February 24, 2012

Ancient Egyptian Sports and Hunting

The ancient Egyptians were a people who knew how to enjoy themselves, as the great number and variety of pastimes recorded in tomb scenes so vividly illustrates. Indeed, it was to a large extent the intense pleasure which they found in life that encouraged them to seek to continue it after death.

Recreation in Ancient Egypt
Sporting and hunting in Ancient Egypt
Let us begin with the more active, sporting pursuits. Hunting for pleasure in the desert or marshland was the ancient Egyptian sports of Pharaoh, his nobles and the well-to-do. In early days a desert hunt took place on foot, but following the introduction of the chariot the nobleman galloped away in purist of his prey armed as if for war. The technique of hunting was to await or lure a large number of animals to a restricted area, possibly around a water hole, and then attack them en mass with volleys or arrows. The nobleman would be accompanied by professional huntsmen. Hunting dogs were let loose to harry the hapless prey. The early hunting dogs had erect, painted ears, narrow flanks and a short, curled tail, while in the New Kingdom there appeared a breed with pendent ears and long, straight tail, like the modern saluki. A very early hunting scene is shown on the Hunters Palette (c.3300BC). From the early New Kingdom comes another hunting scene, painted on the side of an archery case. Not all hunting culminated in the mass killing, for there are representations f animals being captured alive for display, breeding or possibly taming.

Hunting in the marshes comprised fowling fishing and possibly the killing of hippopotami. The pleasure with which these activities was regarded by the Egyptians is recorded in a very fragmentary papyrus entitled The Pleasures of Fishing and Fowling:' A happy day when we go down to the marsh, that we mat snare birds and catch many fishes in the two waters... a happy day on which we give to everybody and the marsh goddess in propitious. We shall trap birds and shall light a brazier to Sobek.' The text was written by someone who was forced by his position to live away from the rural haunts which he used to frequent in his youth: "Would that I were in the country always that I might do the things that were what my heart desired when the marsh was my town ...'The rest of this fragmentary text comprises enthusiastic description of the huntsman's art which provide an interesting supplement to set-piece scenes which survive in tombs.

'I settle at the ford and make ready for myself a screen after i have fastened my bait. I am in the cool breeze whitest my fishes are in the sun. I kill at every thrust; there is no stop for my spear. I make bundles of 'bulti-fish.' However, our keen fisherman has to admit 'gutting does not please me'. Having caught the fish, he hands over this messy job to a servant or to his poor wife. Many scenes depict this type of fishing. The fisherman lurks in the reeds on a papyrus raft and catches the fish with a harpoon-like spear. Hooks and nets were also available but these were mostly used by pro fessional fishermen.

Ancient Egyptian Hunting and Sports

The papyrus goes on to describe the process of bird trapping :

I walk away from the river in the second day and the fifteenth day of the month and go down to the lake. Staves are on my shoulder, my poles and two and one-fifth cubits (of rope) under my arm. I attend to tugging at five cubits of draw rope by hand. The water is sluggish. The thick cloth which the hand holds, we see it fall after we have heard the quacking of the pool's birds. We snare them in the net.

Another, more sporting way of catching birds is frequently depicted in tombs, such as that of Nakht. Nakht is shown with his family and servants on a light papyrus raft used for moving about in the shallow waters. It is made simply of papyrus reeds tied together, with a wooden platform in the centre in which to balance. In the left of the scene Nakht holds a bird by its feet. This is probably stuffed decoy. In this other hand he holds the instrument of the kill, a throw-stick shaped like a snake, which acted in the same way as a boomerang, to break the bird's neck. His son prepares to hand him another. On the right-hand side of the scene he is town having just cast his weapons, both the one in his hand and another given to him by his hand and another given to him by his daughter. In the miraculous way of tomb painting, both these throw-sticks have found their mark and two birds fall, their necks snapped.

Ancient Egyptian Sports
Athletic games and sports were popular among the ancient Egyptians, whether practiced informally or formally in the presence of the king or as part religious ceremonies. Typical games included wrestling, boxing, fighting with quarter staves, and there are frequently shown as group activities.

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