The History of Bocce

According to historians, the game of Bocce had been popular for OVER 5,000 YEARS!
Throwing balls toward a target is the oldest game known to mankind. As early as 5000 B.C. the Egyptians played a form of Bocce with polished rocks. Bocce Ball was first documented in a 5200 B.C. painting of two boys playing, which was discovered by an English scientist, Sir Francis Petrial, in an Egyptian tomb.

Bocce Ball spread throughout Palestine and into Asia Minor. In 600 B.C., Bocce was picked up by the Greeks and passed to the Romans. It was played everywhere, from the churches and castles to the city streets. People from all walks of life could play the game; young or old, man or woman.

In 1319 A.D., Bocce Ball was actually prohibited to people of lesser nobility because it was felt that it diverted attention from more important tasks, such as archery and war training. In 1519, Bocce became a public game. It was played in Flanders, Holland and Belgium.

Greek colonists brought Bocce with them to what is now modern Italy. It became so popular that it was once again threatened with prohibition, as people who were playing Bocce in the streets were hitting the knees of passing noblemen with the Bocce balls.

Old Bocce Court
Old Bocce Court | Image Source: Bocce Builders of America
Roman Bocce | Image Source: Bocce Builders of America

The Romans learned the game from the Greeks, and then introduced it throughout the empire. The Roman influence in bocce is preserved in the game’s name; bocce derives from the Vulgate Latin “bottia “, meaning “boss“.

It was Giussepi Garibaldi, who, while unifying and nationalizing Italy, popularized the sport as it is known today. Bocce frequently lost and gained popularity throughout the ages. In 1896, during a resurgence of popularity, the first Bocce Olympiad was held in Athens, Greece. Bocce has been a part of international sports ever since.

The sport first came to America in the English version called “Bowls” from the French boule meaning ball. In accord with how the game was played in Britain, American players threw the ball not on stone dust (as is done today in Bocce) but on close cropped grass, which some say is the origin of the modern lawn. It has been noted that one early American playing field was Bowling Green at the southern tip of Manhattan in NY and that George Washington built a court at Mount Vernon, in the 1780s.

While Bocce today looks quite different from its early predecessors, the unbroken thread of Bocce’s lineage is the consistently common objective of trying to come as close to a fixed target as possible. Next to Soccer and Golf, Bocce is the third most participated sport in the world and is considered the oldest know sport in world history.

The United States Bocce Federation says there are about 1 million players in the United States.