what is the oldest sport in history

Uncovering the Oldest Sport in History: Is It Wrestling or Running?

Determining what is the oldest sport in history takes us on a fascinating journey back through time. Wrestling stands out as the candidate most historians agree upon, with evidence tracing its roots back to cave drawings from 15,000 years ago. These ancient illustrations suggest that wrestling was not only practiced but also celebrated across different cultures.


The importance of wrestling in ancient civilizations cannot be overstated. In Egypt, for instance, wrestling has been depicted in tomb paintings dating back to 3,000 BCE, showcasing its significance in early human society. Similarly, ancient Sumerian texts and Greek mythology have referenced wrestling, indicating its widespread appeal and reverence throughout history.

What is the Oldest Sport in History

Defining “Sport” Through Ages

The quest to pinpoint the oldest sport in history takes us on a fascinating journey through time. It’s crucial to understand that the definition of “sport” has evolved significantly. In ancient civilizations, activities that we might now classify as sports were often intertwined with survival skills or religious practices. Wrestling, for instance, is frequently cited as one of the earliest competitive sports, with cave paintings in France dating back 15,300 years suggesting its prehistoric roots. Similarly, running – an activity almost as old as humanity itself – was not just a form of exercise or competition but also a vital skill for hunting and evasion.

  • Wrestling: Evidence suggests it may have been practiced over 15 millennia ago.
  • Running: Integral to human survival and therefore likely among the first forms of competitive physical activity.

These examples illustrate how sports initially emerged from essential human activities.

Tracing the Origins: Ancient Sports

Wrestling: The Primal Competition

Wrestling stands as perhaps the oldest sport in history, with its roots buried deep in ancient civilizations. It’s a primal competition that showcases strength, skill, and strategy. Historical evidence suggests that wrestling was practiced over 15,000 years ago, with cave paintings in France serving as compelling proof of its antiquity. This sport was not just a test of physical prowess but also held significant cultural and spiritual importance in societies like ancient Egypt and Greece.

Running: Humanity’s First Race

what is the oldest sport in history

Running arguably shares the title for what is the oldest sport in history alongside wrestling. It’s an intrinsic human activity—a fundamental way humans have expressed athleticism since time immemorial. Ancient depictions dating back thousands of years showcase running as both survival mechanism and competitive endeavor.

The origins of running as a competitive event can be pinpointed to rituals and religious festivals across civilizations such as Egypt’s “Sed festival” or Greece’s Olympic Games where it was one of the earliest sports featured. These events weren’t merely athletic competitions; they were deeply embedded within the fabric of society reflecting values, beliefs, and social hierarchies.

  • Historical Events: Sed festival (Egypt), Olympic Games (Greece)
  • Purpose: Ritualistic significance; societal reflection

The Contenders for the Oldest Sport

Sumerian Wrestling: Earliest Recorded Instances


Delving into the annals of sports history, an intriguing question often arises: what is the oldest sport in history? Wrestling, particularly its origins in ancient Sumer, presents a compelling case. Historical records and artifacts from as early as 3000 BCE provide clear evidence of wrestling’s prominence in Sumerian culture. These ancient illustrations depict scenes of men engaged in wrestling matches, suggesting not only the sport’s age but also its significance within society.

Wrestling in ancient Sumer was more than mere physical contest; it bore deep religious and societal implications. Kings and warriors are shown on stone reliefs participating in wrestling bouts, indicating that prowess on the wrestling ground was synonymous with strength and leadership. This connection between physical strength and societal status underscores the importance of wrestling to the Sumerians.

Ancient Egyptian Sports: A Rich Sporting Culture

Ancient Egypt is another cradle for early sports, showcasing a variety of athletic activities that highlight their advanced civilization. Beyond wrestling, Egyptians engaged in sports like archery, swimming, fishing, javelin throwing, and even a form of handball. Evidence from murals dating back to around 2000 BCE illustrates Pharaohs partaking in these sports both for recreation and physical training.