Weird History
882 voters

13 Extreme Historical Sports That Sound Made Up But Aren’t

November 9, 2020 3.6k votes 882 voters 240k views13 items

List RulesVote up the most over-the-top historical sports.

Alligator wrestling, bull leaping, and carcass polo all sound like made-up sports. And yet people in Central America lined up to watch horsemen grab a headless goat carcass, Seminole Indians wrestled alligators, and ancient Minoans jumped over bulls.

When it comes to extreme historical sports, that's just the beginning. Venetians brawled with each other to claim control of a bridge, Egyptian fisherman tried to drown each other, and Greek wrestlers broke each other's bones to win games. In ancient Sparta, teenagers played a "game" called krypteia that involved massacring unarmed slaves, and ancient Mayans had to win their game or be sacrificed to the gods. 

Unlike modern sports, where players have to follow rules, many of these extreme ancient sports were no holds barred. Vote up the ancient sports that are absurdly extreme.

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    Mayans Played A Ball Game Where The Losing Team Was Sometimes Sacrificed

    Who created the first organized game in sports history? The Olmecs of Mesoamerica invented a ball game 3,500 years ago.

    Teams faced off on a narrow strip between two sloped walls. Players had to keep a rubber ball in the air without touching it with their feet or hands. In the 13th century, many courts added a stone circle. If a player managed to hit the ball through the circle, their team automatically won the match.

    But the game was about more than throwing a ball through a stone ring. It was also part of Olmec and Mayan rituals. For regular performances, crowds would gather to watch players compete, perhaps placing bets on the winning team. But ritual performances of the game were played for much higher stakes. 

    The Mayans sometimes forced prisoners of war to play the ball game, and members of the losing team would become sacrificial victims for the gods. 

    How popular was the game? Archaeologists have counted 1,300 ball courts in Mesoamerica, and most Mayan cities had at least one court. 

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  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    2

    Seminole Indians Wrestled Alligators For Food And Sport

    Before Europeans settled in what is now known as Florida, Seminole Indians were already wrestling alligators for sport. Drawings from centuries ago show Seminoles leaping on alligators to slay them. 

    Sometimes, alligator wrestling was a way to get food. Other times, the sport was a way to celebrate the tribe. According to one story, a visitor on the Tamiami Trail saw a Seminole man capture an alligator and tie it up with his bare hands. The visitor gave the alligator wrestler money, saying, "It makes for a great show."

    Alligator wrestling was certainly an extreme sport - the creatures are aggressive by nature, and challenging them to a wrestling match definitely raises the stakes. 

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  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    3

    The Ancient Spartan Krypteia Was A Way For Teens To Practice Their Dangerous Skills On Slaves

    Ancient Spartans trained from a young age in the art of war. But the most brutal training came during the krypteia, a bloody test for Spartan teenagers. 

    Spartan boys trained from a young age in military barracks where they were often beaten to toughen them up. Their final test as a teenager involved viciously executing unarmed slaves. 

    Boys would take a dagger and sneak into the countryside after sunset, hiding until they leaped out at unarmed slaves. Plato called the practice "a wonderfully severe training," since it taught young Spartans to prize brutality above all else. In Sparta, the slaves drastically outnumbered the citizens, and the krypteia was meant to keep the slaves terrified. 

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    Pankration Was An Ancient Greek Proto-MMA Sport Where Groin Kicks Were Totally Legit

    The Greeks mixed boxing and wrestling in the ancient sport called pankration. Athletes competed in the sport during the ancient Olympic games, showing off their strength and stamina.

    Although participants weren't armed, the sport was dangerous. With almost no restrictions on fighting, pankration matches quickly became more like war than a sport. Combatants could kick each other in the genitals or even bite off a rival's nose as long as they struck outside the ring.

    Take Arrhichion of Phigalia, a popular athlete who won an Olympic medal but perished during his match. While his opponent tried to strangle him, Arrhichion broke the man's ankle. For another example, look to the athlete called "Fingertips," who got his nickname because he started each match by breaking his opponent's fingers. 

    Never one to walk away from a brutal sport, the Romans adopted pankration and made it even more dangerous by outfitting the fighters with spiked gloves. 

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