Nine thousand years ago people played games similar to Bocce. Polished round stone balls with evident signs of having been rolled on the ground were found in Çatalhöyük, modern Turkey, and in an Egyptian tomb dated 3500 b.C. The Greeks played Bocce and Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, considered it a healthy activity for the young and old. But it was the Romans that made it famous throughout the Empire. They invented wooden Bocce, cheaper and easier to make and to carry around. Emperor Augustus had a personal set made out of fine olive tree roots.
All this happiness bothered some aristocrats who did their best to ban it. Among them, French kings Charles IV in 1319 and Charles V in 1369, followed by the English kings Richard II in 1388, Henry IV in 1401, and Henry VIII, the king who had six wives, divorced two and had two beheaded.
Strangely enough, more somber people like Martin Luther (1483–1546), the German monk credited with initiating the Protestant Reformation, and John Calvin (1509-1564), the founder of Calvinism, found Bocce a fantastic game. According to legend, Sir Francis Drake refused to set out to defend England against the Spanish Armada until he finished a Bocce game, and we find Bocce in Rabelais’ novels, in Shakespeare's Richard II, in Peter Bruegel the Elder's paintings.
Thanks to Italian immigrants, Bocce has come to flourish in the United States although we find signs of the game before the 1800s: one early playing field was Bowling Green at the southern tip of Manhattan and we know that George Washington built a Bocce court at Mount Vernon.
Nowadays, the United States Bocce Federation (USBF) promotes it as a sport and has been sending the best American players to world championships since 1979. They are part of a movement that is trying to get Bocce into the Olympics.
You can find courts almost everywhere but you can also play it on lawns, on the beach, wherever you find a leveled field. All you need is 8 colored balls, in two different colors or four different colors, and a pallino (smaller ball).
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