Greek Games for Kids

By Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Child playing with toy soliders.

The fiercely competitive spirit that ran through Greek culture shows up in many games for kids that originated in ancient times. No one kept score in these games because participants were "interested in knowing only who won and who lost, not how close a given game was," according to the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. Greek children have entertained themselves for centuries with games of speed, skill, agility, coordination and strength, and they carry on the tradition of competition in their daily play.

Ephedrismos

Two players face off, taking turns throwing small stones at an upright stone some distance away, attempting to knock it over. When a player does not knock over the stone with his throw, he must carry the winning player around on his back. The winner covers his opponent's eyes while the unsuccessful player attempts to run to the stone and touch it. The round is over when the player touches the stone, and the throwing resumes.

Toy Soldiers

Each child sets up an army of toy soldiers. Players take turns trying to roll marbles into their opponents' armies. If a soldier falls to the ground, it is dead and removed from play. If it falls on another soldier, it is wounded and can continue for the next round. The game ends when one player's army is completely eliminated from the field.

Abarisa

Each team chooses a home base. One attacker and one defender from each team call, "Abarisa," before leaving their team's home base. The attackers cross into enemy territory and try to reach their home, while the defenders try to tag the attackers and send them to jail. To free a teammate, the jailed player's team must call out, "Xele." The game is over when one team touches the opponent's home base and cries, "Abarisa!"

Knucklebones

Ancient children played this game, similar to modern-day jacks, with sheep knuckle bones. Each player tosses five knuckle bones into the air and catches as many as she can in one hand. She tosses those and catches again, adding up the total caught in two tosses to determine play order. To play, she places four knuckle bones on the ground, keeping one as the "jack." She tosses the jack into the air, picks up one knuckle bone and catches the jack before it hits the ground. She continues in the same way until she has picked up all the knuckle bones, drops a bone or misses the jack. Other variations include trying to pick up groups of two or three knuckle bones or the whole set all at once.

Passé-Boule

Greek children enjoyed many ball games, but complete sets of rules for the ancient methods of play are hard to come by. However, one simple game involved trying to throw a ball, made of an inflated pig's bladder, through an opening in a board set into the ground.

Olympic Games

Children's participation in the Olympic Games and other organized sporting events was limited. However, according to the Hood Museum, boys were allowed in the pankration event—a type of wrestling—after 200 B.C.E. Records also indicate that boys competed in the pentathlon in 628 B.C.E.

About the Author

Tamara Christine has written more than 900 articles for a variety of clients since 2010. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in applied linguistics and an elementary teaching license. Additionally, she completed a course in digital journalism in 2014. She has more than 10 years experience teaching and gardening.