There is a depiction of a hockey-like game in Ancient Greece, dating to 510 BC, when the game may have been called kerētízein because it was played with a horn (kéras, in Ancient Greek) and a ball. Near-identical depictions appear both in the Beni Hasan tomb of Ancient Egyptian administrator Khety of the 11th Dynasty (c. 2000 BCE). In East Asia, a similar game was entertained, using a carved wooden stick and ball prior, to 300 BC. In Inner Mongolia, China, the Daur people have for about 1,000 years been playing beikou, a game with some similarities to field hockey. A similar field hockey called suigan, was played in China during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).
In Northern Europe, the games of hurling (Ireland) and knattleikr (Iceland), both team ball games involving sticks to drive the ball to the opponents' goal, date at least as far back as the Early Middle Ages. By the 12th century, a team ball game called la soule or choule was regularly played in France and southern Britain between villages or parishes. A game similar to hockey was played in the 17th century in Punjab state in India under the name khido khundi (khido refers to the woolen ball, and khundi to the stick). In South America, most specifically in Chile, the local natives of the 16th century used to play a game called chueca, which also shares common elements with hockey.
The modern game grew from English public schools in the early 19th century. The first club was in 1849 at Blackheath in south-east London, but Teddington Hockey Club formed the modern game. The Hockey Association was founded in 1886. The first international competition took place in 1895, and the International Rules Board was founded in 1900. Field hockey was played at the Summer Olympics in 1908 and 1920. It was dropped in 1924, leading to the foundation of the Fédération Internationale de Hockey sur Gazon (FIH) as an international governing body and hockey was reinstated as an Olympic game in 1928. Men's hockey united under the FIH in 1970, and in the early 1970s, artificial turf began to be used.
Women's field hockey was first played at British universities and schools. The first club, the Molesey Ladies, was founded in 1887. The first national association was the Irish Ladies Hockey Union in 1894, and though rebuffed by the Hockey Association, women's field hockey grew rapidly around the world. This led to the International Federation of Women's Hockey Association (IFWHA) in 1927. The FIH introduced competitive tournaments in 1974, forcing the acceptance of the principle of competitive field hockey by the IFWHA in 1973. It took until 1982 for the two bodies to merge, but this allowed the introduction of women's field hockey to the Olympic games from 1980.