Ancient Olympics

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Information about Ancient Olympics
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Published on April 14, 2008

Author: Miranda

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The Ancient Olympic Games:  The Ancient Olympic Games SOURCE: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Olympics/rel.html The Context of the Games and the Olympic Spirit :  The Context of the Games and the Olympic Spirit Today, the Olympic Games are the world's largest pageant of athletic skill and competitive spirit. They are also displays of nationalism, commerce and politics. These two opposing elements of the Olympics are not a modern invention. The conflict between the Olympic movement's high ideals and the commercialism or political acts which accompany the Games has been noted since ancient times. Original Purpose of the Olympics:  Original Purpose of the Olympics One difference between the ancient and modern Olympic Games is that the ancient games were played within the context of a religious festival. The Games were held in honor of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, and a sacrifice of 100 oxen was made to the god on the middle day of the festival. Athletes prayed to the gods for victory, and made gifts of animals, produce, or small cakes, in thanks for their successes. Original Purpose of the Olympics:  Original Purpose of the Olympics According to legend, the altar of Zeus stood on a spot struck by a thunderbolt, which had been hurled by the god from his throne high atop Mount Olympus, where the gods assembled. Some coins from Elis had a thunderbolt design on the reverse, in honor of this legend. Dewing 1860, silver stater, minted at Elis Reverse: Thunderbolt Why were the Olympics held at Olympia? :  Why were the Olympics held at Olympia? Over time, the Games flourished, and Olympia became a central site for the worship of Zeus. Individuals and communities donated buildings, statues, altars and other dedications to the god. Olympia, Palaestra: Eastern portico from N Photograph by Michael Bennett The Temple of Zeus at Olympia: Then & Now:  The Temple of Zeus at Olympia: Then & Now THEN: A model of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, Greece NOW: The Temple of Zeus at Olympia, which housed the magnificent gold and ivory statue of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Why were the Olympics held at Olympia? :  Why were the Olympics held at Olympia? Olympia was one of the oldest religious centers in the ancient Greek world. Since athletic contests were one way that the ancient Greeks honored their gods, it was logical to hold a recurring athletic competition at the site of a major temple. Olympia,Temple of Zeus: Interior of cella from N Photograph by Michael Bennett Original Purpose of the Olympics:  Original Purpose of the Olympics The most spectacular sight at Olympia was the gold and ivory cult statue of Zeus enthroned, which was made by the sculptor Pheidias and placed inside the temple. The statue was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and stood over 42 feet high. A spiral staircase took visitors to an upper floor of the temple, for a better view of the statue. Olympia, Temple of Zeus Reconstruction elevation of the statue of Zeus by Pheidias copyright C.H. Smith 1990, based on F. Adler (artist) in W. Dörpfeld 1935a, plate 22 Why were the Olympics held at Olympia? :  Why were the Olympics held at Olympia? Also, Olympia is convenient geographically to reach by ship, which was a major concern for the Greeks. Athletes and spectators traveled from Greek colonies as far away as modern-day Spain, the Black Sea, or Egypt. The site of the Ancient Olympic Games: Olympia, Greece Olympia Why were the Olympics held at Olympia? :  Why were the Olympics held at Olympia? An international truce among the Greeks was declared for the month before the Olympics to allow the athletes to reach Olympia safely. The judges had the authority to fine whole cities and ban their athletes from competition for breaking the truce. The site of the Ancient Olympic Games: Olympia, Greece Olympia Who could compete in the Ancient Olympics?:  Who could compete in the Ancient Olympics? Who could compete in the Olympics? :  Who could compete in the Olympics? The Olympics were open to any free-born Greek in the world. There were separate mens' and boys' divisions for the events. TOP LEFT: Harvard 1895.248 Tondo: athlete with strigil Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums TOP RIGHT: Philadelphia MS5693 Tondo: athletes, upper half Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Let’s Separate the Men from the Boys:  Let’s Separate the Men from the Boys The Elean judges divided youths into the boys' or men's divisions based as much on physical size and strength as age. TOP LEFT: Harvard 1895.248 Tondo: athlete with strigil Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums TOP RIGHT: Philadelphia MS403 Side A: pentathlon scene with three figures Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Athletics in Ancient Greece: An Educational & Rewarding Experience :  Athletics in Ancient Greece: An Educational & Rewarding Experience Athletics in Ancient Greece:  Athletics in Ancient Greece Athletics were a key part of education in ancient Greece. Many Greeks believed that developing the body was equally important as improving the mind for overall health. Also, regular exercise was important in a society where men were always needed for military service. Plato's Laws specifically mentions how athletics improved military skills. Harvard 1972.39 Side A: trainer at center Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums Training Olympic Athletes :  Training Olympic Athletes Young men worked with athletic trainers who used long sticks to point out incorrect body positions and other faults. Trainers paid close attention to balancing the types of physical exercise and the athlete's diet. The Greeks also thought that harmonious movement was very important, so athletes often exercised to flute music. Ancient competitors were required to train at Olympia for a month before the Games officially started, like modern competitors at the Olympic Village. Harvard 1972.39 Side A: trainer at center Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums Wrestling School is Where the Cool Kids Hang Out! :  Wrestling School is Where the Cool Kids Hang Out! Greek youth therefore worked out in the wrestling-school (palaestra) whether they were serious Olympic contenders or not. The palaestra (wrestling-school) was one of the most popular places for Greek men of all ages to socialize. Olympia, Palaestra: Eastern portico from North Photograph by Michael Bennett Many accounts of Greek daily life include scenes in these wrestling-schools, such as the opening of Plato's Charmides. The Strigil: Athletes & Personal Hygiene:  The Strigil: Athletes & Personal Hygiene After exercise, they cleaned themselves by rubbing oil over their bodies and scraping the mix of oil, sweat, and dirt off with a special instrument called a strigil. Harvard 1895.248 Tondo: strigil Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums Harvard 1960.484 Bronze strigil Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard Art Museums Women & the Ancient Olympics:  Women & the Ancient Olympics Were Women allowed to compete at the Olympics?:  Were Women allowed to compete at the Olympics? Women were not allowed to compete in the Games themselves. However, they could enter equestrian events as the owner of a chariot team or an individual horse, and win victories that way. The winner of the first Olympic chariot and pair race is listed as "Belistiche, a woman from the seaboard of Macedonia." (Pausanias 5.8.11) Philadelphia MS4862 Shoulder: horseman and woman on right Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Were Women allowed to Watch the Olympics?:  Were Women allowed to Watch the Olympics? Not only were women not permitted to compete personally, married women were also barred from attending the games, under penalty of death. Maidens were allowed to attend so fathers could find them a suitable husband. Mississippi 1977.3.68 Side B: scene at center: athletes and spectators Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of the University Museums, University of Mississippi Pausanias tells the story of Callipateira, who broke this rule to see her son at the Games::  Pausanias tells the story of Callipateira, who broke this rule to see her son at the Games: "She, being a widow, disguised herself exactly like a gymnastic trainer, and brought her son to compete at Olympia. Peisirodus, for so her son was called, was victorious, and Callipateira, as she was jumping over the enclosure in which they keep the trainers shut up, bared her person. So her sex was discovered, but they let her go unpunished out of respect for her father, her brothers and her son, all of whom had been victorious at Olympia. But a law was passed that for the future trainers should strip before entering the arena." (Pausanias 5.6.8ff.) Women had their own Olympics too!:  Women had their own Olympics too! Athletic competitions for women did exist in ancient Greece. The most famous was a maidens' footrace in honor of the goddess Hera, which was held at the Olympic stadium. There were 3 separate races for girls, teenagers, and young women. The length of their racecourse was shorter than the men's track; 5/6 of a stade (about 160 m.) instead of a full stade (about 192 m.). The winners received olive crowns just like Olympic victors. Side A lower panel: woman pursued by Poseidon Photograph by Brooke Hammerle, courtesy of the Museum of Art, RISD, Providence, RI Let the Games Begin! Ancient Olympic Events:  Let the Games Begin! Ancient Olympic Events Philadelphia MS2444 Side A: diskos bag and halteres above wrestlers Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology The Ancient Olympic Games:  The Ancient Olympic Games The ancient Olympics were rather different from the modern Games. There were fewer events, and only free men who spoke Greek could compete, instead of athletes from any country. Also, the games were always held at Olympia instead of moving around to different sites every time. Philadelphia MS2444 Side A: trainer watching wrestlers Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology The Ancient Olympic Games:  The Ancient Olympic Games Like our Olympics, though, winning athletes were heroes who put their home towns on the map. One young Athenian nobleman defended his political reputation by mentioning how he entered seven chariots in the Olympic chariot-race. Shoulder: chariot race Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of the Tampa Museum of Art This high number of entries made both the aristocrat and Athens look very wealthy and powerful. The Pentathlon: A 5-event combination of discus, javelin, jumping, running and wrestling. :  The Pentathlon: A 5-event combination of discus, javelin, jumping, running and wrestling. Aristotle describes a young man's ultimate physical beauty: "a body capable of enduring all efforts, either of the racecourse or of bodily strength...This is why the athletes in the pentathlon are most beautiful." (Aristotle, Rhetoric 1361b) The Discus:  The Discus The ancient Greeks considered the rhythm and precision of an athlete throwing the discus as important as his strength. Boston 01.8020 Tondo: discus thrower Photograph courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston The discus was made of stone, iron, bronze, or lead, and was shaped like a flying saucer. Sizes varied, since the boys' division was not expected to throw the same weight as the men's division. The Javelin:  The Javelin The javelin was a man-high length of wood, with either a sharpened end or an attached metal point. It had a thong for a hurler's fingers attached to its center of gravity, which increased the precision and distance of a javelin's flight. ABOVE: Boston 98.876 Side A: athletes From Caskey & Beazley, plate XXXVII. With permission of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. LEFT: Harvard 1977.216.2244 Side B: youth with javelin, from the waist up Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums The Jump:  The Jump Boston 01.8020 Side A: jumper Photograph courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Athletes used lead or stone jump weights (halteres) shaped like telephone receivers to increase the length of their jump. The halteres were held in front of the athlete during his ascent, and forcibly thrust behind his back and dropped during his descent to help propel his body further. Jump weights also doubled as weight lifting equipment during training. Running:  Running There were 4 types of races at Olympia. The stadion was the oldest event of the Games. Runners sprinted for 1 stade (192 m.), or the length of the stadium. The other races were a 2-stade race (384 m.), and a long-distance run which ranged from 7 to 24 stades (1,344 m. to 4,608 m.). Philadelphia MS739 Main panel: runner on right Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Running:  Running And if these races weren't enough, the Greeks had one particularly grueling event which we lack. There was also a 2 to 4-stade (384 m. to 768 m.) race by athletes in armor. This race was especially useful in building the speed and stamina that Greek men needed during their military service. If we remember that the standard hoplite armor (helmet, shield, and greaves) weighed about 50-60 lbs, it is easy to imagine what such an event must have been like. Harvard 1972.39 Side B: hoplitodromos at left Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums The Marathon:  The Marathon The marathon was never one of the ancient Olympic events, although its origin dates back to another episode in ancient Greek history. In the 5th century B.C., the Persians invaded Greece, landing at Marathon, a small town about 26 miles from the city of Athens. The Athenian army was seriously outnumbered by the Persian army, so the Athenians sent messengers to cities all over Greece asking for help. The traditional origin of the marathon comes from the story how a herald named Phidippides ran the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory and died on the spot. Philadelphia MS739 Main panel: runner on right Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology The Marathon:  The Marathon Phidippides was sent by the Athenians to Sparta to ask for help; a man named Eukles announced the victory to the Athenians and then died. Later sources confused the story of Phidippides, also called "Philippides," with that of Eukles. Although most ancient authors do not support this legend, the story has persisted and is the basis for the modern-day marathon. The modern Olympic marathon is approximately 26 miles and usually takes over 2 hours for athletes to finish. Philadelphia MS739 Main panel: runner on right Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Ancient Greek Wrestling! It’s no WWE Wrestling!:  Ancient Greek Wrestling! It’s no WWE Wrestling! Plato makes fun of boxers' faces, calling them the "folk with the battered ears." Plato, Gorgias 515e. Wrestling: Now Ring that Bell!:  Wrestling: Now Ring that Bell! Like the modern sport, an athlete needed to throw his opponent on the ground, landing on a hip, shoulder, or back for a fair fall. 3 throws were necessary to win a match. Biting was not allowed, and genital holds were also illegal. Attacks such as breaking your opponent's fingers were permitted. Philadelphia MS2444 Side A: trainer watching wrestlers Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Wrestling: Where’s the Doctor!:  Wrestling: Where’s the Doctor! In one of Aristophanes's comedies, one character recommends that another rub his neck with lard in preparation for a heated argument with an adversary. Olympia, Palaestra: Eastern portico from North Photograph by Michael Bennett The debater replies, "Spoken like a finished wrestling coach." (Aristophanes, Knights l.490ff.) Boxing! Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!:  Boxing! Let’s Get Ready to Rumble! Plato makes fun of boxers' faces, calling them the "folk with the battered ears." Plato, Gorgias 515e. Boxing: Last Man Standing!:  Boxing: Last Man Standing! Ancient boxing had fewer rules than the modern sport. Boxers fought without rounds until one man was knocked out, or admitted he had been beaten. Unlike the modern sport, there was no rule against hitting an opponent when he was down. Mississippi 1977.3.68 Side B: boxers Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of the University Museums, University of Mississippi There were no weight classes within the men's and boys' divisions; opponents for a match were chosen randomly. Boxing: Last Man Standing!:  Boxing: Last Man Standing! Instead of gloves, ancient boxers wrapped leather thongs (himantes) around their hands and wrists which left their fingers free. Philadelphia MS2444 Side B: himantes hanging above boxer Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Pankration!:  Pankration! The poet Xenophanes describes the pankration as "that new and terrible contest...of all holds" (Xenophanes 2) Pankration: No Biting!:  Pankration: No Biting! This event was a grueling combination of boxing and wrestling and had separate divisions for both men and boys. Punches were allowed, although the fighters did not wrap their hands with the boxing himantes. Rules outlawed only biting and gouging an opponent's eyes, nose, or mouth with fingernails. Toledo 1961.24 Side B: pankration Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art Attacks such as kicking an opponent in the belly or groin, which are against the rules in modern sports, were perfectly legal. Ride em’ Horsey! Equestrian Events: Chariot Races & Horeseback Riding:  Ride em’ Horsey! Equestrian Events: Chariot Races & Horeseback Riding Chariot Racing:  Chariot Racing There were both 2-horse chariot and 4-horse chariot races, with separate races for chariots drawn by foals. Another race was between carts drawn by a team of 2 mules. The course was 12 laps around the stadium track (9 miles). Tampa 86.34 Side A: charioteer and chariot box at left Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of the Tampa Museum of Art Horses Aren’t Cheap!!:  Horses Aren’t Cheap!! Aristophanes, the comic playwright, describes the troubles of a father whose son has too-expensive tastes in horses: "Creditors are eating me up alive...and all because of this horse-plague!" (Aristophanes, Clouds l.240ff.) Tampa 86.35 Shoulder: chariot race Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesyof the Tampa Museum of Art Riding: Let’s Go to the Races!:  Riding: Let’s Go to the Races! The course was 6 laps around the track (4.5 miles), and there were separate races for full-grown horses and foals. Jockeys rode without stirrups. Tampa 86.24 Side B: two riders Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of the Tampa Museum of Art Only wealthy people could afford to pay for the training, equipment, and feed of both the driver (or jockey) and the horses. As a result, the owner received the olive wreath of victory instead of the driver or jockey. The Olympic Judges:  The Olympic Judges Who were the Olympic Judges?:  Who were the Olympic Judges? Unlike the modern Olympics, judges did not come from all over the Greek world, but were drawn from Elis, the local region which included Olympia. The number of judges increased to 10 as more events were added to the Olympics. Olympia, Stadium: Officials' seats on South side of stadium from North West Photograph courtesy of Frederick Hemans Judges—Just Want to Have Fun!:  Judges—Just Want to Have Fun! Even though the judges were all Eleans, local Elean Greeks were still allowed to compete in the Olympics. The Elean people had such a reputation for fairness that an Elean cheating at the Games was a shock to other Greeks. Harvard 1925.30.124 Side B: two boxers, official, and Olympians Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums Slide50:  "It is a wonder in any case if a man has so little respect for the god of Olympia as to take or give a bribe in the contests; it is an even greater wonder that one of the Eleans themselves has fallen so low. But it is said that the Elean Damonicus did so fall at the hundred and ninety second Festival. They say that collusion occurred between Polyctor the son of Damonicus and Sosander of Smyrna, of the same name as his father; these were competitors for the wrestling prize of wild-olive. Damonicus, it is alleged, being exceedingly ambitious that his son should win, bribed the father of Sosander. When the transaction became known, the umpires imposed a fine, but instead of imposing it on the sons they directed their anger against the fathers, for that they were the real sinners." (Pausanias 5.21.16ff) Pausanias on Sportsmanship I Slide51:  "...it is the custom for athletes, their fathers and their brothers, as well as their trainers, to swear an oath upon slices of boar's flesh that in nothing will they sin against the Olympic games. The athletes take this further oath also, that for ten successive months they have strictly followed the regulations for training. An oath is also taken by those who examine the boys, or the foals entering for races, that they will decide fairly and without taking bribes, and that they will keep secret what they learn about a candidate, whether accepted or not." (Pausanias 5.24.9ff) Pausanias on Sportsmanship II Cheating & Punishments:  Cheating & Punishments He Who Cheats—Is Going to Pay Up!:  He Who Cheats—Is Going to Pay Up! Anyone who violated the rules was fined by the judges. The money was used to set up statues of Zeus, the patron god of the Games at Olympia. In addition to using bribes, other offenses included deliberately avoiding the training period at Olympia. Harvard 1925.30.124 Side B: official on right, upper half Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums He Who Cheats—Only Cheat’s Himself!:  He Who Cheats—Only Cheat’s Himself! One athlete claimed that bad winds kept his ship from arriving in time, but was later proved to have spent the training period traveling around Greece winning prize money in other competitions. Another athlete was so intimidated by his opponents that he left the Games the day before he was to compete, and was fined for cowardice. Harvard 1925.30.124 Side B: official on right, upper half Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums Rewarding the Winners Victory is Mine!:  Rewarding the Winners Victory is Mine! The Birth of the Sports Hero :  The Birth of the Sports Hero A victor received a crown made from olive leaves, and was entitled to have a statue of himself set up at Olympia. Mississippi 1977.3.107 Youth, detail of head and shoulders Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of the University Museums, University of Mississippi Can I Have Your Autograph? :  Can I Have Your Autograph? Although he did not receive money at the Olympics, the victor was treated much like a modern sports celebrity by his home city. His success increased the fame and reputation of his community in the Greek world. It was common for victors to receive benefits such as having all their meals at public expense or front-row seats at the theater and other public festivals. One city even built a private gym for their Olympic wrestling champion to exercise in. Harvard 4.1908 Main panel: Nike holding phiale and oinochoe, altar at left Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums How did the participants in the Ancient Olympic Games exhibit the ideals and values of Ancient Greek society?:  How did the participants in the Ancient Olympic Games exhibit the ideals and values of Ancient Greek society? What impact do the Ancient Greek Olympic Games have on Modern History and Sports today?:  What impact do the Ancient Greek Olympic Games have on Modern History and Sports today? What does studying the Ancient Olympic Games reveal about the attitudes towards men in women in Ancient Greece? :  What does studying the Ancient Olympic Games reveal about the attitudes towards men in women in Ancient Greece? Regarding athletics & professional sports today, how are male & female athletes viewed by society? It this view similar or different from how the Ancient Greeks felt?:  Regarding athletics & professional sports today, how are male & female athletes viewed by society? It this view similar or different from how the Ancient Greeks felt? Name & Explain (2) ways in which the Ancient Greek Olympics are similar and (2) ways they are different from the Modern Olympic Games.:  Name & Explain (2) ways in which the Ancient Greek Olympics are similar and (2) ways they are different from the Modern Olympic Games.

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