A ball is a round, usually spherical
A sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in three-dimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball. Like a circle in two dimensions, a perfect sphere is completely symmetrical around its center, with all points on the surface lying the same distance r from the center point...

 but sometimes ovoid, object with various uses. It is used in ball game
Ball game
In American English, ball game refers specifically to either a game of basketball, baseball or American football. In British English ball game refers to any sport played with a ball....

s, where the play of the game follows the state of the ball as it is hit, kicked or thrown by players. Balls can also be used for simpler activities, such as catch, marbles
A marble is a small spherical toy usually made from glass, clay, steel, or agate. These balls vary in size. Most commonly, they are about ½ inch in diameter, but they may range from less than ¼ inch to over 3 inches , while some art glass marbles fordisplay purposes are over 12 inches ...

 and juggling
Juggling is a skill involving moving objects for entertainment or sport. The most recognizable form of juggling is toss juggling, in which the juggler throws objects up to catch and toss up again. This may be one object or many objects, at the same time with one or many hands. Jugglers often refer...

. Balls made from hard-wearing materials are used in engineering
Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of...

 applications to provide very low friction bearings, known as ball bearings. Black powder weapons use stone and metal balls as projectile
A projectile is any object projected into space by the exertion of a force. Although a thrown baseball is technically a projectile too, the term more commonly refers to a weapon....


Although many types of balls are today made from rubber
Natural rubber, also called India rubber or caoutchouc, is an elastomer that was originally derived from latex, a milky colloid produced by some plants. The plants would be ‘tapped’, that is, an incision made into the bark of the tree and the sticky, milk colored latex sap collected and refined...

, this form was unknown outside the Americas until after the voyages of Columbus
Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus was an explorer, colonizer, and navigator, born in the Republic of Genoa, in northwestern Italy. Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean that led to general European awareness of the American continents in the...

. The Spanish were the first Europeans to see bouncing rubber balls (albeit solid and not inflated) which were employed most notably in the Mesoamerican ballgame
Mesoamerican ballgame
The Mesoamerican ballgame or Tlatchtli in Náhuatl was a sport with ritual associations played since 1,000 B.C. by the pre-Columbian peoples of Ancient Mexico and Central America...

. Balls used in various sports in other parts of the world prior to Columbus were made from other materials such as animal bladders or skins, stuffed with various materials.

As balls are one of the most familiar spherical objects to humans, the word "ball" is used to refer to, or to describe, anything spherical or near-spherical.


The first known use of the word ball in English in the sense of a globular body that is played with was in 1205 in in the phrase, "" The word came from the Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 bal (inflected as ball-e, -es, in turn from Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

 böllr from Proto-Germanic ballu-z, (whence probably Middle High German bal, ball-es, Middle Dutch bal), a cognate
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. This learned term derives from the Latin cognatus . Cognates within the same language are called doublets. Strictly speaking, loanwords from another language are usually not meant by the term, e.g...

 with Old High German
Old High German
The term Old High German refers to the earliest stage of the German language and it conventionally covers the period from around 500 to 1050. Coherent written texts do not appear until the second half of the 8th century, and some treat the period before 750 as 'prehistoric' and date the start of...

 ballo, pallo, Middle High German balle from Proto-Germanic *ballon (weak masculine), and Old High German ballâ, pallâ, Middle High German balle, Proto-Germanic *ballôn (weak feminine). No Old English representative of any of these is known. (The answering forms in Old English would have been beallu, -a, -e -- compare bealluc, ballock.) If ball- was native in Germanic, it may have been a cognate with the Latin foll-is in sense of a "thing blown up or inflated." In the later Middle English spelling balle the word coincided graphically with the French balle "ball" and "bale" which has hence been erroneously assumed to be its source. French balle (but not boule) is assumed to be of Germanic origin, itself, however.


A ball, as the essential feature in many forms of gameplay requiring physical exertion, must date from the very earliest times. A rolling object appeals not only to a human baby but to a kitten
A kitten is a juvenile domesticated cat.The young of big cats are called cubs rather than kittens. Either term may be used for the young of smaller wild felids such as ocelots, caracals, and lynx, but "kitten" is usually more common for these species....

 and a puppy
A puppy is a juvenile dog. Some puppies may weigh , while larger ones can weigh up to . All healthy puppies grow quickly after birth. A puppy's coat color may change as the puppy grows older, as is commonly seen in breeds such as the Yorkshire Terrier...

. Some form of game with a ball is found portrayed on Egyptian
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 monuments, and is played among aboriginal tribes at the present day. In Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

, Nausicaa
Nausicaa is a character in Homer's Odyssey . She is the daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of Phaeacia. Her name, in Greek, means "burner of ships".-Role in the Odyssey:...

 was playing at ball with her maidens when Odysseus
Odysseus or Ulysses was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in the Epic Cycle....

 first saw her in the land of the Phaeacians (Od. vi. 100). And Halios and Laodamas performed before Alcinous
Alcinous or Alkínoös was, in Greek mythology, a son of Nausithous, or of Phaeax , and father of Nausicaa, Halius, Clytoneus and Laodamas with Arete. His name literally means "mighty mind"...

 and Odysseus with ball play, accompanied with dancing (Od. viii. 370). The Hebrews have no mention of the ball in their scriptures.

Ancient Greeks

Among the Greeks
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 games with balls (σφαῖραι) were regarded as a useful subsidiary to the more violent athletic exercises, as a means of keeping the body supple, and rendering it graceful, but were generally left to boys and girls. Of regular rules for the playing of ball games, little trace remains, if there were any such. The names in Greek for various forms, which have come down to us in such works as the Ὀνομαστικόν of Pollux of Naucratis
Naucratis or Naukratis, , loosely translated as " power over ships" , was a city of Ancient Egypt, on the Canopic branch of the Nile river, 45 mi SE of the open sea and the later capital of Ptolemaic Egypt, Alexandria...

, imply little or nothing of such; thus, ἀπόρραξις only means the putting of the ball on the ground with the open hand, οὐρανία, the flinging of the ball in the air to be caught by two or more players; φαινίνδα would seem to be a game of catch played by two or more, where feinting is used as a test of quickness and skill. Pollux (i. x. 104) mentions a game called ἐπίσκυρος, which has often been looked on as the origin of football. It seems to have been played by two sides, arranged in lines; how far there was any form of "goal" seems uncertain.

Ancient Romans

Among the Romans
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

, ball games were looked upon as an adjunct to the bath, and were graduated to the age and health of the bathers, and usually a place (sphaeristerium) was set apart for them in the baths (thermae). There appear to have been three types or sizes of ball, the pila, or small ball, used in catching games, the paganica, a heavy ball stuffed with feathers, and the follis, a leather ball filled with air, the largest of the three. This was struck from player to player, who wore a kind of gauntlet on the arm. There was a game known as trigon
Trigon (game)
Trigon was a ball game played by the ancient Romans. It probably involved three players standing in a triangle and passing a hard ball back and forth, catching with the right and throwing with the left hand...

, played by three players standing in the form of a triangle, and played with the follis, and also one known as harpastum
Harpastum, also known as Harpustum, was a form of ball game played in the Roman Empire. The Romans also referred to it as the small ball game. The ball used was small and hard, probably about the size and solidity of a softball...

, which seems to imply a "scrimmage" among several players for the ball. These games are known to us through the Romans, though the names are Greek.

Modern ball games

The various modern games played with a ball or balls and subject to rules are treated under their various names, such as polo
Polo is a team sport played on horseback in which the objective is to score goals against an opposing team. Sometimes called, "The Sport of Kings", it was highly popularized by the British. Players score by driving a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team's goal using a...

, cricket
Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of 11 players on an oval-shaped field, at the centre of which is a rectangular 22-yard long pitch. One team bats, trying to score as many runs as possible while the other team bowls and fields, trying to dismiss the batsmen and thus limit the...

, football
Football may refer to one of a number of team sports which all involve, to varying degrees, kicking a ball with the foot to score a goal. The most popular of these sports worldwide is association football, more commonly known as just "football" or "soccer"...

, etc.

See also

  • Ball (mathematics)
    Ball (mathematics)
    In mathematics, a ball is the space inside a sphere. It may be a closed ball or an open ball ....

  • Buckminster Fullerene "Bucky balls"
  • Football (ball)
    Football (ball)
    A football is an inflated ball used to play one of the various sports known as football.The first balls were made of natural materials, such as an inflated pig bladder, sometimes inside a leather cover...

  • Kickball
    Kickball is a playground game and competitive league game, similar to baseball, invented in the United States in the first half of the 20th Century. Kickball may also be known as kick baseball, base soccer, soccer-base, or soccer-baseball...

  • Marbles
    A marble is a small spherical toy usually made from glass, clay, steel, or agate. These balls vary in size. Most commonly, they are about ½ inch in diameter, but they may range from less than ¼ inch to over 3 inches , while some art glass marbles fordisplay purposes are over 12 inches ...

  • Penny floater
    Penny floater
    A penny floater is a kind of cheap football commonly used by children in the western world. Its name derives from the fact that when they were first developed in the 1960s they cost a penny...

  • Prisoner Ball
  • Shuttlecock
    A shuttlecock, sometimes called a bird or birdie, is a high-drag projectile used in the sport of badminton. It has an open conical shape: the cone is formed from sixteen or so overlapping feathers, usually goose or duck and from the left wing only, embedded into a rounded cork base...

  • Super Ball
    Super Ball
    SuperBalls or bouncy balls is a toy, invented in 1964 by chemist Norman Stingley by compressing a synthetic rubber material under high pressure...

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