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Games and Activities that People Used to Play in Ancient Times

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While the types of games people have played have changed over time, it's no secret that humans have been enjoying recreational games for hundreds of years. Ancient history refers to the period of 3000 BC to AD 500, where many of the most popular games today originated.

Although our ancient ancestors may not have played Candy Crush in their free time, they were busy designing classic games that involved strategic movies. Not only did these games help sharpen their minds, but they were also played to pass the time and to connect with others. Below, learn more about some of the games that were played in ancient times.

Nine Men's Morris

Nine Men's Morris is a game that requires lots of strategic decisions, like the poker strategies you'd use in a modern casino game. Many of today's poker tips and strategies, for example, overlap with Nine Men's Morris, such as knowing your opponent, acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses, etc. This two-player game begins with each person in possession of 9 pieces (white or black). You may also hear this game referred to as Mill or Merels.

Think of Nine Men's Morris as a 'grid' game, like games of Checkers played today. Some people also compare this game to tic-tac-toe, with slightly more strategy required. The objective is to eliminate pieces until they are left with only two (winning the game). This simple, yet strategic game requires lots of thought and focus.

Many countries throughout the world have played Nine Men's Morris, including France, England, Greece, and Norway. Today, many people still play this game, keeping the tradition alive. Nine Men's Morris can even be played online through digital platforms!


Our ancestors also played Chess with pieces moving in the same pattern as modern chess. Some people believe this game to have originated in India around the eighth century. Many believe that the modern game of chess originates from an Indian game known as Chaturanga, which is based on the military's four divisions: infantry, cavalry, elephantry, and chariotry. These divisions have since been translated into the pieces used in modern Chess: the pawn, knight, bishop, and rook.

By the ninth century, Chess began to spread around the world. Instead of the strategic moves played in chess today, players would cast sticks to determine what the next move in the game should be. Since then, chess has undergone many changes to become the game we know today.


Backgammon's exact date of origin is not known, but it is known to have begun in ancient times nearly 5,000 years ago. This two-player game involves a specialized Backgammon board, where each person gets either white or black pieces and two dice. In the modern day, these are referred to as pieces but in ancient times, the game was played with whatever stones could be found.

The objective of each player is to move all pieces (or stones) to the home board before the opposite player can do so. This game combines skill and luck, as they may be rolled to partially determine the outcome.

Ball games

With limited resources in ancient times, people had to become creative to develop new games to pass the time. During this era, children often came up with many different types of ball games using the materials around them (sometimes even pig or sheep bladders or other crazy items!). With the balls they made, games such as dodgeball, soccer, or even a simple game of catch were played for fun.

One ball game played by the ancient Maya is known as Pok-A-Tok, which is often still played in variations today. Pok-A-Tok is said to be a difficult game, combining elements of both soccer and basketball.

The goal of Pok-A-Tok was for each side to hit a rubber ball into a stone hoop on each end of a playing field. Instead of kicking a ball like in today's beloved game - American soccer - the ball was only passed between a person's thighs, adding a serious level of difficulty to this game.


Did you know that in ancient times, swimming was considered a game? Given that swimming required no materials to partake in, it was an easy activity for people of all ages to get involved in. With little to do to pass the time, people began coming up with swimming games such as racing each other down the stream. Ancient Rome had baths or rivers where people could play these swimming games.

While many exciting games exist in our modern world, returning to these classics is never a bad idea. Give Backgammon or even Pok-A-Tok a chance if you're looking for a new and challenging game to play.

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