Ancient civilizations played precursors to hockey for several millennia. None appear to have been played on ice.
Modern field hockey pre-dates ice hockey by a few years in the mid-19th century.
Precursors to hockey have been recorded by a number of ancient civilizations, dating back as much as 4,000 years. These included Arab, Greek, Persian, Roman, Aztec, and early Irish and Scottish among others. These games generally involved players use sticks curved at the striking end to hit a small, hard ball into their opponent’s goal.
Ancient Egyptians had a version of field hockey. Hockey sticks were pieces of palm tree branches with the tell-tale bend at the end. The inner core of the ball was papyrus. The covering was leather. Equipment makers dyed the ball different colors.
Modern field hockey
Modern field hockey emerged in England in the mid-late 19th-century with the first formal men’s hockey club the ‘Blackheath Football and Hockey Club’ being formed in 1861. Rules were formalized by a new Hockey Association in London in 1886.
What about ice hockey?
The birth of ice hockey is regarded as happening between two teams of McGill University students in Montreal in 1875, though earlier forms of the game may have appeared as early as the turn of the 19th-century. It is believed that the game was adapted from lacrosse, played by the first nations people of Canada, and English field hockey. It may have also drawn influence from the Irish game of hurling.
Early ice hockey featured as many of 30 players per side. According to Encyclopedia Britannica “the first organized team, the McGill University Hockey Club, formed in 1877, codified their game’s rules and limited the number of players on a side to nine.”