Bocce

compiled by Modar Neznanich

History

The beginnings of Bocce (or Boccie) have been lost over time. However, the English scientist, Sir Francis Petrial, discovered in an Egyptian tomb a painting of what appears to be two boys playing a game in which they tossing balls or polished stones. The representation has been dated to as early as 5200 BC.

It is known that the game similar to Bocce spread throughout the Middle East and Asia, and to Greece around 600 BC. The first records of what is definitely bocce, are from accounts of the Romans playing the game. It was especially popular with the Roman soldiers who played it as a pastime between battles during the Punic Wars about 264 BC. They made bocce balls out of many things, from coconuts brought back from Africa to olive wood. The game quickly gained status and there are indications that it was even played by the Emperor Augustus. Apparently the Romans spread the game around the world as the Roman Empire invaded different countries.

The game enjoyed a rapid growth throughout Europe, becoming a sport played by nobility and peasants alike. During the Middle Ages its popularity seems to have spread to the point of obsession, because it was stated that it interfered with the security of the state of many kingdoms as it took too much time away from archery practice and other military exercises.

Because of this, in the late 1200s, King Charles IV of France, and then in the early 1300s, King Charles V of France, prohibited the playing of bocce. In 1388, King Richard II of England prohibited the game. During the reigns of King Henry IV and King Edward IV, the ban was renewed but for commoners only. (It remained in effect in England until 1845, although it was seldom observed.)

The popularity of the game reached such a level in Italy that on December 11, 1576, the Republic of Venice publicly condemned the sport, punishing those who played with fines and imprisonment. Perhaps most grave was the condemnation by the Catholic Church which deterred the laity and officially prohibited clergyman from playing the game by proclaiming bocce a means of gambling.

The game thrived amongst the nobles of Great Britain. Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Drake were avid fans. Perhaps the most historically significant game of bocce, at least according to legend, was played in 1588 by Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins. Upon receiving news of the Spanish Armada's impending arrival, Sir Frances Drake refused to set out to defend England until he finished a game. He proclaimed, "First we finish the game, then we’ll deal with the Armada!"

 

Equipment

A Bocce set is composed of 9 balls. One small "target ball" called a Pallino and eight Bocce balls (four each of two different colors). In period, the Bocce balls were usually wooden, and about the size of a coconut. The Pallino was about the size of a modern golfball.

The modern official size Bocce ball has a diameter of 4 1/5", a circumference of 13 1/2", a weight of 2 lbs. 2oz., and is usually made of phenolic resin. The Pallino, also made of phenolic resin, is still about the size and weight of a modern golfball.

A measuring tape, while not required, can be useful (or a simple piece of string to help judge distances).

 

Rules

While there are modern rules with formal "courts" on which to play, most of games played up through the Middle Ages was done in a style that is today called "Open Bocce". This means it may be played almost anywhere on a variety of surfaces, in the back yard or front yard, on a smooth lawn or rough grass, along a dirt road or grassy meadow, on a sandy beach, on level ground or hilly terrain. Variety in surface and terrain calls for variety in skills and techniques of play, producing a game rich in surprise and suspense.

You need two equal teams to play Bocce, with either one, two or four persons per team.

Determine in some fair manner, which team will start.

Determine a "foul line" that players must stay behind when they toss or bowl their Bocce balls.

Standing behind the foul line, the target ball, called the "Pallino," is thrown out by a member of the starting team. He may toss the target ball any distance (and in Open Bocce, any direction) that he chooses.

Staying behind the foul line, the same player then rolls or throws his first Bocce Ball only. He then steps aside and does not bowl again until the opposing side has gotten one of its Bocce Balls closest to the Pallino

Then a player on the opposing team rolls and tries to place his balls nearer the target ball.

The side whose Bocce is closest to the Pallino is called "Inside" and the opposing side "Outside." Whenever a team gets "Inside" it steps aside and lets the "Outside" team bowl.

This continues until one side has played all of its Bocce Balls.

Then the remaining team may toss its remaining balls, trying to gain additional points.

One point is awarded to a given team for every ball that is closer to the Pallino than the closest ball of the opposing team. (In the case of a tie, no points are awarded.)

A game is 12 points.

The team that wins a round starts play in the next round (tosses the Pallino).

Balls are delivered underhand or overhand, in one of two motions: they can be tossed through the air or bowled. The ball must leave the hand before the player oversteps the foul line.

Strategies can include knocking away an opponent's ball, knocking the Pallino to change its position, and using the terrain to bank shots.

 

Bocce Bowling Techniques

The traditional game of bocce calls for three basic styles or methods of play:

1. The Puntata or Gentle Method. This method is the most widely used. It relies on a slow, moderate approach and method to gently roll the bocce ball as close as possible to the target ball. It is of particular advantage where the court surface is smooth, level and generally free of debris. The player delivers the ball in a bent-over or crouched position so that the ball is released in a slow rolling motion. This method requires a gentle touch. The skillful puntatore will try to roll his bocce ball as close to the target ball as possible with a minimum of force, generally following a path in the middle of the playing surface. The puntata method is best used early in play when there are no other balls to block the path to the target, and where the surface is very smooth - allowing the bocce ball to travel a true path.

2. The Volo or Strong Flying Method. This technique the bocce ball is tossed in the air, aimed to land on or near the target ball. It requires that the bocce ball be tossed high in the air (not unlike a curve softball pitch) with a reverse spin at the moment of release. This spin will cause the ball to stop at the point of impact. Obviously the volo shot requires a high degree of accuracy that only practice can achieve. The volo player must not only gauge the proper distance but also the degree of spin that will produce the most effective shot.

3. The Raffa or Strong Shot Method. This technique is "smash" shot similar to the volo shot, but in this method the ball is not lobbed. It is executed close to the ground. This is not a precision shot, but is rather aimed at dislodging an opponent's ball or disrupting a well-placed formation. In order to gain proper momentum, these shots require a "trotting" approach. The player should start far back on the court, take a few running steps, and release the bocce ball prior to crossing the foul line. Once having released the ball, the player’s arm should continue briskly in the direction of the shot in a follow-through motion.

 


1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008  Ron Knight (Baron Modar Neznanich, OPel)
e-mail:
modar@everestkc.net

Permission to Print

Back to Modar's Game Page

         
SCA   -   General Intro to the SCA
         
New Member Information   -   Articles to help folks new to the SCA
         
Modar's Heraldry Page   -   Information about SCA Heraldry
         
SCA Groups - KC   -   Information about SCA group in and around Kansas City metro area
         
SCA Activities   -   Information on arts, crafts and sciences in the SCA,
as well as combat, archery and equestrian activities.