Hoop rolling – the ancient tradition that is still played today

Hoop rolling is an ancient game, played by children and adults, in which a large ring is being rolled along the ground, chased after, and struck by a stick or some tool to keep it moving. The point of the game is to keep the hoop rolling as long as possible.

In some cases, different tricks are involved to make the game more interesting. Hoop rolling spread  right across Asia, Africa, America and Europe.

Bowling bicycle rim hoops in Toronto, 1922

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Hoop rolling was a popular game in the ancient world. In ancient Greece, vase paintings are the earliest references of hoop rolling dating from 5th century BC. The number of paintings suggests that hoop rolling was widespread in the Greek civilization.

The god of the wine, Dionysus, is often illustrated as a child with his toy – a bronze hoop.The game was rather masculine and was practised as an athletic activity in the Greek gymnasium. In one Greek gymnasium, one of the various tricks of the game was to keep jumping through the hoop while maintaining its roll. However, although popular, it wasn’t part of the Panhellenic games.

Hoops in ancient Greece were called krikoi and were made of iron, bronze or copper. To drive the hoop, they used a stick called elaterThe elater measured 6 to 12 inches, though its construction material is unknown.

Probably because it was the function and not the material that mattered. The sport was considered healthy and Hippocrates recommended hoop rolling for strengthening weak constitutions. Even children of very young age would play with hoops.

A boy playing with hoops, depicted in the 6th-century CE mosaics of the Great Palace of Constantinople. Photo Credit

The Romans learned about hoop rolling from the Greeks. The Latin word for the hoop is trochus. The Roman hoops often had attached metal rings around the shaft of the hoop that would slide freely, as their ringing was warning of the approaching hoop. For the Romans, the sport served for amusement, relaxation and military development.

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In ancient China, the earliest variant of the game dates back to 1ooo BC. The Native Americans played an ancient target-shooting version of hoop rolling now known as chunkey. The game was also played throughout Africa.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, hoops were often incorporated in illustrations of children’s activities and games. A lot of portraits and photographs of this period include a hoop next to the child.

Afonso, Prince Imperial of Brazil holding a stick and hoop, 1846


Jean-Joseph Vaudechamp – Portrait of Two Children

In England, the game was known as hoop and stick, gird and cleek and bowling hoops. By the late 18th century, boys driving hoops could be seen in London streets. Soon after, girls from four to fourteen were trundling their hoops across the grass in the London parks – the game had already become part of the standard physical education of girls. Not only children but also graduate students at Cambridge enjoyed trundling hoops after their lectures.

Girl With a Hoop (1885) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

In the California region, USA, in the 18th century, hoop rolling was widespread and known as takersia. In the 19th century, hoop rolling was seen as a treatment for the passive and overprotected lives many American girls led.

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The game was popular amongst the girls and the boys and in 1898, in Massachusetts, the children elected hoop and stick as their favorite toy.

A boy is playing with a hoop in the streets of Pinga. Photo Credit

Today, the Hoop Rolling Contest is an annual spring tradition at Wellesley College, Bryn Mawr College, and Wheaton College. Dating back to 1895 it is only open to graduating seniors. Game, sport, or entertainment, hoop rolling has been a favorite outdoor activity for centuries and it is not forgotten to this day.