( ) is a form of boules
where the goal is, while standing with the
feet together in a small circle, to throw hollow metal balls as
close as possible to a small wooden ball called a
(jack). The game is normally played on hard dirt
or gravel, but can also be played on grass or other surfaces. Soft
sandy beaches are not suitable. Similar games are bocce
current form of the game originated in 1907 in La Ciotat, in Provence, in southern
The English and French name
comes from la petanca
in the Provençal dialect
of the Occitan
language, deriving from the expression
, meaning "feet together" or more exactly
The casual form of the game of Pétanque is played by about 17
million people in France, mostly during their summer vacations.
There are about 375,000 players licensed with the Fédération
Française de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FFPJP) and some 3000 in
The Ancient Greeks
are recorded to
have played a game of tossing coins, then flat stones, and later
stone balls, called spheristics
, trying to have them go as
far as possible, as early as the 6th
The Ancient Romans
modified the game by adding a target that had to be approached as
closely as possible. This Roman variation was brought to Provence
by Roman soldiers and sailors. A Roman sepulchre in Florence shows
people playing this game, stooping down to measure the
After the Romans, the stone balls were replaced by wooden balls,
with nails to give them greater weight. In the Middle Ages Erasmus
referred to the game as globurum,
but it became commonly
known as 'boules
,' or balls, and it was
played throughout Europe. King
Henry III of England
banned the playing of the game by his
archers, and in the 14th Century, King Charles IV of France
and Charles V of France
also forbade the
sport to commoners. Only in the 17th century was the ban
By the 19th century, in England the sport had become "bowls" or
"lawn bowling"; in France, it was known as boules
, and was
played throughout the country. The French artist Meissonnier made
two paintings showing people playing the game, and Honoré de Balzac
described a match in
La Comédie Humaine
. In the South of France it had evolved
into jeu provençal
, similar to today's pétanque, except
that the field was larger and players ran three steps before
throwing the ball. The game was played in villages all over
Provence, usually on squares of land in the shade of plane trees.
Matches of jeu provençale at the turn of the century are memorably
described in the memoirs of novelist Marcel Pagnol
in its present form was invented in 1907 in the town of La Ciotat near Marseilles by a French boule lyonnaise player named Jules Lenoir,
whom rheumatism prevented from running before he threw the
The length of the pitch or field was reduced by
roughly half, and the moving delivery was replaced with a
The first pétanque tournament with the new rules was organized in
1910 by the brothers Ernest & Joseph Pitiot, proprietors of a
café at La Ciotat. After that the sport grew with great speed, and
soon became the most popular form of boules. The international
Pétanque federation Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu
Provençal was founded in 1958 in Marseille and has about 600,000 members in 52 countries
The first World Championships were organized in 1959. The most recent
championships were held in Faro
(2000), Monaco (2001),
Grenoble (2002, 2004
and 2006), Geneva (2003),
Brussels (2005), and
Pattaya / Thailand
Fifty-two teams from 50 countries participated in
Playing the game
In this game red's boule is closest to
the jack, followed by blue.
Red scores one point, blue scores nothing
Here red has two boules closer, and
scores two points
Pétanque is played by two, four or six people. In the singles and
doubles games each player has three boules; in triples they have
only two. A coin is tossed to decide which side goes first. The
starting team draws a circle on the ground which is 35-50
centimetres in diameter: all players must throw their boules from
within this circle, with both feet remaining on the ground. The
first player throws the jack 6-10 metres away; it must be at least
one metre from the boundary.
Order of play
The player who threw the jack then throws their first boule. A
player from the opposing team then makes a throw. Play continues
with the team that is not closest to the jack having to continue
throwing until they either land a boule closer to the jack than
their opponents or run out of boules.
If the closest boules from each team are an equal distance from the
jack, then the team that played last plays again. If the boules are
still equidistant then the teams play alternately until the
position changes. If the boules are still equidistant at the end of
the game then no points are scored by either team.
The game continues with a player from the team that won the
previous end drawing a new circle around where the jack finished
and throwing the jack for a new end.
Points are scored when both teams have no more boules, or when the
jack is knocked out of play. The winning team receives one point
for each boule that it has closer to the jack than the best-placed
boule of the opposition.
If the jack is knocked out of play, the end is void unless only one
team has boules left to play. In this case the team with boules
receives one point for each that they have to play.
The first team to reach 13 points wins.
- A boule hitting a boundary is dead and is removed from that
- On a piste marked with strings a boule is dead if it completely
crosses the string.
- The circle can be moved back in the line of the previous end if
there is not room to play a 10 metre end.
- The boule can be thrown at any height or even rolled depending
on the terrain.
- Boules are thrown underarm, usually with the palm of the hand
downwards which allows backspin to be put on the boule giving
- Each team should have suitable measuring equipment. In most
cases a tape measure is adequate but callipers or other measuring
devices may be needed.
Boules must be made of metal. Competition boules must meet the
- bear engravings indicating the manufacturer's name and the
weight of the boule.
- have a diameter between 70.5 and 80 mm.
- have a weight between 650 and 800 g.
- not be filled with sand or lead, or be tampered with in any
In addition, a boule may bear an engraving of the player's first
name or initials.
Choice of boule
The diameter of the boule is chosen based on the size of the
player's hand. The weight and hardness of the boule depends on the
player's preference and playing style. "Pointers" tend to choose
heavier and harder boules, while "shooters" often select lighter
and softer boules.
These boules do not meet competition standards but are often used
for "backyard" games. They are designed to suit all ages and sexes,
and can be made of metal, plastic or wood (for play on a beach, for
Competition jacks must meet the following specifications:
- made of wood or of synthetic material
- carry the maker's mark and have secured confirmation by the
F.I.P.J.P. that they comply exactly with the relevant
- have a diameter of 30mm (tolerance + or - 1mm).
A successful pétanque team has players who are skilled at shooting
as well as players who only point. For obvious reasons, the pointer
or pointers play first – the shooter or shooters are held in
reserve in case the opponents place well. In placing, a boule in
front of the jack has much higher value than one at the same
distance behind the jack, because intentional or accidental pushing
of a front boule generally improves its position. At every play
after the very first boule has been placed, the team whose turn it
is must decide whether to point or shoot. Factors that count in
that decision include:
- How close to the jack the opponents' best boule is,
- The state of the terrain (an expert pointer can practically
guarantee to place within about 15 centimeters if the terrain is
well tended, not so if it's rocky or uneven), and
- How many boules each team has yet to play.
A team captain, in an idealized game, requires his pointer to place
a boule reasonably close in approach to the jack (paradoxically, in
competition, the first pointer sometimes aims not to get so close
to the jack that the opponents will inevitably shoot their boule
immediately). They then visualize an imaginary circle with the jack
as its centre and the jack-boule distance as radius and defend that
circle by any legitimate means.
Glossary of special terms
Like any sport, petanque has its own special vocabulary. The
following are a list of common phrases with explanations.
- To have one or more boules placed closer to the jack than those
of the opponent(s).
- To throw one's boule with the intent of stopping near the jack
(also known as placing).
- To throw one's boule at one of the opponent's boules to knock
it out of play. This is often done when the opponent has pointed
his/her boule very close to the jack.
- To throw one's boule in a high arc so that when it lands it
only rolls minimally.
- A special feat in which the shooter knocks the opponent's boule
out while leaving his boule at or very near the point of impact
- To fanny (mettre fanny in French)
- To beat one's opponents 13 to 0. The figure of a bare-bottomed
lass named Fanny is ubiquitous in Provence wherever pétanque is
played. It is traditional that when a player loses 13 to 0 it is
said that “il est fanny” (he's fanny) or “il a fait fanny” (he made
fanny), and that he has to kiss the bottom of a girl called Fanny.
Since there is rarely an obliging Fanny's behind handy, there is
usually a substitute picture, woodcarving or pottery so that
Fanny’s bottom is available. More often, the team which made
"fanny" has to offer a beverage to the winning team (see the French
popular expression "Fanny paie à boire !").
- Targeting one of your boule already in play and knocking it
toward the jack.
- Meaning one team is lying in a match-winning position while an
end is still in progress and will win unless their opponents change
600x800.jpg|Pétanque being played next to the beach at Nice, France.Image:Pétanque a
Aigues-Mortes-France.JPG|Playing pétanque in the late afternoon at
Aigues-MortesImage:Toulon Playing Boules.jpg|Men playing
pétanque next to the Fort St. Louis in Toulon.Image:DSC02438 308551840 e7aa731cd3.jpg|The
2006 Pétanque World Championship in Grenoble,
FranceImage:Petanque batignolles.jpg|Action on the
Pétanque field in Batignolles.Image:Petanque_in_brighton.JPG|Players of
the Brighton & Hove Petanque Club on the Peace Statue Terrain,
& Hove, U.K
- Marco Foyot, Alain Dupuy, Louis Almas, Pétanque - Technique,
Tactique, Etrainement. Robert Laffont, 1984.
- Marco Foyo, Alain Dupuy, Louis Dalmas, Pétanque -
Technique, Tactique, Entrainement, Robert Laffont, 1984.
- Marco Foyo,op. cit. pg. 16
- See Marco Foyot, Pétanque. The French version of the
Wikipedia says his name was Jules Hugues, known as 'Le Noir,' but
gives no citation. Another version mentioned by Foyot says the game
was invented by the brother of a famous player who had lost his
legs in his accident. Seeing that his brother was unhappy about
being unable to play, he invented a variation of the sport with the
player in one place, and a shorter field.
- The rules used in this section are taken from Official Rules of the Game of Petanque by Mike
Pegg et al.
International pétanque governing bodies
General petanque links