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Episkyros (Greek: ἐπίσκυρος; also called ἐπίκοινος epikoinos, "commonball") was an ancient Greek ball game. Highly teamwork oriented, the game was played between two teams of usually 12 to 14 players each, with one ball and the rules of the game which allowed using hands. Although it was a ball game, it was violent, at least in Sparta. The teams would try to throw the ball over the heads of the other team. There was a white line called the skuros between the teams and another white line behind each team. Teams would change the ball often until one of the team was forced behind the line at their end. In Sparta a form of episkyros was played during an annual city festival that included five teams of 14 players. It was played primarily by men but women also practiced it. The Greek game of episkyros (or a similar game called φαινίνδα - phaininda, probably meaning "deceiving game", from the verb φενακίζω - phenakizo, "(I) cheat, lie") was later adopted by the Romans, who renamed and transformed it into harpastum, the latinisation of the Greek ἁρπαστόν (harpaston), neuter of ἁρπαστός (harpastos), "carried away", from the verb ἁρπάζω (harpazo), "(I) seize, snatch".
A depiction in low relief on the belly of the vase displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens. shows a Greek athlete balancing a ball on his thigh. This image is reproduced on the European Cup football trophy. Other ancient Greek sports with a ball besides phaininda, were: ἀπόῤῥαξις (aporrhaxis) (bouncing ball game), οὐρανία (ourania), "throwing a ball high in air game" and maybe the σφαιρομαχία (sphairomachia), literally "ball-battle", from σφαῖρα (sphaira) "ball, sphere" and μάχη (mache), "battle"., although it has been argued that the σφαιρομαχία is in fact a boxing competition (the "spheres" being in fact a kind of gloves).
Julius Pollux includes phaininda and harpastum in a list of ball games:
Phaininda takes its name from Phaenides, who first invented it, or from phenakizein (to deceive), because they show the ball to one man and then throw to another, contrary to expectation. It is likely that this is the same as the game with the small ball, which takes its name from harpazein (to snatch) and perhaps one would call the game with the soft ball by the same name.
In ancient Greece a game with elements of football, episkuros, or harpaston, was played, and it had migrated to Rome as harpastum by the 2nd century BC.