Interesting Facts About Medieval Sports
Medieval sports played a significant role in everyday life in the Middle Ages. The people of the era enjoyed many holidays and gatherings where sports and games were fun and competitive for individuals of all ages however, other activities were engaged in by some as more of a struggle for power or to catch the eye of a certain lady.
Most medieval sports played throughout this time were targeted toward improving and showing off the fighting skills of men. In the Middle Ages, life was ran by feudalism which demanded an exchange of military services for a piece of land. The king required soldiers who were to be trained by the lords. It was imperative that these knights had exceptional fighting skills so many sports were created to increase fitness and serve as weapon practice.
Feudalism is often described as being a pyramid of power. Everyone had an opportunity to move up in rank which was always a goal for men of nearly every level, other than the kings. A knight who could prove that he was successful at jousting or valiant in battle could become quite wealthy. His importance would increase, as would his land and he could join nobility. A simple peasant who had the skills to excel in medieval sports could win a purse and create a reputation which would increase his value and then his quality of life would improve.
Types Of Medieval Sports
- Archery – This was not just a sport in the Middle Ages. Men of lower class were required to practice archery according to a law that was passed in 1252. It is suggested that at least 2,000 French soldiers and knights were killed by arrows because Englishmen were so well-trained.
- Jousting – This was one of the main events at tournaments. This was one of the most dangerous medieval sports and many men were killed while participating. Feudal knights and lords used many weapons such as swords, daggers, lances and battle axes while engaged in a joust.
- Hammer Throwing – This game was established before the 16th century but became very popular in 1866 when it started being included in track and field events in Ireland, England and Scotland. The first hammers used back in the Middle Ages had no prescribed weight and were made from forged iron. Handles were roughly three feet long. The hammer was swung around the participant's head and then thrown as far as possible.
- Horseshoes – This remains a popular game played today in backyards or out camping. The concept was to basically throw a horseshoe at a target from a designated location. A certain number of points would be awarded for coming within a specific number of inches of the target or by wrapping the horseshoe around it. Of all of the medieval sports, this was one of the least harmful to participants.
- Skittles – This sport is quite similar to modern day bowling. Nine wooden skittles with at least a four inch diameter were placed at the end of a wooden alley. Balls are made of wood and must be smaller than a cannonball but larger than the size of a tennis ball. The concept was to throw your ball down the alley and knock the skittles over.
- Gameball – This is basically the same concept as football only without all of the many rules and regulations. The sides were rarely equal and there were no rules besides to get the ball to the opponent's end. The ball was made from a pig's bladder that was inflated with air and stuffed with dried peas, which is where the term “pigskin” comes from today. The ball could be passed, kicked, thrown or carried and there wasn't any penalty awarded if you roughed the referee up. The day before Ash Wednesday, entire towns would participate and games were known to last for days.