The Cultures that Created Sports

By Samuel Phineas Upham

The World Series and Monday Night Football games of today mimic a spectacle that can trace itself back to man’s earliest days walking upright and trying to record history. Cave paintings exist depicting wrestling matches that drew crowds, as well as both swimming and archery. These paintings are 17,000 years old, showing the power that feats of strength and skill have to captivate audiences.

Wrestling was also popular throughout the Sumerian civilization. Various bronze statues found in Iraq depict two figures locked shoulder-to-shoulder. Boxing is a sport that can also trace itself back to ancient Sumer. Belt Wrestling, a sport still popular in places like Istanbul and Russia, was also popular and was specifically mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh engages in the sport with Enkidu, a wild man raised by animals, and becomes friends with the man/spirit upon defeating him.

In ancient Egypt, high jumping was extremely popular. They also popularized an early form of billiards known as Snooker, a game that is still played today. The Egyptians were fond of feats of dexterity as well, so javelin tossing was often practiced in a competitive setting.

Ancient Greece is where most people immediately go to when the topic of sports history arrives, and how could they not? Greece gifted us the Olympics, the marathon and the discus throw. They also treated sports as an elitist pursuit, available only to the wealthiest of citizens who had no need of work or physical labor. The ideal human body was a form beloved by Greeks, so much like our fascinations with celebrities and athletes, the Greeks pursued the ideal body and sports was a natural venue to display that prowess.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Samuel Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn.