With all of Europe gripped by the Euro craze, I just couldn’t help posting about football.
(Note: By football I mean the sport where a ball is propelled by means of the feet or legs, not the contact sport which most Americans associate with the word.)
This relief, dating from the 4th century BCE, is more than ample proof that Greeks played a version of the sport 25 centuries ago.
If I wanted to be funny I could say that it is no surprise that the artifact was discovered in Piraeus: the city is home to one of the most popular Greek football teams. It seems that football tradition goes way back in Greece.
Now to the facts: the artifact is part of a tombstone and dates from 400-375 BCE. It is made of Pentelic marble. It has the shape of a marble vessel called “loutroforos,” which can be loosely translated as “bath jug.” It was the vessel that tradition dictated water should be carried in, for the bride and groom to have their respective baths (separately) before the wedding ceremony. In the case a young person died before they got married, one such vessel (real or marble) was put on their graves, as a mark of unfulfilled youth.
There is something particularly poignant about these vessels, which are usually decorated with the things the young people liked doing. In this case the bereaved family chose the young man’s favorite past time, playing ball. He is shown balancing the ball on one knee. He is naked, because ancient Greeks exercised without clothes on; his clothes lie neatly folded on a pillar behind him. The pillar, in turn, serves as an indication that the scene takes place in a gym (gymnasium). A young slave is waiting for his master to finish playing, holding a strigil (a curved piece of metal, used to scrape off dirt, oil and sweat) and an aryballos (a perfume vessel, to be used after the young man washed).
Finally, written sources reveal that at least two different ball games were played in ancient Greece. Unfortunately, none of them involved the use of goal posts and there were no referees whistling penalties.