Ok, so maybe ancient Roman soldiers weren’t playing hopscotch, but they were doing some athletic exercise that resembled hopscotch and possibly gave rise to hopscotch in its modern form over a long period of 2,000 years. As the University at Albany explains, some copycat kids liked how this whole jumping on squares thing looked, drew a version of it in miniature form for themselves, and bam: instant children’s entertainment for thousands of years. As a very highfalutin 1886 article from The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland published on JSTOR says (best read in a voice like Saruman’s from “Lord of the Rings”), “Many innocent-looking children’s games conceal strange survivals of past ages and pagan times.”
By this version of hopscotch’s origins — which might have originally been “hop-score” — the colossal reach of the Roman Empire in ancient times might be the cause of hopscotch’s spread throughout regions far removed from each other, like modern Finland and Spain, or Italy and Scotland. The first time we know of hopscotch written in print — or, Hop-Scotch — comes from 1667’s Poor Robin’s Almanac, a strange book of compiled, trivia-like facts that would have been excellent for pre-industrial “Jeopardy!” players. If the word “hopscotch” didn’t show up in writing before then, that’s because noblemen and clergymen hundreds of years ago spent their time writing about kings, wars, and God, not games that little kids were playing in the backyard.