as elsewhere in England where it became popular with cricket, rowing and Hockey clubs. The National Bandy Association was started in England in 1891, which is also the year of the first official international game between an English and Dutch team.


Bandy was introduced to Sweden in 1895. The Swedish royal family, barons and diplomats were the first players. Swedish championships for men have been played annually since 1907. In the 1920s students played the game and it became a largely middle class sport. Swedish championship in 1934 it became popular amongst workers in the smaller industrial towns and villages. Bandy remains the main sport in many of these places.

Bandy was introduced to Norway in the 1910s. The Swedes contributed largely, and clubs sprang up around the capital of Oslo. Oslo, including neighbouring towns, is still today the region where bandy enjoys most popularity in Norway.

Bandy was introduced to Finland from Russia in the 1890s. The first Finnish national championships were held in 1908. The top national league is called Bandyliiga.

So here is a question I have to ask. Is it possible that considering that Bandy was originally a upper class game, and that upper classes all over Western and Northern Europe in the 18th and 19th century were inter related, and considering that the Bandy was super popular in Russia 100 years before anywhere else, is it possible that Bandy (Ice hockey) was a Russian import into Western Europe?

If that was so, that would have almost completed the full historical transition circle.


What is interesting is that games that are accepted as direct predecessors to Russian bandy (zagon, kotel) have been recorded in Russian monastery records dating back to the 10th to 11th centuries. This is why Russians see their old countrymen as the creators of the sport – reflected by the unofficial title for bandy, "Russian hockey" (русский хоккей). But are these games native Russian games or were they introduced into Russia and if so by whom? Do you remember the Icelanders and their Knattleikr? The first records of this Norse stick and ball game, which most likely descends from Irish hurling, are from the 9th century. The first records of the Russian stick and ball game are from the 10th and 11th century, the time of the Kievan Rus, which was majorly influenced by the Norse. Did some of the Norse who settled in Russia brought with them Knattleikr which eventually turned into Russian hockey? Remember that Irish hurling was played both on dirt and on ice. The same was true for Icelandic Knattleikr. The traditional Russian zagon and kotel games were also the same.

It is worth pointing that these old Russian medieval games, the ones that possibly descended from Hurling were until recently still played in Russia. But they were also until recently played in the Balkans, far away from Northern Europe.

In my next post I will talk about Slavic shepherd's games and why they could be remnants of the very ancient Gaelic (Celtic or possibly much older Bronze Age Gaelic) culture in the Balkans and why they could be the root of Hurling...Spoiler alert: In the Balkans these games have a Gaelic name...

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Cross between hockey and murder

The most popular sport in Ireland is Hurling. I don't mean puking. Although that is also quite popular.

Hurling (in Irish Iomànàìocht) is one of the fastest field ball games in the world.

Every team has 15 players: 1 goalkeeper, 6 backs, 2 midfielders and 6 forwards.

They use wooden flat sticks called "hurlies" (in Irish Camàn) which they use to hit a leather ball (in Irish sliotar). 


The players can catch the ball with their hands, carry it for not more than four steps, strike it in the air or on the ground with the hurley.

The objective is to pass the ball through the other team's goal in order to score (a goal is worth 3 points).

The pitch is 130-140 metres long and 80-90 metres wide. The match lasts for 70 minutes.

This game was once described as a "cross between hockey and murder". This is why:




What these guys are trying to do is catch, with their bare hand, a hard leather ball, flying over 100km per hour, while the other guys around them are trying to hit it with a metal reinforced wooden battle axe like sticks. Broken fingers and hands are a common "minor" injury. Broken noses and split heads were also a regular occurrence before a metal helmets with wire face protector were introduced.


Originally players refused to wear the helmets and had to be forced to use them....

The history of hurling is very long, possibly stretching back over three millennia. Or longer. That is if we are to trust the dating in the Irish Annals.

The 13th/14th century tale Cath Mhaigh Tuireadh Chunga (The Second Battle of Moytura) describes a battle between the ancient tribes Tuatha De Danna and the Fir Bolg that took place at Moytura, County Mayo. At some point in the four day of the battle the Fir Bolgs took the time to challenge the Tuatha De Danann to a game of hurling, three times nine Fir Bolgs played against a similar number of Tuatha De Danann, many Tuatha were killed and a rock or cairn was erected on the spot where the hero had perished. The field where these rocks lay (only the foundation now remains) is called "The Field of the Hurlers".

This mythical match supposedly took place during the Bronze Age, in 1072 BC.

As I have shown in my article about the "Partholon and the great flood", and other articles about the early Bronze Age links between the Balkans and Ireland, the Irish Annals were pretty spot on when it came to dating events that happened in the 3rd millennium BC. This can be confirmed by archaeological evidence. So I have no doubts that their dating of the Second Battle of Moytura is also accurate.

Next we have the tale of the Táin Bó Cuailgne preserved in the 12th century manuscript but probably originating in the Irish Iron Age (500 BC – 400 AD). In it we find a description of the hero Cúchulainn playing hurling with his friends at Emain Macha.

Interestingly in the same epic we find a story about how Cúchulainn (whose original name was Setanta) got his nickname Cú Culann (the hound of Culann). Basically Setanta killed the hound belonging to the Culann the blacksmith by striking it with his sliotar (ball) which he hit with his Camàn (stick). To repay the debt to the blacksmith, Setanta offered to replace the hound and become himself Cú Culann (the hound of Culann).

This is not the only time when Cú Chulainn used his hurley to inflict violence on someone. It seems that hurley was used as a very effective weapon. In "Táin Bó Cúalnge Recension 1" we can read another story in which Cú Chulainn "...rose to his feet, and, striking off his opponent's head with his hurley, he began to drive the head like a ball before him across the plain..."

I believe that hurling was once a martial game, designed to develop fighting abilities in the Irish aristocratic youth: speed, precision, hand eye coordination, game sense and core and limb strength, all things necessary to play hurling well. But also all things necessary to survive close quarter combat armed with a sword.

The following sequence of images makes it easy to see how a good hurler could be a very good close combat fighter.





That hurling was indeed part of the martial arts training of the young Irish warriors during the Iron Age and Early medieval time, can be seen from tales which were told about Fionn Mac Cumhail and the Fianna, his legendary warrior band. Early references mention the "Fiancluichi" (Fianna games), a series of violent (stick and ball and other) games for aristocratic (and hence warrior) youths. More info can be found in "Shillelagh: The Irish Fighting Stick" by John W. Hurley.

Hurling, together with some 20 other stick and ball games is discussed in Brehon Law, the native Irish system of law, which developed from customs and which was passed on orally from one generation to the next until it was finally written down in the 7th century AD. The Brehon Law tract called "Meallbreatha" (Judgements related to games) lists rules and regulation related to stick and ball  games most of which resemble hurling.

In "Warriors, Legends and Heroes – the archaeology of hurling, in Archaeology Ireland" by Aidan O’ Sullivan, we read that:

Possible representations of hurling from early medieval time are found on two high crosses from Kells and Monsterboice, which date from 9th/10th centuries AD. On each of these crosses a biblical panel is depicted which illustrates David killing a lion with what appears to be a curved stick and ball. The killing instrument should in fact be a sling, but it appears that a hurley was chosen instead as it may have been more familiar to an Irish audience who used it as weapon.

Kells cross


Monsterboice cross


We also have records that hurling was still played in medieval Ireland.

13th century Statute of Kilkenny forbids hurling due to excessive violence, stating further that the English settlers of the Pale would be better served to practice archery and fencing in order to repel the attacks of the Gaelic Clans.

A 15th-century grave slab from Inishowen, County Donegal of a Scottish gallowglass (mercenary) warrior named Manas Mac Mhoiresdean of Iona, has carvings of a claymore sword, a camàn stick and a sliotar.


Now this slab is very interesting.

The camàn stick engraved on the above slab is much narrower than the modern hurling stick. This is why most people assume the stick is a shinty stick. But this is a photo of an actual hurling stick made of alder-wood, found in a bog at Derries, near Edenderry, Co. Offaly and radiocarbon dated to the 15th-17th century. It is currently held in the Folklife Collection of the National Museum of Ireland. It also is narrow.


The modern wide hurling stick only became standard in the late 19th century, when the rules of the modern game were first codified by the Gaelic Athletic Association.

This image from Folklife Collection book by Art O’Maolfabhail shows a range of hurleys from different parts of the country from the end of the 19th beginning of the 20th century.


In the 1973 book "Caman 2,000 Years of Hurling in Ireland an Attempt to Trace the History and Development of the Stick-and-ball Game in Ireland During the Past 2,000 Years" by Art O Maolfabhail, we can read that prior to this rules codification there were actually two hurling traditions on the island of Ireland. In the north of the country a winter game, very similar to modern Scottish shinty, was played mainly on the ground with a narrow stick and a hard ball. The second form of the game, or Leinster hurling, was played with a broader hurley and a softer ball and was much more like the modern game. Players could pick up the ball, catch and strike it as well as soloing down the field. Although the GAA used both forms as an inspiration for the game it organised in the late nineteenth century, Leinster hurling had more of an influence in the evolution of the game.

So considering that the above slab is from the north of Ireland, the stick was probably used for playing the northern hurling. 

In the post-medieval period hurling continued to prosper. Even the Anglo-Irish gentry were known to have organised big matches which drew large crowds.

In "A history of hurling" by S. J. King  we can read that in 1792, "a hurling match took place in the Phoenix Park’, Dublin in front of a vast 'concourse of spectators', with ‘much agility and athletic contention, until the spectators forced into the playing ground"

In "Flight from Famine: The Coming of the Irish to Canada" by Donald MacKay we can read that in 1827, a game at Callan, Co. Kilkenny was described like this: "It was a good game. The sticks were being brandished like swords. You could hear the sticks striking the ball from one end of the Green to the other"

Finally in 1881 the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) was formed, the game was standardised and the rest is, well a history.

In my next post I will talk about other stick and ball games and how they are related to hurling. Spoiler alert, I will try to explain why I believe that they all descend from Iron Age hurling. 


Thursday, 18 October 2018

St Paul among the Slavs

This is a fourth century painting of St. Paul. Paul's dress, the scroll in his hands, and the container with more scrolls at his feet, all identify Paul as a philosopher, a teacher.



During the first half of the first century AD, St Paul traveled all over the Balkans teaching the Gospel of Christ to the local population.

The first place in Europe visited by St Paul and his followers was Filipi, the biggest city in the Roman povince of Macedonia. Christianity was the "city faith" and so it is not a surprise that St Paul preached mainly in cities along major Roman roads. He first followed Via Ignatia, the main road leading West into Europe from Bosphorus. Following this road he arrives to Thesaloniki, a big port where Via Ignatia meets Via Militaris, the main Roman road going north. Following this road St Paul travels through Vardar and Morava valey and visits Skupija (Skopje), Ulpijana (Lipljan), Naisus (Niš), Remizijana (Bela Palanka) and finally he and his followers arrived to Viminacijum (Stari Kostolac) the main city of the Roman Province of Upper Mezia, which lied next to Danube. They then follow river Danube westward and pass through Singidunum (Belgrade).  One part of St Paul's entourage then follows river Danube towards North Western Europe. The other part with St Paul himself, follow river Sava and arrived to Sirmijum (Sremska Mitrovica).


All these Roman towns become major early Christian centres.

After the end of his Balkan travels, in the winter of AD 57–58, St Paul wrote the letter to Romans in which he says this:

"Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about to Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ..."

How far west did St Paul go into Illyricum? Well we don't really know. But we know that he did go through the Roman town of Burnum. 

This is Krka monastery, in northern Dalmatia, today in Croatia.



There is a legend preserved among the Serbs living in the area, that the monastery was built on the spot where apostle Paul preached to the local population while he was traveling through Roman province of Illyricum, which at the time comprised of Dalmatia and Panonia.

Bishop Nikodim Milaš says in his book "Pravoslavna Dalmacija" (Orthodox Dalmatia):

"This legend says that St Paul, traveling from the east to Rome, traveled on the road, which passed by old Roman town of Burnum (...), and that he stopped next to the river Titius (today Krka) and preached the gospel of Christ. The legend specifies the exact place where that happened and that is the same place where today we find the monastery dedicated to Archangel Michael located on the banks of the river Krka. The first person who recorded this legend was famous Dalmatian historian J. Lucije, who in 17th century wrote that ne knew an old epigraph cut into a wooden panel in Slavic tongue, which was kept in the said monastery, and which testified of the St Paul's travles through Dalmatia."

Bishop Nikodim Milaš then goes to say, that based on the testemony of the 18th century monk Gašpara Vinjalić, there once was an old history book in which there were verses in Slavic tongue commemorating the place where St Paul preached, and specifying that this probably happened in 65 AD.

The legend about St Paul spreading gospel in Dalmatia is also mentioned by Italian travelogue writer Alberto Fortis in his book "Traveling through Dalmatia" buplished in 1774, and by Italian historian C. F. Bianchi in his book "Zara cristiana". Bianchi says that "In the church of the Krka monastery, until the end of the 18th century existed an ancient picture depicting St Paul preaching to the Dalmatians. The inscriptions on that picture were in Slavic tongue and the Dalmatians were dressed in the local dress"

This Christianisation of the Balkans performed by St Paul during the first part of the first century was preserved in the local Slavic tradition particularly Serbian tradition.

Now which people did St Paul convert to Christianity in Illyricum? Illyrians of course...But who were Illyrians?


The Russian Primary Chronicle is a history of Kievan Rus' from about 850 to 1110, originally compiled in Kiev about 1113.



In it there is a part that talks about St Paul baptising Slavs. In Illyricum!

"...He traveled among the Moravians, and the Apostle Paul taught there likewise. For in that region is Illyricum, whither Paul first repaired and where the Slavs originally lived. Since Paul is the teacher of the Slavic race, from which we Russians too are sprung, even so the Apostle Paul is the teacher of us Russians, for he preached to the Slavic nation, and appointed Andronicus as Bishop and successor to himself among them. But the Slavs and the Russes are one people, for it is because of the Varangians that the latter became known as Rus’, though originally they were Slavs..."

This is extremely interesting, because of a legend which was preserved among the people from Polesye, the vast marshy woodland area straddling the Belarus–Ukraine border.


This legend goes like this:

"Serb tribes were great enemies of the Romans. Finally a Roman emperor got really angry and sent an army to attack them. The Serbs were driven out of their homeland and came and settled down here, in the Pinsk Marshes, in Polesye..."

Interestingly, this same area is by some historians marked as the birth place of Slavs, from which they spread westward in the 5th century AD. 


So how can we understand all this data put together?

Like this?

1. St Paul comes to Illyricum in the 1st half of the 1st century AD (Letter to Romans). 
2. There he baptises Slavs (Serbs?) who at that time lived in Illyricum, their old country (Russian Primary Chronicle). 
3. Serbs (Slavs?) were great enemies of the Romans. Some of them were (at some stage after the 1st half of the 1st century AD) expelled by the Romans from Illyricum and fled to Polesye (Polesye legend), while others surrendered to the Romans and stayed in Illyricum.
4. Serbs (Slavs?) who fled to Polesye return to the Balkans starting from the 5th century AD.

What do you think?

Are these legends just a product of romantic Slavic nationalism?

Well there is another source that talks about Slavs being baptised by St Paul in Illyricum during the 1st century AD. And this source is anything but Slavic or pro Slavic. 

Illyricum sacrum is a multi-volume historical work written in Latin dealing with history of the Catholic Church in the Balkans. 


The work was published in eight volumes in the period 1751-1819, with the ninth tome printed in the period 1902-1919 as an appendix to Frane Bulić's Bulletino di archeologia e storia dalmata.

The first five volumes (issued 1751-1775) were authored by Daniele Farlati; the volumes 6 (1800) and 7 (1817), were coauthored by Jacopo Coleti, who also published the last volume in 1819.

In "Ilyricum sacrum" Farlati quotes a letter from Pope John X who was Pope in the 10th century, from 914 to 928. In this letter, the Pope identifies Balkan Slavic rulers from his time as descendants of those Illyrians who, even in apostolic times, received Christianity directly from the apostles.

Pope John X, writing about the bishopric in Salona (today's Solin and Split) says in his letter to Tomislav of Croatia and Mihail of Zahumlje (Serbia): "Slavic kingdom which was in the early days of the apostles and the universal church mentioned as the cradle of the apostolic church which received the meat and milk of faith..." ("...Sclavianorum regna in primitiis Apostolorum et universalis ecclesiae esse commemorata, quum a cunabulis escam praedicationis apostolicae ecclesiae perceperunt cum lacte fidei...") (Ilyricum sacrum 11.94)

What Slavic Kingdom in Dalmatia in the 1st Century AD?!

Pope John X was definitely not a friend of the Slavs or Slavic culture. The letter he wrote to the Slavic rulers of Illyricum contained an order that a Slavic language be banned from churches and replaced by Latin. He had no reason to invent the link between the 10th century AD Serbs and Croats and the 1st century AD Illyrians. So the only reason why Pope John X would have said something like that was because this was at his time a common undisputed knowledge...

Now what do you think about all this?