Harpastum: the most ancient and brutal kind of football you need to know about to really understand sports


Known as Calcio Fiorentino derives from Harpastum, a form of team sport played by the Ancient Romans . It literally means ‘snatched ball’ and we want to show you how this brutal sport has within the holy grail of many sports – and why we want more of them.


From MMA to professional football, Calcio Fiorentino is the legalized version of all the bad things of all sports

Knowing that this type of football derives from a ‘sport’ practiced by the Romans can ring a bell or two already: they were gladiators. Brutal, gruesome and the best part of it all, it was all legal. It has been said that having the population entertained by slaves killing each other in a big arena was the best way to control an entire civilisation.


Then TV was invented.


But the spirit behind these forms of sports is what lies behind what makes sports so appealing to everybody. Calcio Fiorentino is where we will be starting this parade from, as not only does it keep the traditional rules of the Romans version, but their costumes too.


The rules are unofficial and since the 16th century Calcio Fiorentino has undergone several changes, but more or less is a sort of rugby, played with a round ball, in which players fight MMA style to get the ball across. It’s played on sand and matches last 50 minutes, with a line-up of 27 players per team.

More than for its entertainment trait, Calcio Fiorentino has been revived for its historical soul: in 1490 a match was played on the Arno river in Florence on completely frozen waters and even popes played matches  in Vatican City. If such a sport exists and lives on, it’s because is the quintessence of all sports. No jokes. Or at least behind the factors that make us appreciate some sports rather than others.

MMA – mixed martial arts: the gory violence

If you think about it, MMA has recently reached global appeal on TV Rights and coverage and we don’t want to say if you like watching people (or even being one of them) doing all in your power to knock the opponent out with very few restrictions you have the mind of a criminal. Rather the opposite. It’s what sports from the very beginnings were made for.


MMA is self-explanatory in our argument to sustain that the reason why we have sports in the world.


Let’s also not forget the Ancient Olympic Games (dating back to 776 BC) did include boxing: a form of legalised violence used by city-states to establish their dominance and a way to spread the Hellenic dominance in the Mediterranean.

And what about rugby itself? It’s the most noble sports, where surely kicks and punches are not allowed, but does have that – for the non-connoisseurs – goliardic and physical aspect to it. Would you like rugby so match if it didn’t feature scrums ?

Ice hockey on the other hand does have a violent side to it thanks to what happens after the action unfolds. It is not rare to see players take their helmets and gloves off to ‘set things right’. Would watch hockey if there were no ‘extras’?

Last, but not least. Football (don’t call it soccer)

Football does not strike as a violent sport as players can’t really do much to stop the opponent as you’d see in rugby. Injury happens, some more voluntary than others, but that’s not what takes us back to Calcio Fiorentino. The holy grail is in the people who watch: why they watch it, why it is one of the most popular and profitable sports in the world.

Someone* said Religion is the opium of people

What if it read Sports is the dope of people

*Karl Marx