February 20, 2024
Sports in Ancient Egypt: A Look into the Athletic Pursuits of an Ancient Civilization

Sports in Ancient Egypt: A Look into the Athletic Pursuits of an Ancient Civilization


Sports and athletic activities played an essential role in the daily lives of the Ancient Egyptians. Spanning over three millennia, from around 3100 BCE to 332 BCE, the civilization valued physical fitness, recreation, and competition. This article delves into the various sports, games, and athletic activities practiced in Ancient Egypt, providing insights into the importance of sports in maintaining health, promoting social cohesion, and fostering a competitive spirit.

Physical Fitness and Health

Physical fitness was highly valued in Ancient Egyptian society, as it was believed to contribute to good health, vitality, and overall well-being. Wall paintings, sculptures, and texts from this era depict individuals engaging in athletic pursuits and maintaining a strong physique. The importance of physical fitness extended to all members of society, from laborers and soldiers to the ruling elite.

Wrestling and Martial Arts

Wrestling was one of the most popular sports in Ancient Egypt, with evidence of its practice dating back to the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100-2686 BCE). Wrestling matches were held in various settings, including the royal court and local festivals. Wall paintings and reliefs from tombs depict scenes of wrestlers engaged in grappling, holds, and throws, showcasing the technical skill and physical prowess of the athletes.

Martial arts were also practiced in Ancient Egypt, with soldiers and warriors honing their skills in hand-to-hand combat, archery, and the use of weapons, such as swords, spears, and maces. These skills were essential for military training, as well as for personal defense and competitive sports.

Team Sports: Field Hockey and Handball

Ancient Egyptians participated in various team sports, including early forms of field hockey and handball. Field hockey was played using long palm branches with curved ends, which were used to strike a small ball made of papyrus fibers or leather. Handball, on the other hand, involved players hitting a ball made of leather or cloth with their hands, attempting to score points by passing the ball through the opposing team’s goal.

These team sports fostered a sense of camaraderie and teamwork among the players, while also providing opportunities for friendly competition and physical exercise.

Water Sports: Swimming, Rowing, and Fishing

The Nile River played a central role in the lives of Ancient Egyptians, providing them with opportunities for engaging in various water sports and activities. Swimming was a popular pastime, with individuals of all ages participating in recreational swimming and competitive races. Wall paintings and texts from this era depict scenes of swimmers demonstrating various strokes and techniques.

Rowing was another popular water sport, with boat races held during festivals and religious celebrations. Teams of rowers would compete against one another, showcasing their strength, endurance, and coordination. Fishing, while primarily a means of sustenance, was also considered a leisurely activity and a display of skill.

Ball Games and Board Games

Ancient Egyptians enjoyed playing various ball games, some of which involved the use of a small ball made from papyrus fibers or leather. These games were played for fun and recreation, as well as for improving hand-eye coordination and dexterity.

Board games were also popular in Ancient Egypt, with the game of Senet being the most well-known. Senet, which dates back to around 3100 BCE, was played on a rectangular board with rows of squares, using pieces that were moved according to the roll of dice or casting sticks. The game was believed to have religious significance, symbolizing the journey of the deceased through the afterlife.


Sports and athletic activities played a significant role in the lives of the Ancient Egyptians, contributing to physical fitness, social cohesion, and the development of a competitive spirit. From wrestling and martial arts to team sports and water activities, the Egyptians engaged in a wide range of athletic pursuits that fostered a healthy and active lifestyle. As we continue to explore the remnants of their culture, we gain a deeper understanding of the importance of sports and recreation in the everyday lives of this ancient civilization.