Children’s Games

By: Musa Baran

Originally Published in 1974

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Child’s play—it is not as simple as we think. Men and even animals begin their lives in play. Grandfathers pass their final happy days playing with their grandchildren. Chil­dren learn more easily in games and they make their friends most readily while playing. And in play their personality is also formed. Goethe’s dictum, “The greatest fortune of Earth’s children is only their personality,” is still true.

Everywhere there appears to be a sim­ilarity among children’s games. One discovers no great differences between countries, peo­ples, and times. We read in the works of Homer about some games; most popular were the following children’s games: ball playing, the game of knuckle-bones, playing with wasps, playing in the sand, and playing with tops. These games are still played in his coun­try, in West Anatolia,

We see an especially beautiful depiction on a relief from the 8th century B.C., which was found in Carchemish. The toys are visible in the hands of the children: they are bones and tops. In antiquity these bones were called “astragalos.” Tops were called “strom­bos.” Today we hear this latter word from the children in West Anatolia, who say:

“Ena mena donsi, donsi donsi strambonsi, strambos, strambos, dingili badem tos.” This is how they count to choose sides at the beginning of a game.

Children playing with “astragaloi” were a popular theme for depiction in ancient times. But in the statue here we do not see a girl playing, but rather a fortune-teller. This player is thus not lost in thought. Even present-day children use these bones for fortune-telling.

The amphora in the Vatican, which Exekias painted around 525 B.C., shows us warriors at play. They were probably playing “mill.” Not only the warriors did this; some­times even the philosophers played it with children. The elements of this game are well known. We see “mill” drawings even in later times on the streets, steps and everywhere in ancient cities. Still today our children play this game.

On the statue base which was made in Athens around 500 B.C. we see ball playing, stick ball, and catch. Ball playing and catch are very widespread. But this ball game with sticks is played only in a village which lies between Teas and Klazomenai. In this village—Badem­ler—we find still other ancient traditions.

We see this similarity also in other games: pickaback, rolling a hoop, playing with nuts, board games, and still others.

Another board game, something like pachisi, was probably played with dice in an­tiquity. Today our children play it in Bademler with sticks.

Today the children play hop-scotch with a flat stone in squares. They call it “nos.” This word also derives from ancient times. There is a similarity between this game and the ancient “nux emara” or “ostrakinda.”

Still another example for a common game is known to us today from Turkey, Germany, and Russia:

“Nokta nokta virgul hat, al sana koca bir surat.”

“Punkt punkt komma strich, fertig ist das mondgesicht.”

“Tocka tocka zapi taya, nosik rotik aborotik,”

[Period, period, comma, dash, the moon-man’s face is finished.)

Now we can conclude from this:

“Our children have only their own world. They create this beauty themselves, Thank God. There are no national or religious influ­ences in this field.”

So let the children play.

Cite This Article

Baran, Musa. "Children’s Games." Expedition Magazine 17, no. 1 (September, 1974): -. Accessed February 25, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/childrens-games/


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