The art of having fun isn’t anything new. While our world today is overwhelmingly focused on entertainment, this trend isn’t anything new. Even ancient humans wanted to enjoy life between bouts of farming, hunting, and gathering. From feats of architecture to surviving instruments, we know that our earliest ancestors sought to add a personal touch to what they did.
But long before the era of League of Legends or the Champions League, what were early humans doing for fun? Was the concept of ‘fun’ really so different for those living back before the Common Era? Let’s explore some of the world’s most popular hobbies that stretch back to the earliest days of civilization. You’re certain to recognize more than a few common activities.
The probability in the game
The oldest games involving numbers and probability come from Ancient Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia. The former was home to Senet, while the latter gave to the rise of what archaeologists have named the Royal Game of Ur. Both were board games based on loose military strategy—and both involved a roll of the dice in order to generate random outcomes to challenge players.
Today, these early forays with gaming are survived in the modern casino. Most players today focus on games like roulette and blackjack, all of which include an element of chance and skill. This type of challenge hasn’t phased out of the entertainment space thousands of years later—even if most players today are focused on fully digital platforms.
Feats of Strength
Sports are another longstanding form of entertainment. In fact, archaeologists have found betting slips that date back to the Roman Empire, meaning that people haven’t just watched sports but also wagered on outcomes millennia in the past. Fast forward thousands of years and we’re also still wagering on the same sports.
Gymnastics, wrestling, and racing were the original sports contests favored by ancient societies. Today, these remain hugely popular categories within the Olympic Games. Archery and swimming are the oldest, however, dating back 20,000 and 6,000 years respectively.
Feats of Strength—on Horseback
Modern F1 drivers have a need for speed… and it’s possible this interest began all the way back with horseback riding contests and even chariot races. While this might seem like a stretch, horses quickly became a feature of many sporting contests because of the athletic prowess of this creature—and its ability to infuse speed and strength into any contest.
Throughout the ancient world, sporting contests were often ‘taken to the next level’ by adding elements of equestrianism. In fact, during the very first Olympic Games, competitors were competing in chariot races. Those Roman betting slips mentioned above were also closely linked with horse racing and chariot racing.
The Art of Looking Refined
Today, fashion is a huge part of the entertainment industry. While not many people would link fashion to entertainment, it’s a deeply embedded aspect of the industry. Just think of the highly nuanced costume designs of major Hollywood films, the connection between major athletes and sports fashion brands, and even the crossover appeal of fashion-social celebs like the Kardashians.
As it happens, the art of looking refined is nothing new. In fact, even Ancient Egyptians were highly concerned with fashion and even makeup, which were status symbols. Stylish garments were colorful and decorated, while makeup such as kohl lining was used by both men and women to add an air of refinement.
Similar to fashion icons and athletes, rockstars also take on a larger-than-life persona with the public. And, once again, this status harkens back to some of humankind’s earliest forms of entertainment. Specifically, the first hymn (an official composition) dates back around 3,400 years. Written in cuneiform, our earliest written language, the hymn is an ode to a goddess of orchards near ancient Mesopotamia.
However, our obsession with music began much earlier. Archaeologists have discovered rudimentary bone flutes that date back to around 40,000 years. This means that instruments were likely used by prehistoric groups including the Indus Valley Civilization and the Xia dynasty, which might make it humankind’s earliest preferred form of entertainment.