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When and Where Was Bocce Ball Invented?

There is no better way to spend a lovely day outside than playing a good game of bocce ball.  As the balls roll out on the court, you may begin to wonder just when and where this magical sport was invented. There is some speculation about the grassroots of bocce ball, but you may be surprised to find out that this sport has been around for a very long time. 

Bocce ball was invented in Egypt dating back as early as 5200 BC, but how it evolved from its early primitive form of tossing stones at one another to an organized Olympic sport in the mid-1800s is due to thousands of years of passing the game between various locations and cultures. 

Fanatics of this sport are probably still wondering where the bocce balls were rolling between the massive 6,000-year gap from its ancient origin to when it became officially organized and embedded in our culture. But have no fear; keep reading to learn what happened in this historical gap with bocce ball.

Brief Bocce Ball History

Bocce ball is one of the oldest sports in the world and has moved around our globe extensively.

As far as we know, it all began in Egypt around 5200 BC, since a painting was discovered of a crude version of the game in action. 

Bocce Ball in Greece

Bocce ball is thought to have made its way through Asia and the Middle East to where it eventually arrived in Greece by 600 BC—where the Romans would later pick up on the sport.

During bocce’s Greek and Roman era, the game was often played by soldiers between battles to stave off boredom. It was during this period that bocce began to blossom and become commonly practiced. Today, bocce ball, as we know it, is highly credited to the Roman Empire.

Here’s a quick video with some interesting facts about how bocce evolved over the years:

Bocce Ball in Europe

Bocce ball’s evolution took a big leap in Southern France and Northern Italy during the House of Savoy Dynasty, which was in power from 1003AD–1860AD. During this period, pictures and paintings began to pop up—showing accurate depictions of a modernized version of the sport. (By 1519, bocce was popular throughout Europe). Italy later adopted and established bocce ball as an official sport in the mid-1800s.

By the time the 19th and 20th century rolled in, the sport was so popular and widely known that little has changed in the rules and layout since. In fact, in 1900, it made its first appearance in the Olympics.

(Source: World Bocce)

Check out our Bocce Ball Rules Guide to see how the game is played today.

Origins of Bocce Ball’s Name and Terms

Like many linguistic origins, Latin has played a role in shaping bocce ball’s name. Upon bocce’s arrival in Greece, the Latin word “bottia,” which means “boss” was coined for the sport and has stuck around ever since.

However, Italians have made the most contributions to the terminology associated with bocce ball. The word “bocce” stems from the Italian word “boccia,” which translates to “ball.” An alternative name to “bocce” is “volo,” which means “to fly”—this name refers to the strategic move of throwing the ball at your opponents.

Another set standard term within bocce is the “pallino,” which is the smaller ball used to get the game in motion. However, since bocce’s popularization in The United States during the 1980s, the widely accepted term, “Jack,” has served as an alternative for pallino.

Origins of the Bocce Ball

For a major part of bocce’s history, the sport was played with stones. However, as it became more popularized, wooden balls were adopted.

These wooden balls were usually made with boxwood, beech, or elm. But, since the wood would often become damaged and worn quickly due to its use across a hard and rocky court, by the 1870s, blacksmiths’ nails were used to help make them more durable and give players a competitive edge.

The use of nails also brought out a sense of artistry within players, as many began to create their own custom designs and personalize the aesthetic of their bocce balls.

By the 1920s, metal-crafting technology created the bocce balls we use today. Most modern bocce balls weigh 900g-1200g and have a diameter of 90mm-110mm (to accommodate the different hand sizes of players).

(Source: Bocce Volo)

How Bocce Ball Became an Organized Sport

While this sport has been played for thousands of years, it did not always have the clarity and consistency with rules and regulations it has today.

During the mid-1800s, Italian leader, Giuseppe Garibaldi, put the ball in motion by popularizing bocce in Italy and making it a national sport. It is to this day the second most popular sport in the country. This sort of exposure led to the creation of bocce ball leagues, tournaments, and eventually, in 1900, its inclusion in the Olympic Games. 

Meanwhile, the sport had begun to gain popularity in France, and the following institutions were formed to oversee and regulate the sport:

  • The Federacion International de Boules (FIB)
  • Cofereration Mondiale de Sport de Boules (CSMB)

Over a century after bocce’s huge growth in Europe, Americans eventually caught on and developed The World Bocce League. All of these organizations have played a major role in encouraging more people to play the sport globally.

Why is Bocce Ball So Popular Today?

Bocce ball is the third most popular sport globally, with millions of avid players primarily in Europe, Australia, North America, and South America. There are many reasons why this sport attracts so many different players worldwide throughout history, and to this day: the key element is versatility.

Check out our Bocce Ball Set Cost And Compare Guide to see all the different options out there to choose from.

Here are some reasons why players feel inclined to hit the bocce ball court:

  • It’s easy. Conceptually, the game is not rocket science, with players of all ages being able to grasp the rules and objectives within minutes.
  • You don’t need to be an athlete. Not everyone has the physical endurance or strength to run up and down a soccer pitch. With bocce ball, all you need is a working hand. This attracts many elderly players and physically disabled individuals; this also makes bocce ball a sport with a level playing field, allowing competition to be balanced for all who play.
  • It’s inexpensive. With some bocce ball sets costing as little as just $20, this is a sport everyone can enjoy and afford.
  • It can be played practically anywhere. All you really need is your bocce ball set and a flat surface. You can set up a game in your backyard, your neighborhood park, or—if you want a more professional setting—many country clubs have official courts set up.
  • It’s fun. Bocce ball is a fun sport that you can casually play with your family or competitively with your friends.

Historically, bocce ball has merely required a handful of stones and an opponent.  While since its inception in Egypt, we have modernized the game a bit, the reasons we continue to play have not changed much at all.

In Summary

History tells us that bocce ball is ancient and Egyptian—dating back to 5200BC. While the concept has been around for thousands of years, the sport wasn’t officially established and embedded into our culture until the mid-1800s in Italy. 

There are many reasons why bocce ball has been around for so long—it’s versatile, easy to learn and pick up, and does not demand much physical or mental work. It’s one of the oldest sports in human history, but with these attractive features, it has quickly become the third most popular sport in the world.

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