Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Sports

Sports: The First Five Millennia

ALLEN GUTTMAN
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 500
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk677
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Sports
    Book Description:

    From ancient Egyptian archery and medieval Japanese football to contemporary American baseball, every sport has been shaped by—and in turn has helped shape—the culture of which it is part. Yet as Allen Guttmann shows in this farranging study, for all their differences sports have followed a similar historical trajectory from traditional to modern forms. In Sports: The First Five Millennia, Guttmann traces this evolution across continents, cultures, and historical epochs to construct a single comprehensive narrative of the world's sports.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-101-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-ix)
  3. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xi)
  4. CHINESE AND JAPANESE NAMES
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION: RULES OF THE GAME
    (pp. 1-6)

    Sports are a human universal, appearing in every culture, past and present. But every culture has its own definitions ofsport.Quibbles about these definitions are tedious, but a lack of clarity can muddle one’s research. You can’t study sports if you aren’t clear about what you want to study, which is why mixed-bag studies are confused by the inclusion of board games, card games, dancing, cycling to work, window-shopping, and sunbathing. England’s General Household Survey, for example, classifies housewives as sports participants if they walk to the bakery and the greengrocer’s shop.¹ This does not seem reasonable. My working...

  6. 1 PRELITERATE PEOPLES
    (pp. 7-11)

    “War, “proclaimed Carl Diem, was “the noblest of sports. . . and the wellspring of all other sports.”¹ This claim was as reckless as the Marxist assertion that “all sports were originally one with the means of production.”² Another of Diem’s lapidary generalizations was closer to the mark. “All sports,” he wrote, “began as cult.”³ An overstatement, no doubt, but Diem was right to call attention to a remarkable fact about the sports of preliterate cultures (which must serve as our surrogate for the sports of prehistorical times). The sports of grown men and women were often—perhaps usually—embedded...

  7. 2 BEFORE THE GREEKS
    (pp. 12-16)

    The oldest sports about which we have reasonably reliable information are those of ancient Egypt. Evidence from elsewhere in the ancient world is scattered and difficult to interpret. Sumerian seals depict wrestlers who may or may not have been engaged in sports rather than mortal combat, and there are Sumerian hymns in which King Sulgi boasts of his achievements as an archer, hunter, wrestler, and runner. (That he actually ran from Nippur to Ur and back in a single day must have been quite literally incredible except to those who meekly accepted priestly myths of royal prowess.) The Sumerian seals...

  8. 3 GREEK ATHLETIC FESTIVALS
    (pp. 17-25)

    Although theIliadis set in the Mycenaean age, its athletic contests mirror those of Homer’s time, which was probably the eighth century B.C. Book XXIII includes a detailed account of the funeral games held by the invading Greeks in honor of Achilles’ beloved friend Patroclos, slain by the Trojan Hector. Competing for valuable material prizes as well as for honor, the fiercely agonistic Greek warriors box, wrestle, run races, and ride their chariots at breakneck speed. Success or failure is determined less by the physical prowess of the contestants than by the will of the gods, the divine spectators...

  9. 4 ROMAN SPORTS
    (pp. 26-38)

    Historians of Etruscan sports confront a familiar problem. How can we interpret visual evidence from a culture whose written language remains a mystery? Were the painted charioteers whom we see on the walls of Etruscan tombs on their way to battle or off to the races? Did the hunters hunger for a taste of venison or for “an aristocraticdivertissement”? One clue is the presence in Etruscan frescoes of spectators, who appear more frequently and in greater numbers than in Greek art. Athletic paraphernalia offer additional clues. A scene depicted on a seventh-century B.C. vase from Veie, for example, shows...

  10. 5 TRADITIONAL ASIAN SPORTS
    (pp. 39-51)

    Chinese physical culture has always oscillated between two poles: at one extreme, violent competition; at the other, the peaceful quest for spiritual harmony. Boxers, wrestlers, and other athletes embody the first extreme; the second can be represented by devotees oftai ji,known in the West astai chi,a combination of gymnastic exercise and philosophy. Chinese sports, which fall by definition into the first category, have often been modified by influences from the second category, which has meant that Chinese sports competitions have often been gentler than the agonistic combats typical of European sports through most of their history....

  11. 6 EUROPEAN SPORTS FROM THE MIDDLE AGES TO THE RENAISSANCE
    (pp. 52-67)

    The connection between sports and warfare has seldom, if ever, been closer than in the Middle Ages. For the medieval knight, the line between tournament and battlefield, between mock and real warfare, was thin and often transgressed. As the French diplomat-historian Jean Jusserand wrote in 1901, “The union of warfare and games was so close that it is frequently difficult to decide if a given activity ought to be classified under one rubric or the other.” The warlike features of the tournament were especially pronounced in the twelfth century, when the typical tournament was a confused melee composed of dozens...

  12. 7 “MADE IN ENGLAND”: THE INVENTION OF MODERN SPORTS
    (pp. 68-76)

    At the risk of radical simplification, one can say that the cultural difference between the Renaissance and modern times can be read from the changing meaning of a single word:measure.To the readers of Henry Peacham’s popular handbook,The Compleat Gentleman(1622), measure was a noun that implied proportion, balance, decorum, and moderation. The connotations of the word were geometric. A century later,measurewas much more likely to be used as a verb, and the connotations were definitely arithmetical. There was a similar shift in German linguistic usage, where a concern for the properMaβ(measure) was increasingly...

  13. 8 CRICKET FOLLOWS THE FLAG
    (pp. 77-88)

    In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the British expelled the French from Canada and from India, replaced the Dutch who had begun to colonize Australia, and extended their rule over much of the African continent. Cricket followed the flag. Early in the twentieth century, P. F. “Plum” Warner, president of the Marylebone Cricket Club, affirmed that cricket was more than a game: “It is an institution, a passion, one might say a religion. It has got into the blood of the nation, and wherever British men and women are gathered together there will the stumps be pitched.”¹ Warner was right....

  14. 9 THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF MODERN SPORTS IN GREAT BRITAIN
    (pp. 89-117)

    When Victoria was crowned, in 1837, British sports were still, for the most part, relatively informal occasional affairs sponsored by the rural gentry, the parish church, or the local publican.¹ When she was succeeded by Edward VII, in 1901, the typical sports contest was a regularly scheduled event sponsored by a sports club with membership in a national sports federation. Folk-football came once a year, to mark the winter equinox or celebrate the arrival of spring. Attendance at a Saturday afternoon game of soccer football was part of a workman’s weekly routine. This transformation, this institutionalization of modern sports, was...

  15. 10 THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF MODERN SPORTS IN THE UNITED STATES
    (pp. 118-166)

    Sports historians have portrayed the Puritans who colonized New England as a dour lot for whom frolic was akin to sacrilege, as ascetic ministers and magistrates who were unrelentingly hostile to the traditional sports of “merrie England.” “The Puritan,” wrote Thomas Babington Macaulay, “hated bearbaiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.”¹ Foster Rhea Dulles saw the American Puritans in a similar (rather dim) light. He admitted that the Puritans had their playful impulses and that they “failed to eradicate the early Americans’ natural urge for play,” but their influence on...

  16. 11 LATIN AMERICA: THE INGLESES VERSUS THE NORTEAMERICANOS
    (pp. 167-179)

    When the Spanish arrived in the Americas, they confronted and conquered not only “primitive” tribes but also imperial civilizations—the Incan and the Aztec—with a degree of political and social organization comparable to their own. The ritual rubber-ball game played by the Aztecs (and by the other peoples of Mesoamerica) has attracted so much archeological and anthropological attention that it is now among the world's most studied sports—if it was a sport.

    Closely related to the game was the myth ofPopol Vuh,which told of twin brothers whose names appear in many different transliterations. The brothers left...

  17. 12 CONTINENTAL EUROPE: IMPORTS AND EXPORTS
    (pp. 180-195)

    “In the years after 1880,” writes Ruud Stokvis, “English sports were adopted on the European continent by young members of the elite and the upper middle class.”¹ The sequence of adoption took the form that geographers describe as the “S-curve pattern”: Innovations of all kinds are initially slow to spread among a population; then there is a phase of rapid adoption; next, a long period follows during which the laggards are gradually won over to the new technique or mode of behavior.² On the continent, it was the anglophile segments of the upper class that responded initially to soccer football,...

  18. 13 TECHNOLOGICAL SPORTS
    (pp. 196-205)

    Cycling is one of the few sports with technical terms taken from French rather than English—peleton, dérailleur, domestique—because cycling is one of the few modern sports with French rather than British or American origins. The distant ancestor of the modern bicycle was, however, German. Baron Karl-Friedrich von Drais invented a two-wheeled wooden contraption that was propelled by the rider’s feet pushing against the ground. He took his invention to Paris and patented it in 1818. The fad was short-lived.¹

    Pierre Michaux and his son Erneste began to produce a more practical vehicle—le vélocipède—in 1866. It was...

  19. 14 MODERN SPORTS IN ASIA
    (pp. 206-238)

    Modern sports came to China toward the end of the nineteenth century. Britons resident in the “Middle Kingdom” established football clubs in Tientsin (1884) and Shanghai (1887), but Americans, especially those working under the auspices of the YMCA, were far more important players in the game of ludic diffusion. In its early years, Chinese basketball was nurtured almost exclusively by the YMCA. Dr. Willard Lyon, who opened the Tientsin YMCA in 1895, was a typical activist. He was not content to limit his attention to the young Chinese who frequented the YMCA. “As early as 1896,” wrote Jonathan Kolatch, “the...

  20. 15 “OUR FORMER COLONIAL MASTERS”: AFRICAN SPORTS
    (pp. 239-249)

    In the course of the nineteenth century Africa became the most colonized of continents. In the race to acquire colonies, protectorates, and spheres of influence, the British were remarkably successful. The British were also principal agents in the diffusion of modern sports “from Capetown to Cairo.” Africans were especially receptive to soccer, a receptivity that a German researcher has explained by asserting that Africans are “fascinated by whatever is round and bouncy.” British success certainly had more to do with colonial policy than with the shape and elasticity of the soccer ball. There was a “sharp contrast between the role...

  21. 16 WINTER SPORTS
    (pp. 250-258)

    The Norse god Uller and his wife Skadi ski their way through the pages of Snorri Sturluson's thirteenth-centuryEdda,and there are scattered written references to hardy Scandinavian skiers, and to occasional skiing contests, in the centuries that follow. A pair of skiers appeared, in woodcut form, in theHistoria de Gentibus Septentrionalibus(History of Northern Peoples), a chronicle of Scandinavian life published in 1555 by Olaus Magnus.¹ His Dutch contemporary, Pieter Brueghel the Elder was among the first to portray happy skaters—male and female—on Holland’s frozen canals. Genre pictures of winter sports were brought to perfection a...

  22. 17 THE MODERN OLYMPIC GAMES
    (pp. 259-272)

    The modern Olympic Games began as a European phenomenon, and non-Western peoples must still participate on Western terms. In the terminology of Talcott Parsons, there was from the very start a contradiction between universalistic ideals, which called for participation by “the youth of the world,” and particularistic forms, which are unquestionably those developed in the West.

    Although a number of nineteenth-century Europeans had endeavored to revive the ancient games, none of their efforts bore much fruit. An Englishman, Dr. W. P. Brookes, inaugurated a series of annual “Olympian Games” in Shropshire in 1849. They were purely local affairs in which...

  23. 18 RESISTANCE TO MODERN SPORTS
    (pp. 273-284)

    The most stubborn opposition to the diffusion of modern sports came from a distinctively German form of gymnastic exercise that its adherents called“Turnen.”Although the mainstream ofTurnenwas intensely romantic, its eighteenth-century sources were the humanistic and scientific approach to physical education advocated by a group of men known as thePhilanthropes.

    In the tiny German village of Schnepfenthal, in 1784, Christian Gotthilf Salzmann opened a school for middle-class children. Physical education was the responsibility of Johann Christoph GutsMuths, a man whose mania for quantified achievement amazed Salzmann: “Herr GutsMuths entered all these exercises in a table that...

  24. 19 THE SURVIVAL OF TRADITIONAL SPORTS
    (pp. 285-292)

    There is, of course, is no such thing as a “traditional society,” perfectly static and exempt from the processes of historical change. All cultures evolve as a result of internal interactions, and even the most isolated peoples—the Inuit of the Arctic, the Chambri of Papua New Guinea—have slowly but surely been drawn into what many social scientists refer to as the “world system.” The paradigmatic dichotomy between traditional and modern sports must be understood as a contrast between two “ideal types,” neither of which is perfectly instantiated in the “real world.”

    Although there are exceptions to the rule,...

  25. 20 INSTRUMENTALIZED SPORTS
    (pp. 293-306)

    Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, liberal–democratic governments remained relatively indifferent to the success or failure of their athletes in international competition, and sports administrators were happy to be free of governmental interference. Communist, Fascist, and Nazi regimes had a different view of the relationship of politics to sports.¹ They programatically instrumentalized sports as a means to demonstrate national revitalization and to symbolize ideological superiority. These regimes—and those of Vichy France and Falangist Spain—varied in the specifics of their ideology, but all of them subordinated individual athletes to the state.²

    In Fascist Italy, men’s sports were restructured along...

  26. 21 MODERN SPORTS AS A GLOBAL PHENOMENON
    (pp. 307-322)

    Generalizations about billions of people are bound to have millions of exceptions, but comments on broad trends (the currently fashionable term islongue durée) are, nonetheless, still appropriate.

    When sociologists began to study modern sports, one of the first things they noticed was that the advantaged always seemed to participate in sports, actively and passively, more than the disadvantaged. This generalization held no matter how one defined advantage. Much of the empirical research confirmed common knowledge: men did more sports than women, the young more than the old, the healthy more than the sickly. In other instances, however, the data...

  27. CODA: POSTMODERNISM AND LES SPORTS CALLFORNIENS
    (pp. 323-326)

    There is a rough consensus about the characteristics of modern sports but no agreement about what is meant by “postmodern sports.” The reason for this situation is that postmodern sports may be an animal found only in the imaginary zoo of sociological speculation.¹

    Some scholars see postmodernism exemplified in the career of flamboyant athletes such as British soccer star Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne. Richard Giulianotti and Michael Gerrard see Gascoigne as a “carnival of colourful signifiers [that] has no ... existential depth.” His “postmodern stardom embraces all ungrounded signifiers.” Other scholars, taking “the linguistic turn,” see postmodern sports spectacles as texts...

  28. NOTES
    (pp. 327-413)
  29. INDEX
    (pp. 414-448)
  30. Back Matter
    (pp. 449-449)