The Oldest Olympic Sport?

Continuing with our series on Boycotting the Olympics … Have you seen the male gymnasts? Some will be disappointed that they wear boxer shorts, but that is not what I wanted to talk about. Watching them (do very badly, by the way) I recalled that the argument has been made that this is probably the oldest Olympic sport. This assertion has been made because the earliest art in the region, predating the Greeks, includes dramatic depictions of the ancient art of Bull Jumping.

Here’s a picture from an ancient text with the title, roughly translated, “Bull Jumping for Dummies” …
i-9031df0f5c8678e031461b4466e22e82-bull_jumping_instructions.jpg

This has led to speculation that the pummel horse, your typical floor routine, and possibly even the suspended rings ultimately derive from this ancient Minoan past time.


i-01d561a34ba6f0d824f67b9178626630-Nearly_Naked_Bull_Jumping.jpg

The continuity between Minoan and Greek hardly needs to be argued for. Bull jumping is still practiced today, though the bulls are smaller and the jumpers larger, of course.

i-314b48bb4860f26d96da5282a8585c97-modern_bull_jumping_made_easy.jpg

Additional Information:

Modern Sports and Games of Ancient Greece
Bull Jumping
Bull-leaping
Minoan Fresco – Bull Leaping

Comments

  1. #1 Krazd
    August 18, 2008

    I would think running would be the oldest olympic sport :D

    Cool diagram, it’s funny how there’s a step by step diagram. any idea what year it’s from?

  2. #2 chris y
    August 18, 2008

    Krazd: It’s adapted from a painting of the last phase of the Minoan palace at Knossos, which was destroyed (nobody knows how, tho’ everybody likes to speculate) around 1400 bc. The original fresco is conventionally dated to 1550-1450 bc, but it could be a little later.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    August 18, 2008

    FIRST you jump over the bull. THEN you run really fast.

  4. #4 George
    August 18, 2008

    It’s believed that people seeing the legs of a man seemingly attached to the head of a bull is where the myth of the Minotaur came from.

  5. #5 Robert Denson
    August 18, 2008

    Dude that is absolutely CRAZY! Im talking insane crazy!

    RD
    http://www.useurl.us/12m

  6. #6 Mike Elgan
    August 18, 2008

    The Minoans (of Crete and Santorini) were famous for bull jumping, but to the best of my knowledge, they didn’t have the Olympics, which were started some 900 years after the Minoan civilization fell.

    Mike

  7. #7 Indy207
    August 18, 2008

    Check out “The King Must Die” by Mary Stewart. historical novel about King Theseus as a bull dancer in Crete. Stewart is a very talented writer and reading, and re-reading, her books is always enjoyable.

  8. #8 Marty Kinesey
    August 18, 2008

    This was actually started in 400 BC by the Picans. It’s a little known fact that children were taught the sport at a young age by attaching ears of corn to a dog’s head to practice their flipping. As they got older, sharpened sticks replaced the corn. An ancient story says that a brass young man became bored with bulls and tried a rhino. It doesn’t say what happened, but i can imagine it was disastrous!

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    August 18, 2008

    Mike, yes, but that is not what I said. Marty, I don’t believe a word of that.

  10. #10 Fred
    August 18, 2008

    “Watching them (do very badly, by the way)….. ”

    You are an idiot. Get over yourself.

  11. #11 Indy207
    August 18, 2008

    err…, My earlier comment, about Mary Stewart, should have been Mary Renault. Both are excellent writers in the historical fiction area. My goof.

  12. #12 Lyle
    August 18, 2008

    A pummel horse is an apparatus not a routine. A floor routine is done on the floor, another apparatus, and has nothing to do with the pummel horse.

  13. #13 Stephanie Z
    August 18, 2008

    Lyle, I think the idea is that the floor routine is what comes of taking away the bull and tumbling on one’s own.

  14. #14 John Bales
    August 18, 2008

    Marty, ears of corn did not exist in Europe until after the discovery of America where corn originated. Other types of grain such as barley were called corn before indian corn was introduced to Europe from America.

  15. #15 Stephanie Z
    August 18, 2008

    Careful, Greg. You’re going to lose your reputation for being misunderstood by everyone. Keep this up and it’ll only be almost everyone.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    August 18, 2008

    My, what trolls we uncover when certain topics come up!

    The term “pummel routine” is routinely used in the business. And Stephanie, as usual, has comprehended the the idea here. The pummel is the bull, the floor is the Minoan hall of the bulls.

    To recreate this, one can imagine having a large area like where one does a floor routine, but with a pummel horse in the middle of it integrated into the routine. To make it more interesting, the coach from an opposing team can have a rope attached to the pummel horse, pulling it around randomly.

  17. #17 Marty Kinesey
    August 26, 2008

    John you are partially correct. Over the past thousand years European corn has become more widely known as a “cucumber”. I didn’t mean to confuse any simpletons! Thank you for clearing it up!

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    January 12, 2010

    I would think running would be the oldest olympic sport :D

    Actually, it was chasing. Then, right after that, running.

  19. #19 Sandgroper
    January 13, 2010

    Greg, it seems there has been a lot of sceptical debate about exactly what they did, who did it and why:

    http://www.strangehorizons.com/2005/20050124/bull-leaping-a.shtml

    Given the beautiful detail with which it was depicted in Minoan fresco, sculpture and jewelry, and the fact that the depictions are consistent, in the absence of proof that it was impossible, I have to believe they did it exactly the way they depicted it, and that they vaulted up and dived over the bull’s horns, did a hand-stand on it’s back (or a shoulder stand) and then somersaulted off.

    If this guy can do this, I don’t see why not:

    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/53/193675546_3815f07c20_o.jpg

    He’s using a smaller animal, but he’s got more than ample height over it, such that it would be possible with a much bigger animal.

    As to who, I would believe an analysis of the penis sheathes or whatever the hell they were that the depictions are of men, but I don’t see why it would be impossible for women – young female gymnasts are extremely nimble and have a very high power to weight ratio.

    As to why, everyone seems to have suggested a religious motive, rite of passage etc, but is it inconceivable that they just did it as a spectator sport?

    As to the original thesis – yeah, why not?

  20. #20 Julia
    February 25, 2010

    Thanks so much for the pics! I needed some for a report about early gymnstics!

  21. #21 Brandon
    June 23, 2011

    i know why the cow gave up now, explanation for domestication do to humiliation

  22. #22 Cassaundra
    November 16, 2011

    This was never an Olympic Game. This was simply a sport that the Minoan Civilization participated in doing. It was called Bull Dancing. Men and female did this spot actually. The picture you showed are females doing the dance. It is also not a fresco from Minoan age, at least not an original. This: is the famous fresco http://www.marin.edu/~jim/photos/bullstuff/bulldancelg.jpg

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