The Game (History)

History of the sport

Pétanque is a form of boules where the goal is, (while standing with the feet together in a small circle), to throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (jack). The game is normally played on a gravel surface. Similar games are bocce and bowls.

The current form of the game originated in 1907 in La Ciotat, in Provence, in southern France. The English and French name pétanque comes from la petanca in the Provençal dialect of the Occitan language, deriving from the expression pès tancats, meaning “feet together” or more exactly “feet anchored”.

The casual form of the game of Pétanque is played by about 17 million people in France, mostly during their summer vacations. There are about 300,000 players licensed with the Fédération Française de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FFPJP) and some 3000 registered to the English Pétanque Association in England.

The Ancient Greeks are recorded to have played a game of tossing coins, then flat stones, and later stone balls, called spheristics, trying to hurl them as far as possible, this early form of the game was played in the 6th century B.C. The Ancient Romans modified the game by adding a target that had to be approached as closely as possible. This Roman variation was brought to Provence by Roman soldiers and sailors. A Roman sepulchre in Florence shows people playing this game, stooping down to measure the points.

After the Romans, the stone balls were replaced by wooden balls, with nails to give them greater weight. In the Middle Ages, Erasmus referred to the game as globurum, but it became commonly known as ‘boules,’ or balls, and it was played throughout Europe. King Henry III of England banned the playing of the game by his archers, and in the 14th Century, King Charles IV of France and Charles V of France also forbade the sport to commoners. Only in the 17th century was the ban lifted.

By the 19th century, the sport had become “bowls” or “lawn bowls” in England. in France, it was known as boules, and was played throughout the country. The French artist Meissonnier made two paintings showing people playing the game, and Honoré de Balzac described a match in La Comédie Humaine. In the South of France it had evolved into jeu provençal, similar to today’s pétanque, except that the field was larger and players ran three steps before throwing the ball. The game was played in villages all over Provence, usually on squares of land in the shade of plane trees.

Pétanque in its present form was invented in 1907 in the town of La Ciotat near Marseilles by a French boule lyonnaise player named Jules Lenoir, whom rheumatism prevented from running before he threw the ball. The length of the pitch or field was reduced by roughly half, and the moving delivery was replaced with a stationary one.

The first pétanque tournament with the new rules was organized in 1910 by the brothers Ernest & Joseph Pitiot, proprietors of a café at La Ciotat. After that the sport grew with great speed, and soon became the most popular form of boules. The international Pétanque federation Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal was founded in 1958 in Marseille and has over 600,000 members in worldwide.

Pétanque is the most widely played version of bowls, the simplicity of its rules being one of its main attractions. The boules can be delivered standing, bending or in a squatting position (Pétanque is the only bowling game that is practised in a squatting position). 

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The following section is a translation of two old manuscripts from the 19th century that were written in order to get some uniformity to the rules of the day.  

Two hand-written documents by Aimé Coussin, Paris 19th century

Aimé Coussin was a former bookseller who lived in Paris at the end of the 19th century. He was a passionate boule player for more
than twenty years. But he was very annoyed when he played at other places than the place of his own club, because the others players played in a different way than he was used to. Each time, he wrote in his document, he had to learn the game completely from scratch again. That is why he decided to write some rules, in order that all players, wherever they would play, should play the game of boules in the same way.

There are two documents. The first one has the size of a notebook and consists of 24 pages and the dimensions are 13,5 to 21cm. The second document consists of 20 pages and the dimensions are 17,5 to 21cm. This document seems to be a more elaborated version of the first one. It comprises also some domestic rules.
The French language of the two documents is rather bad. There are a lot of clerical errors, spelling-mistakes and grammatical errors. Most of them are improved as much as possible in the transcribed text. The first document is signed by a friend of Aimé Coussin, Dubois, who gave his approval to the proposed regulations with the text ‘Parfait’, it’s perfect!

These rules have been transcribed from the handwritten originals of Aimé Coussin by. The translation was fairly straightforward, with only a couple of passages where the meaning is less than clear. This was not so much a function of the language, but rather of style.
To some degree this comes through in the translation – imagine the differences there would be between a modern English document and a Victorian English one. As I suppose every translator does, a balance between fidelity to the original and workable English was attempted.
The game discussed is almost certainly being played with large wooden boules, at a distance comparable to Boule Lyonnaise or Bocce of today. It is possible these rules refer to Boules de Berge (a.k.a. Boule Parisienne), a game which has all but vanished in the face of Pétanque. For all the minor changes between their game of boules, and our pétanque, I think you’ll enjoy seeing that some things never change.

Old rules – Translation from French 

Rules of the Game of Boules (1)

The game of boules is one which is daily catching on with more and more enthusiasts in Paris and the outskirts of the capital, and even in the country districts.
The game of boules is an attractive gymnastic exercise, an amusement of skill and spirit. To conduct the game well, so as not to be caught by surprise, so as to prevent large adverse rounds, that’s the spirit of the player who plays the game.

The game of boules is played with three boules or two according to the habits of the players. the jack is called the “cochonnet” (little piggy). The game is played to 11 points, the first one there wins the game. You can play with 2, 4, 6 or 8 players, that’s up to the participants. But the best games are with 4 or 6 players, each with 3 boules.
Like those good games with two boules when there are 6 or 8 players. But, I say, if there are 8 players in a game and each plays 3 boules that makes 24 boules, the last to play won’t enjoy it, and won’t play often enough to stay interested, and in winter it won’t keep them warm.

There is at the same time a bad habit, that’s become the rule, of taking four steps to play. Other clubs take two steps and still others just keep going. All of this is only habit, and all these habits make up the laws of each club. It makes you laugh when you see a pointer take four big steps and throw a short jack. Pointing with big strides like that he’ll pass the jack. Making four big steps, has a ridiculous air about it and makes the youngsters laugh, and they, instead of developing a good attitude,and criticize the bad players and end by saying “now there’s a man who’s gotme beat with regard to striding”. And they’re right, it’s too ridiculous.

The game of boules is more serious than you’d think, and there should be rules for the self-respect of good players. I would propose, according to my belief, making one step to give the force for shooting, or pushing (la refente) and pointing. That will give more gracefulness to the players. What I call a step or movement in playing is the same thing. It will be less the subject of criticism than making four big steps running at the boule or jack, or not making any movement to play. Everyone will get accustomed to it and in the future our young enthusiasts won’t have anything more to say. All these observations that I’m making to you don’t enter into the regulations that I propose. It’s an efficiency and an improvement which sooner or later is for the sake of players. If for example a player leaves his club to join another, he has to do a new apprenticeship to pick up the customs of each club, it’s very disagreeable. I thought that a little set of rules for boules would be useful, and please those gentlemen, the enthusiasts and players of boules, to not have to always argue about this or that situation which arises daily, and that each resolves in his own manner according to his own interest, and which are so often badly decided by stubborn people who don’t know the game, who are often the most obstinate when judging situations out of sheer pride – saying I’m right!

 

Old rules

First manuscript, Rules of the Game of Boules

Article 1
The game is normally played until the first team to make 11 points, wins. The game may be extended according to the pleasure of the players. They must all consent to prolong the match. One lone player may prevent an extension, he shall be within rights. He will say to you “I’m playing to 11 points, I don’t want to prolong it”.
Article 2
As soon as the “little one” (jack) is thrown, it must be marked. He who threw the jack must point first. If he plays only one boule, he has that right. All the players must take their place by the jack which has been marked, this is a requirement.
Article 3
The pointer having thrown the jack far or near according to his pleasure, the opposing team have no say in the matter. The same when their turn comes, far or near, the player is at liberty.
Article 4
The pointer throwing the j
ack, if it’s stopped by the audience, it’s still good. If it’s one
of his teammates and the opposing team approves, then it stays where it is, unless it’s
hidden from view. Then he has the right to re-throw the jack where he wishes. If the
pointer, having
thrown the jack, if it’s hidden, after 3 times, the other pointer from
the opposing team takes the jack. If it’s stopped by the opposing team, he has the
right to re-throw the jack, the jack must stay where it is, if it can be seen from the
marked goal, unless all the players agree to re-throw it. One lone player can oppose
this, he’s within his rights.
Article 5
The pointer playing, if his boule is stopped by the audience or one of his teammates,
too bad for him the boule is good, but if it’s one of the other team that stops the
boule, the pointer has the right to put his boule wheresoever he likes or replay the
boule. Because sometimes a bad sport on seeing a boule go in a good direction will
stop it and make some false excuse. In all games, all those who would be fooled, are
victims. It’s taken into account in all the rules, to avoid any arguments.
Article 6
When a shooter (tireur) is about to shoot a boule or the jack, or playing to push, he
must before shooting shout “watch out”, it’s in the rules, required as a general rule. If
the jack is stopped by the audience, it must stay where it is. If the jack is stopped by a
player from the shooter’s team, it can’t stay where it is because it could end up with
boules from the shooter’s team. There will neces
sarily be arguments. The opponents
of the shooter have the right to leave the jack where it is, or to replace it where it was
before the shot was made. The shooter may not replay his boule, but if it’s a player
from the opposing team who stopped the jack, the shooter has the right to toss the
jack at one, two, three meters as he desires, from the place where he shot the jack, to
the right or left or straight at his whim. Because there may be boules at a certain
distance, he has the choice but it isn’t the same for a boule shot that the audience
stops, it stays, if the opposing team stops it, it’s removed. This is aimed at
underhanded players who by standing in front stop the jack, too bad for he who
misses, it’s he who is the victim.
Article 7
To know who has the point, the last to play or one of his partners, believing that he
has the point, must measure first. If he moves the jack or the boule, he loses the
advantage of measuring and leaves it to the opponent to measure. If he in turn
moves the jack or th
e boule, he loses his advantage. If the point can’t be decided among the players, they must present it to be judged by the majority of the audience. If it still can’t be said who (holds the point) the player who last played must play again, and then the opponent. This continues as long as the players leave it unchanged, if it stays until all the boules are gone, the end is null, and he who threw out the jack starts again.
Article 8
All boules thrown are (considered) played even when holding the point. It’s up to the player to pay attention to the game and if his partner stops the boule believing he may replay it, he’s mistaken. It’s a lost boule. If it’s a player from the opposing team who stops the boule, the pointer for his trouble, has the right to place his ball where it suits him.
Article 9
One must not play before his turn, under penalty of leaving the boule badly played, unless the other team tricked you by saying that they had the point, in that case it may be replayed.
Article 10
He who forgets to play his boule, when all his team have finished and the opponents have begun to play out their remaining boules to empty their hands, he no longer has the right to play. He would have all the advantage if they were to have shot the jack or somesuch.
Article 11
The inadvertantly removed boule which might have counted a point, no longer counts. By the same token if the jack is taken up one cannot count what may have been forgotten. If a boule which has been played is disturbed where it lies, from whatever direction, it shall be put back where it had stopped. If that place cannot be demonstrated, the boule is removed.
Article 12
When players are asked how many boules they have left to play, they must respond correctly under penalty of losing the end. He who abandons the game, by right, loses it.
Article 13
If a player needs or pretends he needs to let his boules be played by one of his partners, the opposing team may designate the player who will play the boules. Since there are some players who do better than others, and since the teams were chosen for a well matched game, the opponents are within their rights.
Article 14
The jack lost or a boule lost, depends on the disposition of the court being played and the habit of the players. The jack gone out, the pointer who threw it starts again. If in the course of the game the players can’t remember the score, they must take the question it to the audience. Just as when the jack is stopped, it’s the majority of the audience who judge the facts.
Article 15
When a boule is rolling, it must be accorded respect, one mustn’t stop it nor throw or remove trash. If while your partner is preparing to play you notice something which may interfere with his play, you may do it, but only before he plays. If it’s the other team you have no right.

Old rules

Second manuscript, The rules of the game of boules

Article 1
The game is normally played until the first team to make 11 points, wins. The game may be extended according to the pleasure of the players. They must all consent to prolong the match. One lone player may oppose this, he shall be within his rights.
Article 2
As soon as the “little one” (jack) is thrown, it must be marked. He who threw the jack must point first. If he plays only one boule, he has the right. All the players must take their place by the jack, this is a requirement. The pointer having thrown the jack far or near according to his pleasure, the opposing team have no say in the matter. The same when their turn comes, far or near, the player is at liberty.
Article 3
The pointer on throwing the jack, finding it stopped by the audience, it’s still good. If it’s one of the his teammates and the opposing team approves, then it stays where it is, unless it’s hidden. The pointer on throwing the jack finds it stopped by the opposing team, he has the right to rethrow it.
Article 4
The pointer playing, if his boule is stopped by the audience or one of his teammates, too bad for him the boule is good, but if it’s one of the other team that stops the boule, the pointer has the right to put his boule wheresoever he likes or replay the boule. Because sometimes a bad sport on seeing a boule go in a good direction will stop it and make some false excuse. In all games, all those who would be fooled, are victims. It’s taken into account in all the rules, to avoid any arguments.
Article 5
When a shooter (tireur) is about to shoot a boule or the jack, or playing to push, he must before shooting shout “watch out” to warn the public, it’s in the rules, required as a general rule.
Article 6
If the jack is stopped by the audience, it must stay where it is. If the jack is stopped by a player from the shooter’s team, it can’t stay where it is because it could end up with boules from the shooter’s team. There will necessarily be arguments. The opponents of the shooter have the right to leave the jack where it is, or to replace it where it was before the shot was made. The shooter may not replay his boule, but if it’s a player from the opposing team who stopped the jack, the shooter has the right to toss the jack at one, two, three meters as he desires, from the place where he shot the jack, to the right or left or straight at his whim. Because there may be boules at a certain distance, he has the choice but it isn’t the same for a boule shot that the audience stops, it stays. All boules shot and stopped by players are removed.
This rule is aimed at underhanded players who by standing in front stop boules or the jack, too bad for he who misses, it’s he who is the victim.
Article 7
To know who has the point, the last to play or one of his partners, believing that he has the point, must measure first. If he moves the jack or the boule, he loses the advantage of measuring and leaves it to the opponent to do the same. If it can’t be decided who has the point, it must be presented to be judged by the majority of the audience. If it still can’t be said who (holds the point) the player who last played must play again, and then the opponent. This continues as long as the players leave it unchanged, if it stays until all the boules are gone, the end is null, and he who threw out the jack starts again.
Article 8
All boules thrown are (considered) played even when holding the point. It’s up to the player to pay attention to the game and if his partner stops the boule believing he may replay it, he’s mistaken. It’s a lost boule. If it’s a player from the opposing team who stops the boule, the pointer for his trouble, has the right to place his ball where it suits him.
Article 9
One must not play before his turn, under penalty of leaving the boule badly played, unless the other team tricked you by saying that they had the point, in that case it may be replayed.
Article 10
He who forgets to play his boule, when all his team have finished and the opponents have begun to play out their remaining boules (to empty their hands), his boule is lost. He would have all the advantage if they were to have shot the jack or somesuch.
Article 11
The inadvertantly removed boule which might have counted a point, no longer counts. The same goes for the jack if removed.
Article 12
If a boule which has been played is disturbed where it lies, from whatever direction, it shall be put back where it had stopped. If that place cannot be demonstrated, the boule is removed.
Article 13
When players are asked how many boules they have left to play, they must respond honestly. He who abandons the game, by right, loses it.
Article 14
If a player must leave for some reason, the opposing team may designate the player who will play the boules. Since there are some players who do better than others, and since the teams were chosen for a well matched game, the opponents are within their rights.
Article 15
The jack lost or a boule lost, depends on the disposition of the court being played and the habit of the players. The jack gone out, the pointer who threw it starts again.bIf in the course of the game the players can’t remember the score, they must take the question it to the audience. Just as when the jack is stopped, it’s the majority of the audience who judge the facts.
Article 16
When a boule is rolling, it must be accorded respect, one mustn’t stop it nor throw or remove trash. If while your partner is preparing to play you notice something which may interfere with his play, you may do it, but only before he plays. If it’s the other team you have no right.
Article 17
Gentlemen, several players have complained of the abuses of latecomers to the games, not the latecomers themselves, but the choosing of them. Players who’ve lost a game or two call out for reinforcements. That’s not a reason for choosing a player, the match must remain balanced until the end of the day. The fellows may object to this choosing of a player, telling you let’s carry on the game the way we started. That to me is the most fair, because it’s too easy to lose the first game so as to win the right to choose a player. It happens very often that a first game is won by luck and the second comes point by point. It’s not that one team was so strong, it’s a match that well deserves a rematch.
Article 18
As for the money on the game and for the day, those who lose two games more than their opponents shall pay the boule-keeper. This is accepted by the vast majority of players, neither more nor less than what is owed the boule-keeper, so as not to attract gamblers to the game.
Article 19
For the same reason, bets are forbidden. Those responsible, the bettors, will not be tolerated.
Article 20
For the pride and honour of the boules club, there must reign there a moral union of equality and sincerity for the game. No quarrels nor foul language, they only ruin all civility. It’s not only that we are in the public eye and that it would be indecent to utter oaths, for the sake of the club and the strangers around us with it. In the name of progress I propose the following punishments. The first time, he shall be reprimanded by the players. The second time, three days on his feet, that’s to say three days without playing. The third time, eight days without playing, and the fourth and last time, the players will spurn him as incorrigible, leaving him at complete liberty to play by himself so as to no longer bother anyone. This little rule was made for that ill-meaning person, badly behaved and jealous of our union and our freedom. He looks to insinuate himself in the club so as to spread disunion among the players. A remedy must be brought to this intrigue, that’s to expel them from the club. Without being perfect, nonetheless we must have standards, society requires this even from us. 

 

 

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