March 4, 2024

The Roman Empire gradually declined and finally fell in 476 A.D. as a result of the Barbarian invasion from the north of Italy.

The fall of the Roman Empire ushered in a period in history known as the Dark Ages, during which learning stopped and ignorance prevailed. The Barbarians who conquered the Romans had no knowledge of how to maintain or develop the States they controlled. People did not feel safe and the general standard of living fell very low. The Barbarians themselves were naturally strong and liked physical activities but the Christians and ordinary citizens hated them and their activities.

People then sought refuge under the Church or monarchs. In continental Europe no form of physical education was encouraged since attention was focused on life after death. The soul was to be developed while the body was neglected, because it was believed that a developed soul would enjoy better life after death. Physical education activities were assumed to develop the body and destroy the soul. However, two influences worked against it – scholasticism and asceticism.

Scholasticism favoured the development of the intellectual aspect of life at the expense of the physical aspect, an attitude and practice common among the new institutions of learning which sprang up at that time in the name of Universities.

Asceticism favoured the development of the soul at the expense of the body. Austere self-denials, such as fasting and abstinence from earthly luxuries, such as games and pastimes, were encouraged. This practice was common among Christians.

In England, the position was different. The monarchs saw the necessity for training citizens for the defence of the State and made laws forcing all citizens to practise archery. Football, tennis, wrestling, and many other sports were also practised by the common man. These activities kept the citizens physically fit. Football was played between two villages. A large ball was kicked towards the opponents’ village. A goal was scored when the ball was kicked into the village. This was a very rough game and some monarchs made laws against it, but in spite of these laws, the game of football continued in different forms.

By the end of the 12th century A.D ., people started changing their negative attitudes to physical education. There was the rebirth of knowledge. Christians pursued chivalry which involved physical education activities and knights were trained. The latter did a great deal of activities and fought in defence of the people, who realized that physical education was necessary for physical fitness which meant that only physically fit people could be relied on to defend the State.

The new developments in physical education continued until the period of the renaissance brought in inventions of arms, which made the knights lose their positions. People in the universities, and the general populace developed new interests in sports and pastimes. Christian educators and philosophers saw the need for the body and soul to be developed together and wrote books in favour of physical education activities.

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