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ROMAN AND GREEK ERA
The ancient Greeks and the Romans were already playing a game similar to pétanque, with round stones for the first ones (“sphericals”), and wooden boules encircled with iron for the second ones. The Greeks favored force, throwing their boules as far as possible. The Romans preferred skill. They are, in a way, the inventors of the “but” or “cochonnet”.
BABARIAN ERA AND THE MIDDLE AGES
With the advent of the barbarian invasions, the game of boules went to sleep…to wake up better in the Middle Ages. During this era, boules players were called the “bouleurs”.
The game had so much success that, in the 14th century, both Charles IV and then Charles V banned it! The sovereigns preferred that their subjects trained themselves in more useful exercises such as archery.
However, at the beginning of the 16th century, they found grace in the eyes of Pope Julius II.
Wishing to make the Holy See the major Italian power, he mobilized the best bouleurs from his state. Grouped into a formidable stone throwers company, they brilliantly illustrated themselves against the French, the Venetians, and the Spanish.
THE RETURN OF BOULES FROM ITALY
With the French-Italian wars, the game of boules came back to France. Rabelais himself said: “There is neither rheumatism nor other similar ailments that we can’t overcome by this game: it is suitable for all ages, from early childhood to old age”.
And so, the game of boules took on more and more amplitude. France and Italy were in the forefront, and already differenced appeared. In France, the traditional wooden boules became covered in nails, whereas they were varnished on the peninsula. In 1629, another stoppage: faced with competition from boules, the makers of racquets (tennis ancestor) plotted and obtained a ban on the game of boules.
A ban which had little effect: boules playing continued, discreetly, in particular in monasteries. It was, moreover, the monks who constructed the first covered terrains! In the end, the ban was lifted several years later.
BOULES IN MARSEILLE
In 1792, in Marseille, a game of boules resulted in…38 deaths! This didn’t happen because of some teasing à la marseillaise, nor was it over a point dispute! In fact, the game was being played in a convent where powder barrels were being stored, and the soldiers were using cannon balls as boules!
The eminent physicist and mathematician André-Marie Ampère also played boules, but with normal ones, meaning nailed boules. The game was most certainly similar to that of Jeu Provençal, which is played in the Midi. As is customary, the players take several steps before throwing their boule with impetus.
THE BIRTH OF PETANQUE
It was only in 1907 that the game without impetus was born, the real pétanque. Its name comes from the provençal “pèd tanco”, which means “feet planted”. It is played on a shorter terrain, and from within a circle traced on the ground the player throws the boule, without impetus. The formula was successful, and in 1908 the first official contest was held in La Ciotat, a little city to the east of Marseille. A few years earlier, in 1904, an Alsatian by the name of Félix Rofritsch had created his first nailed boules in his workshop in the Rue des Fabres in the center of Marseille. It was the beginning of the big adventure of La Boule Bleue.
There exist, however, a large number of games of boules in France and abroad. Over time, we find many games of skill practiced around the world using boules of stone, clay or wood, with rules different to those of pétanque, like the Jeu Lyonnais, Bocce, Green Bowls, etc.
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