Old Pueblo Coin – Tucson, AZ

The Coin Geek

An Ancient Coin & the Bouncing Ball

“That’s the way the ball bounces.”

The first pitch. The opening tip. The Kickoff. Episkyros. Oh the familiar sounds of sports! Wait, epi-what-now? It’s time to work on our Greek. Here is the story of what I learned because of one little coin.

It is a small silver coin called an obol, about half the size of a dime. It is from roughly 450-400 BC. The coin is from Larissa, a prominent city in Greece. The city was known for its horses, and many of their coins have a horse on one side. This coin is no different. The other side of the coin blew me away, it was of a person ‘’bouncing a ball’’. I had never considered how old balls were. But as I stared at the piece I wondered, “Bounce? They had balls that bounce?!”.

obol coin from Larissa, Greece - horse

This side of the silver obol features a horse. The city of Larissa was famous for its horses.

The ancient Greeks are known for sport, and especially the Olympics. I think of the images of the relay race, the discus, the hurdles, but I never really considered the ball. That is until I saw this coin.

So what was a ball from 440 BC made from? Several different things. Balls were made from string or wool or cloth. These were also seen in Egypt. These balls did not bounce. Some balls were also made of leather and stuffed with animal fur. The balls that bounced were made of a pig blatter and also wrapped in leather.

obol coin from Larissa, Greece - bouncing ball

An ancient obol coin (c. 440BC ), featuring a person bouncing a ball.

They had many ball games that varied from a type of passing game called “trigon”, to “harpastum” which looks a lot like rugby! They also played “episkyros” which was a game similar to soccer. This game most likely used the ball that bounced, although bouncing the ball was not as much a part of the game. There was no dribbling style game, like basketball, that I found. There were games that threw a ball through a hoop, but that was as close as it came to the NBA!

It’s always fun to find something so small that can teach you so many new things.


-The Coin Geek

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