In a sporting mood

Ἀποπουδοβαλία [apopoudobalia].
An ancient sport, probably an early forerunner of modern football, although no specifics are known. The term ἄνδρες ἀποπουδοβαλόντες (fr. 3) is already mentioned in the Gymnastika of Achilles Tacticus, in reference to Corinth in the early 4th century BC. The sport seems to have reached Rome in the late Hellenistic period; in any case, the Pseudo-Ciceronian treatise De viris illustribus already lists prominent
apopoudobalontes (3,2). In the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, ~ was taken by Roman legions as far as Britain, where the rules of the game were again formulated in the 19th century. Despite its huge popularity, ~ was condemned by early Christian authors (cf. eg. Tert. De spectaculis 31ff.); from the 4th century onwards, ~ is no longer used.


  • A. Pila, in: Ders. (Hrsg.), Fs. M. Sammer, 1994, 322–348 (fundamental)
  • B. Pedes, A., in: Zschr. für Ant. und Sport 4, 1995, 1–19.

Meier, Mischa (Bielefeld), “Apopudobalia”, in: Der Neue Pauly, Hrsg. Cancik, Hubert –  Schneider, Helmut, vol. 1. Stuttgart 1996. Consulted online on 09 January 2022. First published online: 2006.

Could European football really be of Graeco-Roman origin?! Think again! You are right to be a little suspicious: the apopoudobalia entry cited above was written as a joke, and slipped unnoticed into the latest comprehensive lexicon of classical antiquity commonly known as the Neue Pauly. Although both the title and the description are completely fictional, the fake entry eluded the attention of the editors, even if neither the Greek philosophers nor the Roman legionaries played football, and the literary mentions chosen with excellent ‘tactical’ sense also lack all historical authenticity!

Now that we are in a sporting mood (and since many of us are still keeping to our New Year’s resolution of playing more sports), here is a little challenge – not only for football fans! Test your memory by matching the logos of football teams (and a women’s basketball club) with pictures of well-known ancient works of art that inspired them. There are no red cards in this game!

The memory cards show a youth balancing a ball, not a footballer (detail of a tomb relief, 400 – 375 BC, National Museum of Athens, inv. no. 873, image source: Wikipedia). Sources for the matching pairs: 1a1b, 2a2b, 3a3b, 4a4b, 5a5b, 6a6b, 7a7b, 8a8b. The featured image at the top is Jan van der Straet’s painting of a “football match” at the Piazza Santa Maria Novella in Florence (source: Wikipedia). In Roman times a popular ball game played by two teams was called harpastum, which is closer to modern rugby.

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