25 Most Intense Sports of the Ancient World

Posted by on July 23, 2012

Although these days we have our fair share of strange and crazy sports, in the past its seems as though people really didn’t hold back. As a matter of fact, many of the sports we have today find their roots somewhere on this list. Of course these days people don’t generally lose their life playing soccer and most of these events would be banned in a heartbeat (so don’t try these at home) but nonetheless, its good to know your history. These are the 25 most intense sports of the ancient world.



While today we have MMA, the Greeks had something known as Pankration. The goal of this bloody, one-on-one, anything goes fist fight was to bring your opponent as close to death without actually killing them. If you did happen to accidently kill them then you would automatically forfeit the match as any dead fighter was instantly declared the victor.


Fisherman’s Joust

Imagine two groups of guys each hopping into their boats, rowing out into the nile, and proceeding to beat the crap out of each other with their oars. Like the Roman gladiatorial games this often took place before the Pharoah and many times the bloody mess would entice crocodiles and hippos to enter the fray.



It’s hard to say whether this ancient death match was worse for the slaves or the animals recruited to fight them. In fact, the Romans were so intrigued with pitting humans against animals that on the inauguration of the colloseum over 9,000 beasts were killed. Very often, however, the humans met a similar fate.


Chariot Races

Although NASCAR certainly has its dangers, chariot racing was little more than a death match with a finish line. In fact, it was almost impossible to win without being seriously injured and the life expectancy of most racers was increcibly low.


Nguni Stick Fighting

One of the few sports on this list that is actually still practiced today, the name of this game just about sums things up. The Zulus would essentially beat the crap out of each other with sticks. Although people seldom died, the participants would often walk away with numerous scars that they would wear like badges of honor.


Gladiatorial Games

If you’ve seen Russel Crowe in the Gladiator then you know how blood thirsty the crowd in the colloseum could be. Often times the organizers of these games would come up with new and unusual ways for the gladiators to kill themselves, one of which we’ll see in a moment.


Papa Holua

It seems as though Hawaii has always been know for surfing. While today it mostly involves waves, in the past ancient Hawaiians used mountains. In fact, the name of this pastime means “slide into the pit”. For thousands of years the islanders would essentially “surf” down the side of volcanos until the sport was stopped 200 years ago due to being so dangerous. Recenlty there have been several attempts to revive it.



Once again taking place in the colloseum, the name of this event roughly translates to “naval warfare”. The Romans would fill the arena with water, add a bunch of war ships and recreate famous naval battles. It has been said that the spectacle was so violent that by the end of it the ships that hadn’t sunk seemed as though they had been painted red.



Although modern soccer has plenty of shin kicking and ankle twisting, its ancient Greek predecessor was just downright brutal. In fact, sources indicate that even spectators would often emerge with broken bones and injuries.



Played by Native Americans, this game wasn’t nearly as violent as the others on this list although losers were sometimes known to commit suicide. The game itself was relatively simple and involved rolling a large stone across the ground as participants threw spears at it.



Although there wasn’t a ridiculously high mortality rate, knocking your opponent off of his horse using a 10 foot pole definitely qualifies as hardcore.



One of the oldest bloodsports (any activity that involves pitting animals against one another) in the world, cockfighting typically meant having two specially bred birds fight one another with specially designed barbs on their feet.


Pelota Purepecha

What was essentially field hockey for pyromananiacs, this ancient mesoamerican game used a flaming puck. Recenlty, it has actually started making a comeback as the Mexican government is pushing to revive its ancient past times.



Like cockfighting, dog fighting dates back thousands of years and has roots in Ancient Rome as well as China. These days, however, it is illegal in most developed countries.


Shin Kicking

Consisting of two people kicking each other in the shins this simple sport has been practiced in England for hundreds of years. Although it’s not lethal, having someone repeatedly bash you in your shins can definitely be considered hardcore.