EXPULSIM LUDERE


    Handball (expulsim ludere) was exceedingly popular among the Romans. They used a single wall, playing what is known today as one-walled handball. Handball courts existed at the baths and in private villas, but almost any wall would do for this purpose. Undoubtedly children and boys played this game in the streets.

     Although the rules that the Romans played by are not recorded, there is certainly not much leeway for variation. They most probably played to a score of 21. The dimensions of the court could be expected to be about the same as modern courts. The ball was larger than the one used today, and likely did not bounce quite as well, but the court dimensions could not suffer much shrinkage as a result. But no markings indicating the exact dimensions have survived the ages.

     The ball-courts (sphaerista) served multiple purposes, and handball was definitely one of them. It is less certain that they would have used the playing fields (palaestra) for handball. In the diagram at right, of the baths at Herculaneum, the area labeled palaestra served the purpose of a sphaerista; it has a hard court and is too small for games like harpastum. The palaestra usually had, or was defined by, surrounding walls, but the playing field itself was dirt, and unless hard-packed, would have made a poor surface for handball.

    The image above is a rdrawn wall relief which shows children, both boys and girls, playing expulsim ludere. The original relief has been lost and oly these drawings remain.

     The playing of racketball is highly unlikely. Although there is some suggestion in the literature that the Romans had a racket for some kind of tennis game, no evidence for this has been found. They did, however, have a kind of hard glove for a version of this game. The larger, heavier, hand-made leather balls would not be likely to survive the punishment of a racketball style game.

     Alexander Adam provides this translation from (Lucan and Pison):

      Those who played at ball were said ludere raptim, vel pilam revocare cadentem, when they struck it rebounding from the ground.

    And also this passage from Plautus:

      If a small (pila), they drove it with the hand, armed with a kind of gauntlet, hence called the follis pugillatorius.
    Here is a passage from Paulinus Pellaeus that may be in regard to hand-ball, or possibly Trigon:

      "...readily settling down to the pursuit of youthful desires -- as to have... a tinselled ball, fresh brought from Rome, to serve me in my games of pitching."