Bowling – one of the oldest outlaw sports?

(c) Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Sculptured vases and ancient plaques show the game being played some four thousand years ago, and archaeologists have uncovered biased stone bowls from 5,000 B.C. which indicate our ancestors enjoyed the game of bowling more than seven thousand years ago.When Caesar ruled Rome, the game was known as “Bocce,” and the conquering Roman Legions may well have carried the game to Europe and the British Isles.

The basic game of bowling didn’t change very much between its beginning at the dawn of human culture and the middle of the nineteenth century. At that time, the ancient game of ninepin bowling had caught on all over Europe and had made its way to the United States where it was a very popular sport in the underworld community and became a favorite target for gamblers. This led the government of the state of Connecticut to pass an 1841 law that prohibited owning a ninepin bowling alley. This was an attempt to fragment the gambling community by making it impossible for them to meet in the bowling alleys where they usually gathered.

To get around this law, the gamblers in the area simply changed the rules of the game. They added an extra pin to the bowling setup; thereby making their alleys into tenpin bowling alleys. The tenpin bowling alleys were technically legal to own and operate simply because they hadn’t existed when Connecticut banned the game of ninepins. The game of tenpins proved to be more fun than its predecessor, and ten is the number of pins that we still play with today.

Bowling was also outlawed in England and Europe.  By the thirteenth century, bowling had spread to France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, and England.Bowling was so well established in England by 1299 A.D. that a group of players organized the Southhamptom Old Bowling Green Club, the oldest established bowling club in the world that is still active.

The game became so popular in England and in France it was prohibited by law because archery, essential to the national defense, was being neglected. The French king, Charles IV, prohibited the game for the common people in 1319, and King Edward III issued a similar edict in England in 1361.

I have bowling on my mind because my grandchildren play on a Saturday morning youth bowling league in Fulton. We stopped by to watch this morning. The three teens are very different, but they all enjoy the ancient sport of bowling.


This entry was posted in A to Z April Challenge, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Bowling – one of the oldest outlaw sports?

  1. Anne says:

    I really enjoyed reading your history of bowling. Thanks for sharing.


    A is for letter from Anzac
    Anne Young
    Anne’s family history

  2. susan taylor says:

    haha. i never knew bowling was outlawed.

    i also identify as someone who no longer has all the answers, but boy I sure had them when I was a youngster. 🙂

  3. Linda Curry says:

    Fascinating to read about bowling, especially the origin of ten pin bowling. We just bought a colourful bocce set for our five year old grandson and he is proving very good at it.

  4. Carmel says:

    Bowled over by this post 😀! On reading excerpts to my husband, he informed me that some American mansions added a bowling alley. No betting that they had servants to set up the pins.

  5. Mandy says:

    How interesting. I didn’t know the history of bowling until I read this post.

    With Love,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.