This massive tome and its accompanying volume of plates are an encyclopedic study in text and image of scenes of sports and athletic activities from ancient Egypt. Decker has long been the leading researcher on ancient Egyptian sport, and much of the introductory text of this volume is a resumption and elaboration of his earlier works, Quellentexte zu Sport und Korperkultur (Sankt Augustin: Verlag Hans Richarz, 1975), Sport und Spiel im alten Agypten (Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 1987), issued as Sports and Games in Ancient Egypt (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1992). The present work, with its more detailed text and visual presentation of so many of the documents, supersedes the previous works.
The authors' definition of "sport" is broad, including archery, hunting, acrobatics, boxing, wrestling, stick fighting, chariot driving, board games, and running and jumping games. It also includes cult activities which one might expect to be outside the range of sport, such as the sed festival, a ritual of rejuvenation of the king, which incorporated a ritual run, jousting boatmen, mww-dancers, musicians, and swimming girls.
The authors not only champion the idea that the sporting tradition and pure sports are far older in Egypt than in Greece, tracing them to the Nile Valley in the third millennium B.C. (p. 12), but they suggest that Egyptian activities were the model upon which some famous classical contests were patterned. They cite in particular the Egyptian scenes of Amunhotep II as archer, which they take to be the inspiration for the tale of Odysseus in the Odyssey (pp. 141-42).
The authors' evaluation of whether an activity with a ritual or utilitarian nature is actually a "sport" is, as they themselves admit, not easy, or even always clear. For example, the authors argue that chariot driving scenes of the New Kingdom constitute sport, although there is no evidence of chariot racing in ancient Egypt. Such scenes are included on the basis of the many New Kingdom scenes of chariots which are associated with sports, such as archery (p. 191). They are careful to note the symbolic nature of many of the "sports," as diverse as dancing, jousting, and archery.
In spite of the size of the volume, its clear organization makes it easy to use. The activities are arranged by general topic (cult scenes, archery, chariot driving, hunting, combat sports, games, acrobatics and dancing, and water activities) and then grouped into more detailed categories. For...