History of Bocce

     Editors note: There seem to be numerous versions, each slightly different. The following information is a compilation fromvarious sources. If you have others, please pass them on.

Bocce Player     Bocce is an ancient game, its birth lost in the shadows of antiquity. During a game a ball is rolled down a lane with the aim of coming to rest near a smaller object ball called a pallina or jack or cue. Not only is it among the earliest known outdoor pastimes, but it is played in more countries than any other ball game, with the exception of soccer. Some authorities claim it originated in Egypt about 5200 B.C.; others, that the game was started in Greece during the 6th Century B.C. The most reliable sources agree that Bocce, as we know it today, was played between battles during Rome's Punic Wars against Carthage, which started in 264 B.C. Soldiers selected a small stone called a "leader" and threw it first. Then larger stones would be thrown at the "leader" and the stone coming closest to it would score. The game provided exercise and relaxation for the soldiers. Teams were composed of two, four, six, or eight men and the score would vary from 16 to 24 points per game.

     Through succeeding centuries, the Romans spread the popularity of the game throughout the empire, which during this period encompassed vast areas of Europe, Asia and North Africa. However, with the fall of the Roman Empire and onset of the Middle Ages, direct evidence of the game is again obscured for several centuries.

Ancient Bocce court     During the same period, Vulgar Latin emerged as a dominant language of the common man. The Vulgar Latin word "bottia" - meaning ball - is the root of the Italian word boccia or Bocce, as the game came to be known. Similarly in Classic Latin - that which prevailed during the days of Caesar - the word "boulles" - which again means ball - is the root for another very similar form of the game - "bowls" - which later emerged in the British Isles, today known as England. Here the game was refined from that of simply tossing the ball to include rolling it on the lawn or green. Thus, the term "bowling on the green" or simply "bowls".

     From the first days of the game's popularity in England, kings frowned upon it, as it was likely to seduce their subjects away from archery practice - deemed of greater importance to the safety of England. The game continued to be played until 1319 when Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV ordered its discontinuance as he thought that, because of its popularity, it would interfere with sports of a more military nature. Richard II prohibited the game. Also, during the reigns of Henry IV and Edward IV, the ban was renewed, but for commoners only.

     Years later the prohibition was lifted when the Medical Faculty at Montepelier, France, declared that Bocce was the best exercise to prevent rheumatism.

     An interesting historical note on Bocce claims that the English Admiral, Sir Francis Drake, was informed of the approaching Spanish Armada while playing a game of Bocce. Drake, in his usual cool manner, replied: "First, we finish the game; then we have time for the Invincible Armada." It is apparent also that by this time women played as well as men. Shakespeare mentioned the game in several of his plays. In Richard II, for example, a lady of the court suggests the queen should play a game of "bowls".

     Bocce was played throughout Europe. Emperors, Admirals, Generals, poets, sculptors, scientists and men from all stations of life were active participants in the sport. It was a favorite with Giuseppe Garibaldi.

     Throughout history innumerable Bocce games have been played in the streets, alleys, squares and country greens of every European country and in North and South America. Lovers of Bocce will play wherever there is adequate space available. Pennsylvanians are fortunate in their Bocce facilities. In Philadelphia alone there are 17 Bocce Clubs. There are many other clubs throughout the state.

A shorter more lighthearted account comes from Michael Kilian of the Chicago Tribune.

     Some historians claim bocce dates back 7,000 years. The Egyptians played it when they weren't struggling with pyramid stones, and the Romans picked it up from them (I don't think Cleopatra did, however, as it's not a game you can play in bed).

     The barbarians within the Roman Empire took a liking to it - the Gauls producing a French version called "boule." The English, who never quite got the hang of things, turned it into the tacky pastime you see on television's "Championship Bowling."

     Unlike "Championship Bowling," bocce is not a game of roll, slam, crash, rack and have another brewski. It's a true sport involving skill, fitness, strategy and cunning.

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