As early as the 6th century BC the ancient Greeks are recorded to have played a game of tossing coins, then flat stones, and later stone balls, trying to have them go as far as possible. The ancient Romans modified the game by adding a target that had to be approached as closely as possible. After the Romans, the stone balls were replaced by wooden balls. In the Middle Ages, it became commonly known as boules (i.e. 'balls'), and it was played throughout Europe. But, in many countries bocce ball had been banned several times due to its popularity. It regained its popularity during the Renaissance, particularly in Italy and France. By the 19th century, in England the game had become bowls or "lawn bowling".
European immigrants are mostly responsible for spreading bocce throughout the globe. In the south of France, in the second half of the 19th century a form of boules known as jeu provençal or boule lyonnaise was extremely popular. The first club was born in 1850 in Lyon and called Le Clos Jouve. The first major competition was the Pentecote Tournament Bellecour in Lyon in 1895 and in 1900 Bocce was featured in the Olympic Games in Paris, as an exhibition sport. Pétanque originally developed as an offshoot or variant of jeu provençal in 1910, in La Ciotat near Marseilles. The first pétanque tournament was organized in 1910 in La Ciotat. After that the game spread quickly and soon became the most popular form of boules in France.
The Federation International de Boules (FIB) was founded in 1946 in Ville Le Grand, Switzerland and the first World Bocce Championship was held in 1947. The Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FIPJP) was founded in 1958 in Marseille, and the first World Championships were organized in 1959. By these organizations and Confederazione Boccistica Internazionale (CBI), the Confédération Mondiale des Sports de Boules was created in 1985 specifically for purpose to lobbying the Olympic committee to make it part of the Summer Olympics.