No people of antiquity
attributed as much importance to sport as the Greeks.
carried out by males only, completely naked-were an integral part
of the education of every young man and one of the distinguishing
factors that the Greeks believed set them apart from barbarians.
Victors in the games were crowned with a branch of the "beautiful
- crowned wild olive tree" that stood near the temple of Zeus. This
crown bestowed the greatest honor on the competitor, his family
and his native city, and could not be compensated for by either
money or high office. Every four years Greeks from all over the
Greek world gathered in this sanctuary to participate in the
Olympiada. A sacred truce
(Ekecheria) was kept during the period of the games and attempts
were made to settle wars and conflicts between the (poleis -cities)
based on reasoning inspired by Zeus.
Every city invested substantial
resources in the construction of a
gymnasium, a complex similar
to a present day campus and including a
palaestra for physical
education. This structure normally consisted of a square court,
with porticoes offering shade, service facilities, changing rooms
and fountains. Around it were three lined avenues, baths and rooms
for teaching. The teaching was left to the personal initiative of
philosophers and experts in various disciplines, pupils of the practical
arts, including fine arts, got hands on experience in workshops.
Sport necessarily meant
competitive sport, considered both part of a young man's education
perhaps a remnant of ancient initiation rites designed to instill
courage, virtue and military skills and a cultic offering been the
custom. It had been the custom among the aristocratic elites of
the Mycenaean and Homeric world to hold sporting contests in honor
of the dead. A link was thus established, very early in Greek history,
between religious festivals and competitive sporting events held
in the great sanctuaries both outside cities and in the principal
Literature provides references
to some of the great sporting events of the ancient Greek world:
the celebrated Olympiads, according to legend initiated by Heracles
in 776 B.C. in Olympia
(see page one), the Pythia Games,
held in Delphi in honor of Apollo, The
Nemea Games, celebrated
at Nemea in honor of Zeus and recalling one of Heracles' Labors,
the Isthmian Games, held
in the sanctuary of Poseidon on the Isthmus of Corinth, and the
Panathenaic Games, part
of the great festivities organized in Athens to honor Athena. Any
departure from fair play was severely punished and the only prize
besides the purely symbolic laurel wreath was the glory which the
winner basked in and which reflected on his people and native city
state, thus honored in the eyes of all Greece.
The most important athletic
disciplines were running,
with races over different distances one even in armour (hoplitodromeia)
discus and javelin throwing,
pancration a contest involving
boxing and wrestling.
Before training, under the eye of his coach, or taking part in a
contest, the athlete performed a preparatory ritual consisting of
covering his body with perfumed oil from a leather
aryballos. When his strenuous physical exertions were
over, and before taking a relaxing bath, he then scraped his skin
clean of dust, oil and sweat with a
strigil, a curved instrument
designed for this purpose. Restricted
to the wealthy were disciplines involving horses, including
poetry contests were commonly
associated with the athletic events, further evidence of the idea
of unity that characterized the education of young Greeks.
the virtue of rivalry: One of the most characteristics of
the ancient Greeks was their competitive nature, which was manifested
in every expression of their lives and world view. Rivalry and confrontation
in the arena of creative intellectual and physical development pervades
the whole of ancient Greek civilization. The prizes, humble wreaths
of laurel, olive and wild celery, crown the names of an ageless
band of victors at Olympia, Nemea, Delphi and Isthmian in the
of memory and proclaim and hymn the physical and moral stretch of
those who competed in the arena. Prizes for intellectual contests
embellish the songs of the tragedians, adorn works of large-scale
sculpture and painting and bestow eternity on the writings of the
philosophers, the pre-eminent trainers of the mind
Zeus was the dominant god in the sanctuary
at Olympia and his cult there was one of the oldest in Greece. According
to one mythological tradition, Oxylos, the leader of the Aitolians
who came from north-west Greece and settled in the area in the 11th
c BC, dedicated the sanctuary to Zeus and celebrated games for the
first time. A different version has it that the worship of Zeus
in this region was established by the Herakleidai the descendants
of the hero Herakles. A late tradition also emphasises
the link of the site with Zeus by identifying it as the location
of Zeus's victory over his father Kronos.
for the nature and kind of the early cult of Zeus at Olympia is
provided by more than 6000 dedications placed by visitors to the
sanctuary in the ashes of the great altar of Zeus (10th
-late 8th c. BG). The military character of the god's
cult is attested by bronze and clay figurines of warriors (depictions
of the god himself or of the dedicator), charioteers and chariots.
Numerous figurines of animals most of them bulls or horses are to
be explained as offerings made by a farming and stock-raising community.
Bronze tripod cauldrons,
which were vessels of great value, were probably erected in the
open areas of the sanctuary.
From 700 BC
on, spoils of war, and later entire buildings (treasuries) were
dedicated by city-states; these too, had a military and political
character and attest to the geographical range of the sanctuary's
reputation. The military dimension of the cult of Zeus is
further illustrated by the existence in the sanctuary of an oracle
devoted mainly to military questions, according to the accounts
of ancient writers. In this context, depictions of Nike (Victory)
on coins issued by Olympia, terracotta figures of Nike used as akroteria
on buildings, and independent statues of her found in the area of
the sanctuary will have had a military rather than an athletic symbolism.
gold and ivory statue of Zeus enthroned, holding a scepter in one
hand and Nike in the other gave clear expression to Zeus's role
as Lord of the world, preserver of law and order, and judge of all
contests on earth. The Olympic festival
and games were held in his honour and the victors dedicated statues
of themselves to him in thanks.
OF THE GAMES AT OLYMPIA.
The appearance of institutionalized
games at Olympia in the 8th c. BC marked a revival of a large number
of Mycenaean customs and practices within the changed religious
historical, ideological and political context of the new age that
followed upon the collapse of the Mycenaean world.
In ancient literature, the foundation of the Olympic Games is regarded
simply as a matter of their revival after a long period of interruption.
Their beginnings are sought in the local cult of the hero Pelops,
who was looked upon as the mythical founder of the games which recall
elements of Mycenaean hero cult and the funeral games in Homer's
Iliad, organized by Achilles in honor of his dead friend Patroklos.The
oldest and strongest ancient tradition as to the foundation of Olympic
Games is cited in the poem by pseudo-Hesiod, Catalogues of Women,
and states that the founder of the games was the Phrygian Pelops.
Having defeated the king of Elis. Oinomaos, in a chariot race, Pelops
took his daughter Hippodameia as his wife and became king of a large
area – giving his name, indeed, to the whole of the Peloponnese.
Another tradition, first recorded by Pindar in the first half of
the 5th c BC, represents the great Theban hero Heracles as founder
of the games, after his victorious campaign against Augeias, the
king of Elis, who refused to recompense Heracles for cleaning out
his stables. >The former version, involving Pelops, is attributed
to the Pisatans the old Mycenaean inhabitants of the region,
while the latter version, with Heracles, is associated with the
new Dorian tribe that conquered Elis and established their own god
at Olympia, Zeus, who became the great deity of the sanctuary and
OF THE GAMES.
The Olympic Games were held without
a break from 776 BC to AD 393, a period of 1169 years.
They took place every four years at the second full
moon after the summer solstice, a date that coincided
with the eighth solar month of the Eleian calendar (Apoffonios
or Parthenios), which corresponded with August in the
modern calendar. The duration of the games was directly
related to the number of the events. From the beginning
(776 BC) down to 684 BC when only athletic events were
held, they lasted a single day. From 680 BC (25th Olympiad),
when chariot races were introduced, the period was increased
to two days, and in 632 BC (37th Olympiad) with the
introduction of the boys events, a third day was added.
Finally, two more days were added
in 472 BC (77th Olympiad) to ensure a smoother organisation
of the events, making a total of five days. The responsibility
for the organization and conduct of the Olympic Games
lay with the Eleians. One of the most important institutions
at the Olympic Games was the Sacred Truce - the suspension
of all hostilities between belligerents for a brief
period before, during and after the end of the games
to enable them to be conducted, properly. Belief in
this institution is reflected in the fact that, despite
the continuous warfare in ancient Greece, the Olympic
Games were never cancelled until they were finally abolished
by the Roman emperor Theodosios. Special officials called
spondophoroi travelled in groups of three to all the
Greek cities to announce the beginning of the Sacred
Truce and the exact date of the games.
Eleians prepared and maintained the areas of the sanctuary
and the athletic venues a Olympia, and attended to the
reception and housing of the athletes and their attendants
and of the official representations sent by the Greek
cities. The senior officials of the games were called
Hellanodikai. Initially there was just one such official,
called diaitater (referee), and the office was hereditary
and held for life. By the time the programme of events
was finally settled in 348 BC. (108th Olympiad),
there were ten Hellanodikai who were elected for a single
Olympiad.The task of the Hellanodikai was to organise
and hold the games, to ensure that everyone strictly
observed the rules, to supervise the events, to award
the prizes, and to punish any form of infringement by
inflicting fines or corporal punishment.
The most common infringements
were late arrival by the athletes, ignoring the instructions given
by the responsible officials breaking the rules of the events, and
bribing athletes. In the last case, the athletes were not only disqualified
but fined a sum of money, part of which was expended on the manufacture
of bronze statues of Zeus known as Zanes (the plural of Zeus). The
rules and regulations of the games and individual events were formulated
gradually. From the 6th c. BC onwards, they were codified and written
on stone stelai that were erected in the Agora of Elis and the sanctuary
OF THE ATHLETES. Two essential
requirements had to be met for athletes to compete in
the Olympic Games: they had to be Greeks, and they had
to be born free of parents who were themselves free
citizens. As Greeks, they had a common religion, customs,
language and ideals. As free citizens they were members
of a community and shared the same perception of the
existence of the free individual who trained to become
the best. Athletes had to travel to Elis, the headquarters
of the organising city, one month before the beginning
of the games. This regulation was strictly enforced
by the organizers of the games.
of one month was essential for the Helfanodikai to check
the origins and physical condition of the athletes so
that they could exclude from the games those who were
incapable of matching up to the fierce competition.
They associated with the athletes on a daily basis,
and assessed not only their ability and talent, but
also their ethics and character. At the same time, the
athletes trained in the two gymnasia' and one palaestra
at Elis. Here they gave a practical demonstration that
they knew and practised the principle of fair play,
which they had been taught in the gymnasia of the cities
from which they came. During the month of preparation,
the judges were required to assign the athletes to categories,
depending on their age.
At Olympia there were two such
categories, for men and boys, while other games also
had a category for “ beardless youths”. Originally,
young men did not engage in special exercises, but trained,
nude (gymnasium derives from the Greek word gymnos =
naked), simply by competing, under the supervision of
their paidagogos (tutor), the man who also attended
to their education. Later, however, views on physical
development changed, thanks mainly to the science of
medicine, and the supervision of athletes was assigned
to specialist trainers, who were usually themselves
veteran athletes. The names of three of these have survived:
the gymnasts, who drew up the training program, the
paidotribes who supervised their training, and the aleiptes,
who massaged them with oil. Many champions honoured
their trainers by erecting statues of them next to their
The glory and fame surrounding an Olympic champion in the ancient
world was itself a great blessing, and for an athlete to be crowned
by the kolinos woven of branches of the sacred wild olive was the
highest honour that could befall a mortal.
4237 athletes who will have been declared champions at 293 Olympiads
over the 1169 years of the life of the institution (776 BC - AD
393), the names, place of origin, and event is known in 921 cases.
Their names were recorded in the list of Olympic champions compiled
in the 4th c. BC by the sophist Hippias of Elis, who presumably
based it on the official archives, kept in the Bouleuterion at Olympia.
The names of later champions were included in lists to be found
in later historians, mainly of the Roman period, and a number of
gaps can be supplemented by evidence scattered in papyri, on bases
for statues of champions, seen by Pausanias, and in a large number
of inscriptions found during the excavations. After the victors
had been announced and received their prizes, sacrifices were made
on the attar of Zeus, followed by a celebratory banquet given for
the champions by the Eleian organisers in the Prytaneion at Olympia.
When the champions returned to their native cities, they were given
a welcome on a par with that for generals returning from victorious
campaigns. They entered the city riding in a four-horse chariot
through a section of the fortification wall that was demolished
for the purpose. The champion dedicated his wreath to thepatron
deity of the city, on whose altar he offered a sacrifice. He enjoyed
certain privileges for life, such as free meals in the Prytaneion,
exemption from taxes, and seats of honour in the theatre and at
festivals and games. Poets wrote victory hymns in honour of the
champions. Famous Olympic champions in ancient times include Milon
of Kroton, Dillgoras of Rhodes, Theagenes of Thasos, Leonidas of
Rhodes, Eubatos of Cerene, and others.
DISCUS. The discus
was one of the most popular events. The discus itself was usually
made of bronze or more rarely iron, lead or even stone and weighted
between 1.245 and 5. 700 grams. The largest surviving ones will
have been dedications. In order to ensure that the contest was fair,
the athletes had to throw the same discus. The throw was made
from the bulbils (starting point). The contestant rubbed his hands
and the discus with sand to prevent it from slipping, swung it up
and down forcibly in his right hand, and at the same time turned
his body and head to the right. At the final stage, he bent his
legs and leaned forwards, hurling the discus with all his might.
The throws were marked with small pegs and the length of the throw
was measured with a pole.
Foot races were held in the stadium, a level defined space,
the length of which differed from region to region
depending on the length of the foot used as
the unit measurement (0.32045 m. Olympia, 0.296 m. at Delphi, etc).
The stadium at Olympia was 192.28 m. long that at Delphi 177.5 m
and so on. The starting and finishing lines were originall simply
scratched in the earth, but balbides were introduced in the 5th
C these were permanent long narrow stone slabs with two parallel
grooves along them. Posts were fixed in positions to separate the
positions of the runners. The starting system in the stadium at
Isthmia was even more complicated. In the case of races involving
more than one length of the track, there was a turning point called
kampter, which was marked by a column or a post.
The running events were as follows:
The stadion / stadium was the main sprint race, in which the runners
had to complete one length of the stadium. It corresponds roughly
with the modern 200 m. race.
The diaulos was another sprint, in which two lengths of the stadium
had to be completed, corresponding roughly with the modern 400m.
The hippios was a middle-distance race over four lengths of the
stadium corresponding roughly with the modern 400 m.
The dolichos was a long-distance race, the distance covered varying
from 7-24 stadia (about 1400-4800 m).
RACE IN ARMOR. The
race in armor was a sprint in which the runners had to wear a helmet
and greaves and carried a shield as the completed two and more rarely
four lengths of the stadium. The greaves were abandoned in the 5th
c. BC and the helmet in the 4th c. BC, after which the runners held
only the heavy shield, made of wood sheathed with bronze.
THE JAVELIN. There were two types of javelin
event: one in which the objective was to throw it the longest distance,
and target javelin, in which the competitors aimed at a predetermined
target. The former was the event held as part of the pentathlon
at Olympia. The javelin used in competitions was a wooden pole 1.50
- 2 m. long, which was lighter than its counterpart used in war
and did not have a metal point. The throwing technique differed
from that used in modern javelin only in the use of a leather loop
attached at the centre of gravity of the javelin. This helped to
give the javelin greater forward momentum during the throw. The
event took place in the stadium. The athlete held the javelin horizontally
in his right hand at shoulder level and run up to the line before
hurling it forward. In target javelin, the competitors usually threw
from horseback. Mounted on galloping horses, they threw the javelin
at around target, normally a shield fixed to a pole.
The oldest and most common
contest, was held both as an event in its own right
and as part of the pentathlon. It required a combination
of skill, flexibility and strength. It was divided into
'upright wrestling' and 'ground wrestling'. At the start
of the fight, the two opponents stood facing each other
with their legs bent and slightly apart, ready to take
advantage of any weakness in their opponent and apply
the holds would lead to a fall, which was the objective
of the contest. To be declared the winner, a wrestler
had to achieve three falls at his opponent's expense.
THE PANKRATION. Was a combination
of wrestling and boxing (See
Photo below) and involved throwing one's opponent. The
objective was to oblige one's opponent to admit defeat
by whatever means possible. The pankration was the toughest
and most dangerous of the heavy events, since everything
was permitted except biting and gouging the eyes ( which
was allowed only at Sparta). The event was divided into
'upright pankration', in which the contestants fought
standing and 'ground pankration', in which the contest
continued on the ground. The larger part of the contest
took place on the ground as the athletes strove to compel
their rival to submit by punching or applying holds.
At one end of the pit was a board on
which the competitors stepped before making their jump. One piece
of equipment used in this event consisted of heavy stone or lead
weights (halteres) which the jumpers held one in each hand to help
them produce better performances. Holding these weights, the jumper
ran up to the board, where he swung them backwards and forwards
before leaping forwards with his arms outstretched; just before
he landed , he threw the hateres behind him, and came to earth with
both legs together.
||THE LONG JUMP.
The long jump was one of the most demanding events of
the pentahlon. It is not clear whether was a single,
double or triple jump.. The jump was held, as today,
in a pit, which was 50 feet long and filled with soft
earth, to show the imprints of the feet clearly.
Famous citizens and ordinary pilgrims came from the ends of the
Greek world to the sacred grove at Olympia to watch the games.The
spectators belonged to various social classes, they were anonymous
and famous, rich and poor, poets and philosophers, singers and dancers,
and all had the right to watch the games without restriction, even
barbarians and slaves apart from women. The huge crowds lived and
slept in the open air in tents outside the Altis and near the rivers.
In addition to this vast crowd of pilgrims, there were also official
missions from the cities, called theoriai. These consisted of eminent
citizens, known as theoroi, led by architheoros. The cities sent
valuable gifts to Zeus and also to the magistrates of Elis. The
Greek cities also strove to ensure that the theoria they sent to
the Olympic Games was the most magnificent of all for reasons of
civic pride and for propaganda purposes.
The Olympic Games were
attented by politicians, and also by men of letters and the arts,
who came not simply to watch the events, but also for professional
reasons: they included poets ( Simonides , Bacchylides, Pindar),
orators ( Gorgias. Lysias, Isocrates), sculptors (Pythaforas of
Samos, Polykleitos of Argos and Lysippos of Sikyon) and great philosophers
(Plato, Aristotle, Thales of Miletos).
AND PHYSICAL EXERCISE. Women were forbidden
completely from competing in the Olympic Games, and even from entering
the Stadium to watch the events. Women who broke this prohibition
were cast down from Mount Typaion. The only woman allowed to watch
the games was the priestess of Demeter Chamyne, a long - established
local goddess connected with the earth and farming. The priestess
sat on the goddess's altar on the north embankment of the Stadium.
The only exception to the general absence
of women from the Stadium at Olympia was Kallipateira of Rhodes,
daughter of the Olympic champion Diagoras and a mother of a family
of Olympic champions. At the 96th Olympiad (396 BC) she violated
the prohibition and entered the Stadium secretly to watch her son
Peisidoros compete and win the boxing. She was not punished by the
Hellanodikai out of respect for the glorious athletic history of
The only womens events held at Olympia were the Heraia. These
were instituted at Olympia and held every four years in honor of
the goddess Hera. wife of Zeus, in a different year from the Olympic
Games. The games are said to have been organized first by Hippodameia,
to give thanks for her marriage to Pelops. The competitors in the
Heraia were young girls, not married women, who ran a distance of
500 feet that is about 160 meters. There were there different categories:
young girls, adolescents, and young women. The athletes ran with
their hair untied, wearing a short chiton and the winners were awarded
a wreath of wild olive and portions of the sacred cow sacrificed
in Hera's honor. Women, however, might be and were declared Olympic
champions in the equestrian events, as owners of horses. The first
of them was Kyniska, daughter of the Spartan King Archidamos
Astylos: The Olympic
games of 480 B.C were, from every angle, the most brilliant of ancient
times due to the post-Persian invasion period. Hundreds of athletes
from every city of Greece and the surrounding colonies participated.
Thousands of youngsters trained in gyms and training grounds and
hundreds of thousands of spectators came to attend. A small city,
in Northern Italy and Sicily, Kotron had sent a team of athletes
to represent them. One of the members of this team stood out due
to his toned and muscled body, a sprinter whose name was Astylos.
His name is unknown to most, yet he was one of the best sprinters
of all time. This amazing athlete won in 3 successive Olympiads,
74th, 75th and 76th in 488 B.C, 484 B.C and 480 B.C respectively,
achieving 7 victories (7 kotinous - Wreaths from olive branches)
and in all the races in which he took part from the Ancient Stadium
(192m) to the hoplite sprint (4.8km). All in all he emerged victorious
for 8 successive years, in distances varying from 200m to 5km and
in all the trials he was presented. He managed to achieve the balance
between speed and stamina, which is the ultimate goal for every
athlete, but is nowadays considered impossible.
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