Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Definitive History of Bocce

Setting the Ball Rolling

Posted By on Thu, Jul 10, 2014 at 5:00 PM


If you’ve ever wondered what the pharaohs of ancient Egypt were doing in their free time: They were probably playing bocce.

Perhaps it was not yet the refined, internationally regulated sport it is now, but certain visual representations found in Egypt suggest that people have been throwing balls at targets for quite some time—as early as 5200 BCE, in fact. The Egyptians began by tossing polished rocks at a fixed object for sport, a practice imported to Greece in the eighth century BCE. The game was later picked up by the Romans, just one exchange in a long history of Romans borrowing things from the Greeks and then taking credit for them (think gods and classical theater).

The Romans actually adapted the sport to something closely resembling what it is today, beginning with coconuts from Africa and later carving balls from olive wood. They eventually coined the Italian term bocce, believed to derive from the French word bosse, which means “hump” or “bump.” Having established itself as the preferred recreation of Roman statesmen and emperors, bocce spread throughout Europe and became wildly popular among both nobility and peasants alike. People fell in love with bocce, many believing it to be a therapeutic sport with the ability to rejuvenate both mind and body.

It was not a long-lasting romance. State leaders claimed that the vogue of bocce was distracting from more important matters of security, such as archery and military training. The game was outlawed by both Charles IV and V, and the Catholic Church later condemned it as a dangerous form of gambling. The famously obstinate Queen Elizabeth I is reported to have loved the sport, as did her employee Sir Francis Drake—it’s rumored that he refused to lead his English fleet against the advancing Spanish Armada until finishing a round.

Bocce eventually made its way to the United States, where it was played on courts of shortly trimmed grass. Bowling Green, New York City’s oldest park, played host to some of the country’s earliest matches, and president George Washington added a court to his home at Mount Vernon.

The sport has seen a surge in popularity in the United States since the early 20th century, owing in part to a growing population of Italian-Americans. Our country now has its own Bocce Federation, the governing body of bocce in the United States. The federation recently announced that our women’s national team has been invited to compete in this year’s World Championships, set to be held in Zhejiang, China in October.

Take part in the world’s earliest sport this Saturday, July 12, when we host our Full Moon Bocce Tournament at Riverfront Park in Beacon. Purchase your tickets here.

  • Pin It
  • StumbleUpon
  • Email
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , ,

The History of Bocce

The History of Bocce

Take a tour of the game's long, sometimes scandalous history.

Click to View 5 slides

Speaking of...


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • The Big Latch On

    Every August for the past ten years, thousands of women around the world have gathered together in small, local groups to breastfeed their children at a set time and be counted by witnesses. For locals, it’s a chance to normalize and celebrate breastfeeding in our community.
    • Aug 10, 2015
  • Donna the Buffalo Stampedes into Woodstock

    The popular roots Americana band will play Levon Helm Studios on September 4.
    • Aug 25, 2015

Hudson Valley Events

submit event

Latest in Daily Dose

  • Stephen Clair and the Pushbacks Play Marlboro
  • Stephen Clair and the Pushbacks Play Marlboro

    The Beacon Music Factory founder and group fly into the Falcon Underground this Thursday.
    • Mar 28, 2017
  • Kite Flying with the WLC
  • Kite Flying with the WLC

    Where Zena Road meets Route 212 just outside the town of Woodstock, there’s a magnificent 22-acre open field with a sweeping view of Overlook Mountain. And on Saturday, April 1st, it’s the ideal spot to bring the kids and fly a kite.
    • Mar 27, 2017
  • Tickets on sale for Spiegeltent 2017
  • Tickets on sale for Spiegeltent 2017

    Once again being hosted by Tony-nominated Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, a season of cabaret and late night performances returns to the Bard's Summerscape.
    • Mar 24, 2017
  • More »

More by Iana Robitaille

  • While You Were Sleeping: September 2014

    The gist of what you may have missed.
    • Sep 1, 2014
  • The Dutchess County Fair

    From Tuesday, August 19 through Sunday, August 24, the classic fair returns to Rhinebeck for another year of farm animals, concerts, carnival rides, local craft vendors, and some really great milkshakes.
    • Aug 17, 2014
  • Bishop Allen Video Release

    About to kick off a national tour, the Kingston band reveals a video for their new song "Why I Had to Go," shot in the back of BSP.
    • Aug 15, 2014
  • More »

Current Issue

March 1-31, 2017
Issue Cover