Kottabos: The World’s First Drinking Game

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If you’ve grown tired of throwing ping-pong balls into solo cups or bouncing quarters into shot glasses, perhaps you’d like to give Kottabos a try?

This ancient game, first played at Greek and Etruscan parties in the 4th century BC, involved flicking wine deposits at a target across the room.

Sound messy? It absolutely was, however the Greeks knew how to party. Whenever they threw a symposia (a drinking party) things tended to get pretty wild.

How to play

The player’s goal was to fling the thick wine lees (wine deposits) left in the bottom of his or her drinking cup towards a small figurine sitting atop a bronze lamp stand.

If the player hit the small figurine correctly, it would tumble down to a disc halfway down the stand called the manes. When the figure hit the manes, it would ring like a bell.

Sounds pretty simple right? It was, however the player was not allowed to stand up or approach the lamp stand. They had to fling their wine from their seat in their natural sitting position, as pictured below:

Kottabos required a surprising amount of skill and dexterity. Players who excelled at the game were highly regarded and comparable to a proficient javelin thrower.

Variations

As the ancient world’s favorite drinking game spread to different areas, players began to modify the rules to suit their tastes.

The game had gotten so popular that at festivals in Sicily, a special circular building was erected just to play Kottabos. Instead of just sitting at a table drinking, players were organized in a ring surrounding the bronze lamp stand. They would then take turns clockwise, making the game go faster.

There was also a version of Kottabos that used floating saucers instead of the lamp stand. Players would try and fill the saucers with wine lees, causing them to sink in a bowl of water.

Even though the game was famously Greek, historians believe that it was originally created by the Sicilians.

So next time you’re at a party and you find yourself near a bronze lamp stand, whip out the wine and start flinging. The host won’t mind, we promise.

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