Kottabos- The ancient Greek drinking game

 
 
 
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Apparantly convined that just drinking wasn’t good enough, ancient Greeks had an even better idea of fun – Kottabos. A very messy drinking game from the 5th and 4th centuries BC, it involved flinging dregs of wine accross the room. It usually ended with everyone drenched in wine and puddles all over the floor, which just meant more work for the slaves.

Fresco from the Tomb of the Diver, depicting a Kottabos player (center). 475 BC. Paestum National Museum, Italy.
Fresco from the Tomb of the Diver, depicting Kottabos players (center). 475 BC. Paestum National Museum, Italy.

Reportedly, the game originated from Sicily and spread to Rhodes, and it became highly popular in Athens and at Etruscan drinking parties. Kottabos involved men gathered in a circle drinking wine from their cups and then flinging what was left at the center of the room.

A female aulos-player entertains men at a symposium c. 420 BC Photo Credit
A female aulos-player entertains men at a symposium c. 420 BC Photo Credit

The room in which the game was played, called an andron, was an all-male chamber, so women weren’t allowed inside. Some ancient Greek vases are decorated with imagery of the game, which depicts the players on a couches throwing cups of wine. Many references to this game have died out and it is mostly forgotten.

The Kottabos player’s main goal was to knock down a disc that was balanced on a metal rod in the middle of the room, and to further the excitement, they would state out loud the objects or people that they most desired. In another variation of the drinking game, the inebriated players had to toss their wine cups into small dishes that floated in a larger bowl of water and attempt to get them to sink.

Kottabos player. Interior from an Attic red-figure kylix, ca. 510 BC.
Kottabos player. Interior from an Attic red-figure kylix, ca. 510 BC.

Supposedly, the throwing technique that was used was very similar to the motion of throwing a frisbee. If the player missed his mark, the cups would splatter wine all over the person at the other end of the room. To complicate the game further, players would wager bets to predict the victor. Though the game required skill and a good aim, sheer luck was also an important factor in deciding the winner.

A woman with a kylix in her hand. In the centre, a stand for playing kottabos. To the right, a slave
A woman with a kylix in her hand. In the center, a stand for playing kottabos. To the right, a slave

Despite the messy outcome of the game, the players would settle a lot of internal affairs while in their state of drunken stupor. This game was only one of the many escapades the ancient Greeks participated, in as they sought to find countless other ways to appease Dionysus, the God of festivities.