Name in Original Language
Area Where Played
Volos (βόλος, pl. βόλοι) from the anc. “βῶλος”, referred to a small, shperical lump of clay (or other material). Voloi t is the most common name for marbles in Greek, since they were at one time made mostly of clay. We also read in ancient writers that children played some games called “kloios” and “omila” with walnuts instead of proper marbles. Marbles can also be referred to as bilies (μπίλιες) or gazes (γκαζές), although the latter name is mostly used for the bigger marbles. The name gaza (singular form of gazes) could derive from Turk. kesek, which again means a lump of clay. However, it seems that the name gazes was mostly used to denote the larger, glass marbles used for sealing the Codd-type bottles of carbonated soda, called gazoza (γκαζόζα) in Greek; such marbles were collected and used by children as toys. Nowadays, marbles are most commonly made of glass. In 1815 the first book about marbles was published in England. In the late 19th century a German glassmaker invented a kind of mold for making marbles. In the 1950s Japanese manufacturers made the first “cat’s eye” marbles with the characteristic inlay of coloured glass in the center.
Marbles games have been attested in Latin literature and Roman art. Marbles have been discovered in excavation sites associated with Chaldeans in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Marbles games are very common in most parts of the world, with a “British and World Marbles Championship” held every year since 1932 at the Greyhound public house in Tinsley Green, West Sussex.
Variants of the game’s name are the following:
1. Voloi (βόλοι)
2. Bilies (μπίλιες)
3. Gazes/ gazakia (γκαζές /γκαζάκια)
4. Tzitzilia / tzitzilonia (τζιτζίλια /τζιτζιλόνια)
5. Yalenia (γυαλένια, mean. “of glass”)
6. Ketses/ koenakia (κέτσες /κοϊνάκια)
Marbles could also be used as equipment in other games. Popular Greek children’s books author Penelope Delta, describes a game of war with toy soldiers between two boys, played with marbles as weapons. The scene is described in Trellantonis, a classic of Greek children’s litterature describing the childhood mischiefs of hers and her siblings, especially of the titular character, Antonis. The boys arranged their toy soldiers in formation, and then shot their marbles at each others’ “armies”. The aim was to scatter the toy soldiers of the opponent, until no figure was left standing.
Marbles games were very popular everywhere in Greece, partly because marbles were easy to be found (glass marbles from soda bottles, metal marbles from ball bearings) even at times and in places where buying toys was quite uncommon (e.g. children of poor families in rural areas). Marbles games also required skill; a skillful player could assemble a large collection, by winning the marbles of other players, including more elaborate, manufactured marbles which could be too expensive for poorer kids. The sense of collection also played a role in the game’s popularity. More recently, sets of marbles have become collectible toys for children and adults; the latter mostly purchasing them for their nostalgic and decorative value.
Most marbles games attested in Greece involve drawing a line, a circle or a triangle for placing the marbles. Marbles would be placed on the line, inside the circle or the triangle, or upon the three angles of the triangle. Players were taking turns to fire their marbles, aiming at the marbles placed on the ground. In some variants, when the players had to fire their marbles from a large distance (e.g. two meters or more, proximity to the aim would be taken into account, if no marbles were hit. Winners normally collected the marbles that their opponents had put into the game. At the end of the game, exchanges could take place, especially if a player had won the “mana” of another player (a marble considered as a favourite and/or “lucky”, usually one of the large and most beautiful ones). A large marble (a gaza, mana, ketsa or tzitzili) could be exchanged with two, three, or more smaller marbles.