La SOULE (Gauloise)

An ancestor of football and rugby, Soule Gauloise is a traditional ball game historically played in France since the Middle Ages. Very popular in the Gallic villages of the 11th century, soule is today mainly practiced in the north-west of France, and more rarely in the south-west part.


Etymologically, the word “soule” derives from the Low Frankish word “keula” used to designate a cavity, a vault, or simply a round object. Soule, still pronounced choule in Normandy and Picardy, designates both the game and the ball with which it is played.

Although the origins of soule are still poorly defined, it has close links with ancient Roman sports (haspartum formerly practiced by Roman legionnaires, and Florentine calcio still practiced in Florence), Scandinavian (notably knattleikr, a ancient ball sport once played by the vikings in Iceland), but also with Irish hurling, Gaelic football and Scottish shinty.

Gallic soul: an explosive mix of football and rugby

Originally played by the lower classes, soule was played during the renaissance by the clergy and the nobles, either among themselves or with the people. The game pitted two teams competing for a ball. The balloon was initially a ball of wood, leather, or pig's bladder filled with air, straw, or bran. The teams, for their part, were made up of men from the city opposing those from the village, married people against single people, or even merchants against peasants, and the number of players varied from one country to another. The principle of the game was simple: put the ball, also called soule or choule, into a goal which could be the porch of a church, a ruin, a wall, a tree, a hole, a post, or even an entrance to a drink. Almost all shots were then allowed to recover the ball from the opponent, which made Gallic soule a rough and very virile sport. The game was played with the feet, the hands, or even with a stick in the case of lacrosse soule.

Soul these days

Due to its violent nature and the virtual absence of rules, the practice of soule was banned on several occasions, notably by Phillip V in 1319 and Charles V in 1369. Today, however, we are witnessing a renaissance of soule which is increasingly practiced in Normandy, Picardy and among scouts where it is called “sioule”. The game is played in Normandy under the names “Grande choule” for soule without a stick, and “Choule crosse” for soule with a stick. It is played according to very specific rules written since 2001. The ball is now made of foam surrounded by leather with a handle which makes it easier to throw and pick up the ball from the ground in the case of soule without a stick. Although the practice of the game remains spectacular, the rules are laid down in such a way as to contain violence and limit cases of injury.

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