25 Most Intense Sports of the Ancient World

It’s safe to say few people today could stomach the most intense sports of the ancient world. Although these days we have our fair share of intense sports, in the past 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). Nonetheless, it’s good to know your history. These are the 25 Most Intense Sports of the Ancient World.


Muy Thai

muay thai

Although today it is practiced around the world, this lethal martial art was born on the ancient battlefields of what is today known as Thailand. Commonly referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs,” practitioners use not just their feet and hands but their elbows and knees as well.




The national sport of Afghanistan, this game involves a number of mounted players fighting over the carcass of a headless goat after which each player tries to pitch it across a goal line.


Spartan Games


Spartans hated sports. They thought sports were for sissies. In fact, Tyrtaios, the great Spartan war poet, wrote about how unimpressive athletic achievement was. According to him, “a man is not good in warfare unless he dares look upon bloody slaughter.” To a Spartan if you aren’t good in warfare, then you aren’t worth the air you breathe. For this reason, most of the Spartan “competitions” were mindbogglingly brutal.


Viking Skin Pulling

viking bonfire

Essentially one big game of tug-of-war, the Vikings preferred using animal skin over rope and playing over a huge fire pit. Usually, the winners would walk away with the spoils of the town they had just plundered, which often included rape-rights to the women. As you may have guessed, the losers become intimately acquainted with the fire pit.



chichen itza

Although this sport is still popular in parts of Central America, the original game created by the Mayans is hands down probably the most insane sport in all of human history. Something like basketball, the players would bounce the balls off their hips and attempt to the get the ball through a hoop attached to the wall. The crazy part was that often the balls were constructed out of human skulls. And in case you were wondering where they got the skulls from, stick around until the end of the match. Let’s just say the losers make a donation…

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Photo: Featured Image - wikimedia commons (Public Domain), 1. Kåre Thor Olsen, Chichén Itzá Goal, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 2. Red Rose Exile, Viking Ship bonfire, Skinningrove 2009, CC BY-SA 2.0 , 3. john antoni, Spartan helmet 2 British Museum, CC BY-SA 2.0 , 4. Peretz Partensky from San Francisco, USA, Buzkashi (5458895276), CC BY-SA 2.0 , 5. Kru Tony Moore, Muay Thai, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 6. Elisato, Frank Evans (bullfighter), CC BY-SA 3.0 , 7. Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0, 2013 Basque Pelota World Cup - Frontenis - France vs Spain 25, CC BY-SA 4.0 , 8. Avinashsatamraju, Kabaddi Game play(2273574), CC BY-SA 4.0 , 9. MaxPixel.net (Public Domain), 10. MaxPixel.net (Public Domain), 11. David Stowell, Shin kicking at the Olimpicks, CC BY-SA 2.0 , 12. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 13. MILENIO, Tab-zona-09, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 14. Amshudhagar, COCK FIGHT, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 15. Peter Trimming, Jousting at Hever Castle, Kent (5) - geograph.org.uk - 1453366, CC BY-SA 2.0 , 16. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 17. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 18. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 19. W Nowicki, Modern papa holua, CC BY 3.0 , 20. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 21. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 22. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 23. Ad Meskens, Sousse mosaic venatio, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 24. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 25. Квайтуджим, Pankration, CC BY-SA 4.0

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