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tournament or tourney, in the Middle Ages, public contest between armed horsemen in simulation of real battle. In this military game, which flourished from the 12th to the 16th cent., combatants were frequently divided into opposing factions, each led by a champion. It differed from the joust, a single combat bout fought with weapons of war. Tournaments perhaps originated in trials by battle (see ordeal) or in the earlier gladiatorial combats. The tournament, a typical feature of the Middle Ages, was based on the ideals of chivalry. Thought to have originated in France in the 11th cent., tourneys spread to Germany, England, and S Europe; laws governing them became more or less universal. Such affairs, usually held at the invitation of kings or nobles, were the occasion of much pageantry. Knights with their entourages camped near the field of combat, and their qualifications were examined by judges of the day. The typical tournament field, or lists, was an oval or rectangular area enclosed by barriers and flanked by pavilions for important personages, the ladies who sponsored the combatants, and the judges. Heralds announced the participants, and then, with a fanfare of trumpets, the warriors made their entrance, clad in armor and astride richly caparisoned horses. Their weapons were usually blunted lances or swords. The events of the day normally began with combat between individuals and ended with a collective contest. Prizes were awarded the victors by the queen of beauty, chosen to preside over the tournament. Knights were often killed or gravely injured at tournaments, and to lessen that danger a barrier, or tilt, was sometimes stretched along the length of the lists. The combatants fought across it, and this version of the sport was known as tilting. Although attempts were made to suppress or regulate tournaments, the practice continued until changed social conditions caused a decline in its popularity.


See studies by F. H. Cripps-Day (1918) and R. W. Barber and J. Barker (1989, repr. 2000).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) A military contest between knights, popular in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Tournaments were held to allow the knights, who were the mainstay of feudal armies, to demonstrate their martial skills. They were public events, usually arranged by the king himself or by some other seigneur of the realm to mark an important occasion. The conduct of tournaments was governed by special rules, whose observance was ensured by heralds. Knights, mounted and in full armor, competed with each other either individually or in pairs or groups; they also fought duels on foot. The victor won not only glory but a pecuniary reward as well. Tournaments were regarded as a legitimized form of feudal warfare; as such, they sometimes resulted in the serious wounding, or even the death, of combatants. After the 16th century, they ceased to be held in most countries.

(2) A type of sports competition involving more than two participants and consisting of a series of face-to-face contests either between individuals or between teams, as in wrestling, boxing, various team sports, and checkers and chess matches. Among the principal types of tournaments are the round robin, in which every contestant meets every other contestant at least once, and the elimination tournament, in which losers are eliminated at every stage until a single winner remains. A third type is the Swiss tournament, in which the number of contestants is greater than the number of rounds. In the first round of the Swiss tournament, opposing players are chosen by lot; in subsequent rounds, however, they are chosen by the number of points already won, those having the same number being matched against each other by lot. Different systems may be used at various stages of a single competition.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A graph in which there is one line between every pair of points and no loops, and in which a unique direction is assigned to every line.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Medieval history
a. (originally) a martial sport or contest in which mounted combatants fought for a prize
b. (later) a meeting for knightly sports and exercises
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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