THEY came, they saw, they played a neat chip shot onto the edge of the green. More than a millennium before golf is said to have been invented in Scotland, Roman soldiers were playing the game, according to experts.
Trumping recent claims that the game was being played in China in AD943, academics have chipped in with a theory that the game was actually imported to Scotland by the foot soldiers of Emperor Severus.
The Roman version of golf was called paganica, and was first recorded in 30BC as a generic ball game. However, by the time of the Roman invasion of Scotland, it was played with a curved stick used to strike a feather-filled leather ball. The ball was hit towards a predetermined target such as a tree, the aim being to strike the “mark” in the fewest strokes.
Michael Whitby, a historian at Warwick University, said: “Legionaries were in Scotland from the AD140s. The Emperor Severus was on the Fife Peninsula and, significantly, there was an important marching camp near St Andrews.
“A legacy of games, such as paganica, would have been left. The roots of golf would have passed through the 8th century to the medieval university folk and aristocrats.”
Malcolm Campbell, a leading golf writer, agreed: “Paganica is the earliest form of a game we could recognise as golf. After the Romans left, it evolved and in the 15th century the Scots uniquely formalised it. The game was truly ‘invented’ in Scotland, with a little help from the Romans.”
Of course, we mentioned this claim on rogueclassicism before ... Amyntoros added some useful links in a followup post to Classics Central