The Goat Game

The book by Arnold Esch, which was listed in the previous reenactment bookshelf blog post, quotes Simon Buchel, an Augustine monk from Constance, explaining a game (page 140). He names the game "caprenare", translated as "Hit the Goat" or "Goat Game".

Simon had been playing this game when a terrible accident happened: He threw his stick against the goat. The stick bounced back from the ground and hit a boy between the shoulders. The boy was seriously wounded and died shortly afterwards. Simon, involved in the killing, had to clear himself even if it was an accident. Otherwise his clerical career would be over. So in 1466, he went to Rome to explain his story and to be cleared from all charges.


The goatherd places the goat and prepares to come after me (Photo by Andrea Schläfli)

In order to grant him the desired paper - or parchment, we can assume - the papal chancellery wanted to know all the details of the accident. 

The source is in Latin, Esch brings a German translation, this is my English translation of the German text. The original explanation in Latin can be found in the Repetitorium Poenitentiariae Germanicum V, nr. 2000, year 1466.  

The players place a piece of wood, two hand widths long on a flat surface. This wood has three legs and they call it the goat. The place themselves in a distance of six feet from this tripod. Each one of them with a stick of 3-4 hands width length in his hand. They throw the stick in the order first, second, third, etc. And who hits the tripod, leaves the pitch, sets up the wooden goat and stays outside the pitch or at the marked position, until a different player hits the wood with his stick. Then the first one returns to the game and the other one stays outside and puts the goat anew and so on. Then it happend, when it was Simon's turn and he wanted to throw his stick against the goat. The stick hit the ground and because of the vigorous shot, he bounced back and hit a 14 year old player, who did not stay in his position as it was meant. The boy walked around instead and was hit on the back at the shoulders.


All entries in the registry are cases that ended with positive results. This means Simon was cleared and we can assume he returned to Constance as a monk. His case gives us the chance to play this game. The explanations above make some sense, but I was not really sure. So I talked to Doris Fischer, a German archaeologist who is about to write a book about games in the Middle Ages.

She did not know the source, but she knew the game. According to her it has been played from Scandinavia down to the Balkans. But I had pointed her to the first medieval source describing it.


Everybody tries to get hold of a stick pushing and shouting wildly (Photo by Andrea Schläfli).

So this is her explanation and our adoption for Company of St. George games:

There is a goat. A piece of wood resembling a goat.
There is a goatherd. If the goat is knocked over, he has to run and place it upright again.
There are the ordinary participants. Each of them has a stick. They use the stick to throw it against the goat and to try and knock it over. One participant after the other.
Now comes the fun part: When the goat falls, all the participants who have thrown their stick already run to get a new stick from the ground. It does not matter which stick. At the same moment, the goatherd places the goat anew and as soon as he is done, he can try and get hold of the other participants.
If he manages to hit one of them before they returned to the initial position, he is released and the said person becomes the goatherd.
The person knocking the goat over with its stick scores a point. The person with the biggest score wins the game.

Additional rules: It is not okay to push the goatherd and it is not allowed to kick the goat away. Everything else seems to add to the fun of the game.

It's a game with a fast-changing pace. Everybody waits for somebody to knock over the goat. Then you run and grab a stick without the goatherd hitting you. Then you try to calm down to take good aim at the goat. It is very entertaining to watch the chaos, which evolves when everybody tries to reach the closest stick. Also for bystanders.

By Christian Folini, Veteran Company member.

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