9 Fun Ancient Greek Games for Anyone

We have a list of fun ancient Greek games that you can play with your friends and family. In this article, we will show the history of greek games, how to play them and share some tips on having fun!

When it comes to Games and Ancient Greek gaming have a word with it. Most people know that the Ancient Greeks loved sports and worshipped athletes.

Much of their leisure time was taken up with running, jumping and throwing the javelin and discus.

This was because they believed that the gods wanted their bodies to be as near to perfection as possible.

According to Quatr.us, it was only men who were allowed to take part in the Olympic games.

Women had their own sporting events, which were just as competitive, but the Ancient Greeks liked to play many other Greek games that had nothing to do with sport too.

Gods and Gaming for Ancient Greeks

Games Ancient Greeks Played for Fun
The ancient version of gaming apps – ‘Ancient Toys’ – Tilemahos Efthimiadis via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In Ancient Greece, there was much debate about whether gambling should be allowed or not. Some people were worried about it, but two Greek gods decidedly sided with the gamblers: Hermes and Pan are both known for taking part in gambling, according to mythology.

Other gods and important figures in Greek mythology such as Poseidon, Hades and Zeus also threw dice to decide who would have which parts of the universe. Zeus won the heavens, Poseidon won the sea and Hades won the underworld.

Hermes was known as the god of gambling and gaming, among other things, and players would often pray to him before they bet any money.

This is said to be a practice that still happens today, although for many modern Greeks it’s Christian Saints who would be addressed in such a prayer.

There were also simple games, such as ephedrismos, which was a bit like piggyback, and chasing games were popular too.

There would be two teams and a shell that was painted on one side. The shell would be tossed in the air and which color was on top decided which team had to do the chasing.

In Ancient Greece, one of the very popular games was known as knucklebones, which had different versions for male and for female players. 

There is much archaeological evidence about this, including findings of knucklebone pieces.

The game is often depicted in Greek works of art produced at the time.

The men treated the knucklebone pieces, of which there were four or five to a game, a bit like dice, and sometimes even painted numbers on each face of the piece.

The women used the knucklebones more like the pieces used in a game of jacks, by throwing them into the air and seeing how many they could catch on the back of their hands.

Single women were also reportedly superstitious about them and thought that if they did well in a game of knucklebones, they were likely to find the love of their life very soon.

Ancient Greeks also were people who liked to gamble.

Gambling was one of the earliest forms of entertainment worldwide and research actually suggests that games of chance started in Greece, but also in China and Egypt. 

Ancient Greeks gambled with dice and played heads or tails by flipping a coin.

It did not matter if they were part of the aristocracy, a peasant or a slave; gambling was part of everyday life and still remains so today.

In 2012, the Greek Reporter told how until the global recession, Greeks were among the most avid of European gamblers and accounted for 20% of sports bets worldwide, which for the size of the population is quite surprising.

With everyone having less disposable cash, the numbers of bets that were placed did not dwindle, but the size of the bets was reduced.

In 2012, the government allowed companies who wanted to operate in Greece to buy licenses and raised a lot of money this way.

The Greek Legends of Gaming

Games Ancient Greeks Played for Fun
Greek Gods looking down on us mere mortals‘Greek Gods’ – Bart Everson via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Greece has also produced some legendary gamblers such as Anargyros Karabourniotis, better known as Archie Karas.

He got a taste for gambling by playing marbles for money when he was younger. 

He went to work on a ship as a waiter, and when the ship docked in the US he decided to try his luck in Las Vegas. 

One of the first things he did was to change his name because his original one was so hard to pronounce and then he got a job as a waiter in a restaurant in the town.

He soon found out that the owner liked to play poker in the ‘backroom’.

He realized that he had a talent for the game and he soon moved on to playing poker in the casinos. He eventually made $40 million dollars in three years later in life.

He was so good at poker that no one would play against him so he went against his golden rule and played other games, losing all his money in just two months.

Then there are such legends as Nick the Greek, whose real name was Nikolaos Andreas Dandolos.

It is said his life story would make a great film as he went from rags to riches and back again more than 75 times. It is estimated that throughout his gambling career, he won and lost more than $500 million.

The Greek USA Reporter says that Frank Sinatra and Aristotle Onassis were among his greatest fans.

John Taramas is another Greek gambling legend. He started off by playing blackjack and has written two books on the subject. He was also a highly respected teacher. 

One of the reasons why he was attracted to games such as blackjack is because there is strategy involved. It is not just luck that decides if players win, but they also need to understand when they should split their two cards, and when to refuse any more cards.

To be a successful player in blackjack like Taramas, you will need to know all the strategies and terms related to a game, and this will make them more likely to win.

The margins between being a winner or loser at blackjack are small: with an average of a 43.8% win rate, and a 47.3% loss rate, just a slight run in the player’s favor can lead to a strong winning run.

Taramas was always a very disciplined player and tried to understand when the initial cards were in his favor in order to maximize the hands where he had a better chance against the dealer.

He won millions in Holland before coming back to Greece and getting onto the poker scene.

Popular Greek Games

1. Boxing (Greek Pygmachia)

Boxing is a sport that has been around for centuries. In ancient Greece, it was considered an important part of Greek athletic culture and there are numerous legends related to its birth as such – from the earliest time when Theseus invented boxing in order to protect himself while fighting Minotaur on Crete or how Homer wrote about Achilles using his hands after Hector hit him too hard with his spear– and they all show us just what happens without gloves!

There’s also another account where two men who were themselves so evenly matched; neither could win by knockout alone…so one took off their clothes until only boxers remained- Naked Fighting.

2. Chariot Racing

The chariot race is one of the oldest known sports and was first practiced during Mycenaean times. It began as an event in honor for Oeneus, King of Calydon who challenged his daughter’s suitors to races against each other while Pelops won this contest which led him becoming the founding fatherly figure behind the Olympic Games we know today!

3. Pankration

Greek Pankration
Source: Wikipedia

The ancient Greeks were crazy about one sport: fighting! They had many different types of martial arts, but nothing could match the popularity or toughness associated with pankration. This combination boxing/wrestling allowed fighters to use every weapon imaginable – from gouging out eyesight penalty strokes deadlocking opponents hands around their necks so they could choke until there was no breath left in them at all…to strangling if need-be because why not? 

4. Discus Throw

Greek Discus Throw
Source: WorldHistory

The discus is one of the oldest known sporting events, dating back to 708 BC in ancient Greece. In those days it was made out of lead, stone or bronze depending on availability and athletes would throw their weights away with every shot spinning around quickly before landing somewhere near where they began!

It’s no wonder this sport had such an impact then- because not only does your strength come into play but also accuracy which can be improved through practice just like any other skill you might want better at calling upon when needed most during competition time.

5. Jumping

Jumping over long distances was a key part of ancient Greek warfare, and it is thought that this sport may have originated from the battlefields. The soldiers were equipped with weights or cones on their hands in order to propel themselves higher when jumping off edge-of-clips into shallow waters near enemy ships during battle; these practices continue today as athletes wear specially designed shoes for maximum power transfer!

6. Running

The ancient Greeks were the first to develop training programs for people who wanted take part in running events. They organized these competitions during Olympic Games, which are still happening today! The rich and generous spectators loved watching this sport so much that they would shower winners with precious gifts – making it one of Greece’s most famous pastimes at its time (776 BC- AD guard).

 7. Wrestling

The ancient Greek sport of wrestling was one the most popular and influential activities in Greece. It had its own set rules, which are still used today for some competitions such as the Olympics (708 BC). There were three ways to win: score points by touching down with your hip or back anywhere outside an area called a square plethron; accept defeat due to submission holds when opponents grab onto clothes/armor near body parts crucial if you want victory–this includes armpits too! Finally there’s forcing someone out who can no longer fightback after several techniques.

8. Horse Racing

When the Olympic Games were first established, equestrian events were part of them. The horse races took place at a hippodrome which had two turning points where most accidents happened and only wealthy people could afford to own horses who participated in these racing contests; this was due mostly because it granted women an opportunity without actually having participated themselves (as they couldn’t back then).

As time wore on though- with society changing around so much more than just what we’re used to now -horse Racing lost much popularity until eventually being discontinued altogether!

9. Javelin Throwing

Greek Javelin Throwing
Source: RickyBennison – Own work, CC0,

The javelin throw is among five events in the ancient Greek Olympic pentathlon. The competitors ran a few meters to start and then threw their wooden, about man height weapons as far downfield or further than they could go with one hand tied behind their back (artificial extension). It sounds like this was an extremely difficult feat for its time!

Other Greek Games Played in Greece

In modern Greece, one of the favorite sets of games is tavli. This is a group of games that are very similar to backgammon and includes plakoto, portes, fevga, gkioul, and assodio.

They are often played one after the other, the winner of each being awarded points to see who has the most at the end.  Another very popular card game played by the locals is diloti.

When you visit some of the Greek islands as well as the mainland, you will see these games being played in the local tavernas for points and for fun, but sometimes there will be bets made on the games too.

Diloti is very similar to a game known as “casino” in the UK where it first appeared in 18th-century London.

It is a game of fishing for cards, and there is some irony that in the winter months when the fishermen cannot go to sea, they fish for cards instead.

Checkers is also a game played quite often along with several other board games.

Even the game of snakes and ladders is said to have originated in Ancient Greece and is a retro game that has come back to fashion.

Greek people have always liked dice games as well. The Romans adopted the practice of playing with dice from the Greeks and the British Museum has samples of the dice both nationalities played with.

The dice back then could be carved from stone, crystal, bone, antler or ivory, although they are not made from anything that exotic these days.

The main difference is that the ancient civilizations used to count the number that was touching the surface as the one that mattered, not the one on top.

The Greeks are a nation of gamers, no matter what type they are enjoying. Often, in the evenings when they are relaxing, out come the cards and the dice, or they are connecting to the internet to play in online casinos. 

It is almost a tradition to play games when there is a fiesta or other celebration, especially in the New Year.

Ancient Greeks can take credit for many things in the world today. From the alphabets used in European languages to democracy.

Many words in our dictionaries have Greek origins, and the way we do our maths is closely related to that of the Ancient Greeks.

The Romans loved Greek culture and helped spread it to many different parts of the world. According to BBC Bitesize, the origins of many of our superhero stories and the subsequent films made about them have their roots in Greek mythology. 

With so many fundamental aspects of our modern culture having roots in ancient Greece, it should come as no surprise that we also love many of the games they played.

While many have evolved into modern-day variations over the course of time, some are closer to the original than many people realize. 

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