The ancient Greeks played a wide variety of games, using natural items such as nuts, shells and bones. The Greek philosopher Plato saw children's games as a vital preparation for adulthood. Greek vases of the period often depict games and pastimes. One famous vase, now in the Vatican museum, shows warriors playing a game of dice or draughts at the siege of Troy.
Children in ancient Greece played a simple hand game called "morra." Two players stand face-to-face and each hides a fist behind their backs and extend a number of fingers from it. The players then reveal their fists. The first player to add up all the fingers shown and shout out the answer wins.
This game uses five small bones from a goat or sheep, left after a meal. The players throw the knucklebones or "astragaloi" on the ground. A player must pick up a bone, throw it into the air, pick up a second bone and catch the first one as it falls. If the player fails, a new player takes over. In successive rounds, players must pick up two, three or four bones on a single throw.
Day and Night
This game is played in two teams called "day" and "night." The players smear one side of a seashell or piece of broken pot with soot to make it black. They toss this into the air and if it lands with the black side showing, the "night" team chases the "day" team. If not, the "day" team chases the "night." Players who are caught must carry their captors on their backs. This game was known as "ostrakinda," the Greek for "fragment."
This game is played by drawing the Greek letter delta -- a triangle shape --on the ground with a stick. Players take turns to throw walnuts into the delta. The player who gets the most nuts into the delta wins all the other players' walnuts.
Children's toys in ancient Greece included baby rattles, dolls, model carts and model farm animals on wheels. Most of these toys were made from wood or clay. Children also played games with wooden hoops and spinning tops, as well as with balls made from inflated animal bladders.
Illustrations on Greek vases show a variety of board games were played in ancient times, including dice and a version of backgammon, known as "tavli." Originally from ancient Egypt, tavli is still widely played in modern Greece.
Games Still Played
Many games played by the ancient Greeks are still around today. According to a 2010 account in "The Journal of Human Sport and Exercise," familiar schoolyard pastimes such as tug-of-war, hide-and-seek, blindman's buff and hopscotch were all enjoyed by ancient Greek children. A wall carving from ancient Greece shows a ball game with curved sticks, possibly an early version of what we now call hockey.
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- The Hood Museum of Art: Coming of Age in Ancient Greece; Alison Schmauch; 2004
- "Journal of Human Sport and Exercise"; Play and Childhood in Ancient Greece; Eliseo Andreu-Cabrera, et al.; March, 2010
- Clever Games: Ancient Greeks Played Dice in the Parthenon; 2009
- Sfakia-Crete: Tavli, Greece's National Board Game; 2009
- Board Games of Ancient Greece
- Ancient Greece: Culture and Society; 2008