Sunday 13 January 2019

Pagan games

It is really funny how sometimes things just happen to coincide in the most curious ways. Like me writing a series of articles about Hurling and it's influence on the development of all other European curved stick and ball games during the same week when Hurling was placed on UNESCO list of protected cultural activities...

In my first article "The cross between hockey and murder" I talked about mythological, historical and archaeological references to hurling which show that this Gaelic game could be over 3000 years old.

In my second article "The invasions of hurlers" I talked about the spread of hurling to other parts of North Western Europe and how this spread was facilitated by the Irish invasions of Scotland and Wales and the Irish settlement in Iceland. It looks like Hurling could be an origin of such games as  shinty in Scotland, cammag in Isle of Man, bando (bandi) in Wales, field hockey in England, choule in France, knattleikr in Iceland, Bandi in Scandinavia and in Russia and eventually ice hockey.

In my third article "The long puck" I talked about a version of Hurling which could be an origin of such games as kolf in Netherlands and golf in Scotland.

In this article I will talk about the origin of Hurling :)

If you read a history of any stick and ball game, you will come across these three things:

1. A drawing from a tomb at Beni Hasan (circa 2140 to 1991 BC) in the valley of the Nile close to Minia in Egypt, depicts two men playing what looks like a game played with curved sticks. 

2. On this embossed marble panel found in Athens and dated to 600 BC, we can see two male figures playing ball with curved sticks on their hands and other players waiting on either side.

3. It is believed that the Romans imported this Greek game and that it later became their "Paganica" or "Paganicus" which was played with curved stick and a leather ball filled with the Roman Empire and the Romans expanded towards the North of Italy and Northern Europe, Paganica was also introduced to these Northern countries. It probably became the ancient root of several other sports played with sticks (or clubs) and balls found in North Western Europe such as Hurling, Hockey, Golf, Cricket...

There is a problem with this chronology.

Firstly, it is very difficult to establish the direct connection between the Egyptian and Greek images.
Second, as far as I know, Greek written sources have no mention of any Greek game played with a stick and a ball.
Thirdly, again as far as I know, Roman written sources have no mention of any Roman game played with a stick and a ball.

I don't speak old Greek or Latin, so I relied on secondary sources. For example the "English game of cricket; comprising a digest of its origin, character, history and progress; together with an exposition of its laws and language" published in 1877 by Box, Charles and A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities Published by John Murray, London, 1875 both list Greek and Roman ball games and neither mentions any game which involved stick.

Among the Romans the game at ball was played at in various ways. Pila was used in a general sense for any kind of ball: but the balls among the Romans seem to have been of three kinds; the pila in its narrower sense, a small ball; the follis, a great ball filled with air, and the paganica, of which we know scarcely anything, as it is only mentioned in two passages by Martial (VII.32.7, XIV.43), but from the latter of which we may conclude that it was smaller than the follis and larger than the pila. 

I would love if someone pointed me to an original source that talks about Greek and Roman stick and ball games, but until then I would have to disregard the proposal that Hurling (and other stick and ball games that descended from it) actually descended from Roman Paganica...

However the whole story about Paganica is very interesting from linguistic point of view.

In Wiktionary we can find this translation of the Latin "pāgānus"

Of or pertaining to the countryside, rural, rustic.
(by extension) rustic, unlearned
(substantive) villager, countryman
(substantive) civilian
(substantive, Ecclesiastical Latin) heathen, pagan

In "English game of cricket; comprising a digest of its origin, character, history and progress; together with an exposition of its laws and language" we read that:

"Every scholar knows that pagus means " a village, a tribe, or division of country and people, a canton, or district." Pagamis, a country man, a peasant ; anyone not a soldier. It has been conjectured that the Christians called the Gentiles Pagani, or Pagans, because they did not come under the banner of Christ. The word Paganicus, taken as an adjective, signifies " of or belonging to the country ; pertaining to the peasantry as contra-distinguished from the soldiery." The game of ball, therefore, in which the Paganica pila was used may originally have had some foreign rural characteristics, while the others were more of an inborn kind. "

This is very interesting. I believe that during both Ancient Greek and Roman time there was, in the Balkans (and probably through out Celtic Europe) a barbarian, peasant, shepherd stick and ball game, actually games, which were widely played in the countryside. But being of barbarian peasant origin these games were not worthy of the Greek and Roman citizens and soldiers and this is why they were never mentioned in any Greek or Roman texts.

These "pagan" peasant, shepherd games were still played in the Balkans but also in all the other Slavic lands up until very recently...

Traditional Russian stick and ball game "Kotel" (Cauldron) also known as (Russian hockey, zagon, pogonya, svinka, sharenie, kotyol, kozii rog, klyushki...):

A big circle, 4-5 meters in diameter is drawn on the ground (or on the snow). In it's center a hole with the diameter of around 0.3-0.4 meters is dug. One player is a guard. He guards the cauldron. He is not allowed to go outside of the circle. The remaining players are on the outside of the circle. They are attackers. They can't go insid the circle. If any player steps over the circle line, he leaves the game. The attackers pass the ball to each other using curved sticks, trying to bypass the guard and get the ball into the cauldron. The guard tries to protects the cauldron, beating the ball back to the the attackers. The attacker who manages to drive the ball into the cauldron, becomes the guard.

There is also an opposite variant. In it there is one attacker and all the other players are guards guarding the cauldron. The attacker is outside of the circle trying to hit the ball into the cauldron while the guards try to prevent him from doing so. 

There is also variant without the circle in which attackers can move freely around the cauldron. 

Additionally, each attacker can have his own, smaller hole (base). All the bases are dug the same distance from the main central hole, and the attacker has to protect his base from the guard of the main central hole. If while attacking, the guard places the curved tip of his stick into one of the attacker base holes, before the attacker puts the ball into the central hole, the attacker who lost his hole becomes the guard of the central hole. 

This game is also played in the Balkans, although it has almost completely died out.

This video shows an old man talking about his childhood spent minding sheep and playing this and other stick and ball games.

This game could also be the mysterious "hole game" described in the Táin Bó Cúalnge.

"Conchobar went to the playing field (arin faidchi) and saw something that astonished him; thrice fifty boys at one end of the field and a single boy at the other end, and the single boy winning victory in taking the goal and in hurling (‘immána’, driving) from the thrice fifty youths. When they played the hole-game.. and when it was their turn to cast the ball and his to defend, he would catch the thrice fifty ball outside the hole and none would go past him into the hole. When it was their turn to keep goal and his to hurl, he would put the thrice fifty balls unerringly into the hole..."

This game is still puzzling the Irish historians:

"There is possibly an implication here that the ‘hole game’ is different than other field-sports. Cú Chulainn defends a ‘goal’, each boy appears to use his own ball. Angela Gleason suggests that the existence of a distinct game known as the ‘hole-game’ is also implied by the law-tract Bretha Éitgid describing injuries sustained during it. The terms used are balls (liathroide), sticks (lorg), holes (poll) and pis (long)"

This is not the only stick and ball game played in the Balkans.

Gudža (traditional stick and ball game from Polimlje, Montenegro)

This photo taken in the summer of 1948 in Polimlje region of Montenegro shows kids playing stick and ball game called "Gudža". The game was played like this: a hole, 20 cm deep and 60 cm in diameter, was dug in a field. This was the central hole. Players used alder sticks which were naturally curved at one end to hit a ball made from alder root. Players were divided into two teams. One tried to put the ball into the central hole while the other team tried to prevent them from doing it.

The picture captured a moment from a game between the kids from two clans, Pečići i Bučići, which was played on St Peter's day on Turija field.

Kuturanje (traditional stick and ball game from Podravske Sesvete, Croatia)

The game is played by two teams. The field is divided into two halves and each team defends their half. Each player uses a naturally curved stick called "kuturača" which looks like a hockey stick.  They play with a small ball or disc called gluntak. The game starts by one player throwing the ball (gluntak) across the mid field line into the opponents half. From that moment on the players are supposed to return the ball (gluntak) to the opponents' half by hitting it with the stick (kuturača). The team scores a point when the ball (gluntak) stops moving (dies) in the opponents' half. The team which lost the point then restarts the game by throwing the ball (gluntak) across the mid field line into the opponents half.

These games look like they could have been the games played by the Bronze and Iron Age shepherd warriors from Irish legends. The games from which Hurling and all the other European curved stick and ball games developed, such as hockey, shinty, bandy...True cultural relics. 

I believe that these games have been played in Central and Eastern Europe since the the Time of the Celts. And probably even earlier. Since Early Bronze Age. I believe that these games are traditional games of the R1b people. As they spread from their homeland in Black Sea steppe (today southern Russia and Ukraine) through Eurasia and North Africa, they brought their games with them. Which is why we find the curved stick and ball games in Egypt. R1b population still living in upper Egypt has been there since at least Early Bronze. I wrote about this in my post "The woman with blue eyes". And this is why we find the curved stick and ball games in all the Eurasian lands reached by this Bronze Age R1b people, from Ireland to China. 

The proof for the link between R1b population and the stick and ball games can actually be found in Serbian parts of the Balkans. 

But more about this in my next post.

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