The sport dubbed simply as the Ball Game was extremely popular across Mesoamerica and played by all the key civilizations ranging from the Olmecs to the Aztecs. The fascinating stone courts became a major feature of a city’s sacred complex. For the game there were often several playing courts within a single city. It was more than just a cheerful game. The event could boast a religious significance and could be traced in episodes of Mesoamerican mythology. By the way, the contests supplied candidates for human sacrifice, so for the participants it was often a game of life or death.
The given game was invented during the Preclassical Period (2500-100 BCE), most likely by the Olmec, and it became a typical Mesoamerican-wide feature of the urban landscape by the Classical Period (300-900 CE). The game was exported to other cultures across North America as well as the Caribbean.
In Mesoamerican mythology the game is considered to be a crucial element in the story of the Maya gods Vucub Hunahpú and Hun Hunahpú. This pair dared to annoy the gods of the underworld with their noisy playing, so the two brothers were lured into the underworld, dubbed Xibalba, where they both were challenged to a ball game. Having lost the game, Hun Hunahpús was executed – his head was severed. Later it became a common practice for players, who happen to lose a game.
According to another legend, a prominent ball game was held in Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital between the Aztec king Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin and the king of Texcoco. By the way, the latter had predicted that Motecuhzoma’s kingdom would collapse and the game was set-up in order to establish the truth of this shocking prediction. Eventually, Motecuhzoma lost the game and as a result, lost his kingdom – it was captured by the invaders from the Old World. The story also backs the idea that the ball game was often utilized for divination.
Courts appeared to be a part of a city’s sacred precinct. As follows from this, the ball game was more than just a sport game. In fact early Preclassic playing courts were quite primitive, flattened-earth rectangles. However, by the Late Formative Period those courts evolved into more spectacular areas which were made up of a flat rectangular surface set between two parallel stone walls. Every side could feature a huge vertical stone ring set high into the wall. As for the walls, they could be perpendicular or sloping away from the participants, while the ends of the court could be left open though defined using markers as well as other layouts.
The sport dubbed simply as the Ball Game was extremely popular across Mesoamerica and played by all the key civilizations ranging from the Olmecs to the Aztecs. The fascinating stone courts became a major feature of a city’s sacred complex. For the game there were often several playing courts within a single city. It was more than just a cheerful game.