Marbles have an extremely old origin and represent one of the earliest games ever played. Earthen monuments of the Mound Builders, a race of people who lived on the American continent before the Indians arrived, contained marbles along with the other ancient artifacts. These early marbles were of both flint and clay and had often been decorated by their makers. Of course they were crude in form, since the tools by which they were formed were crude also. Whether these first spheres were used in a game or whether they had some religious, ceremonial, or decorative purpose is not known....
Two thousand years ago the literature of the Greeks and Romans recorded their use of marbles. excavations back at least fifty centuries have yielded the early marbles written about. They were also crudely made and were formed of stone. Egyptian children also seemed to have played with marbles, as some of these spheres have been founf in the ruins of that culture. The British Museum contains marbles used by both the Egyptian and Roman children.
In the Roman Empire marbles seem to have reached a peak of popularity about the time of the Emperor Augustus, a century before the beginning of the Christian era. There are frequent references to the use of marbles in various games and sports in Roman literature of this period. By the Romans, the game probably was spread throughout their empire to all of the areas conquered by them. In this way, the game appeared in England about the latter part of the first century A.D., after the final conquest of Britain by the Romans. About this period, the writings of Britain reveal that both the grownups and the children used marbles made from stone in their games. As marbles became more popular in Britain, they were made from real marble as well as from other more common stones and from dried or baked clay.
A fifteenth century manuscript mentions "the little yellow balls with which school boys played, and which were very cheap." Some sources claim that glass marbles had their origin in Venice with the old glassmakers. These were supposedly called monstrosities by the English who did not feel they were sturdy enough for their games. Daniel Defoe, author of "Robinson Crusoe," wrote in 1720 that:
Marbles, which he used to call children's playing at bowls, yeilded him a mighty diversion, and he was so dextrous an artist at shooting that little alabaster globe from between the end of his forefinger and knuckle of his thumb that he seldom missed hitting plumb, as the boys called it, the marble aimed at, though at a distance of two or three yards.