Games in ancient Greece were considered no less than a religious festival. The Greek Olympics are believed to have begun in 776 BC which inspired the beginning of modern Olympic Games in 1896. These Games were a way of paying tribute to the king of gods, Zeus, and were staged every four years in a valley near the city of Elis called Olympia. The inbuilt warrior skills in Greeks lead to the birth of games such as boxing, chariot racing, running, wrestling and much more. The games were much different from that of the modern games regarding participation opportunities. There were many games in which the men who could speak the Greek language were allowed the compete leaving behind the men from other countries. The prizes for the winners consisted of crowns or olive leaf wreath. The games took an image of a political instrument which was used by the city and states to showcase their dominance over the rival kingdoms. The rules were lax. Hence, the competition often took a dirty phase. The ancient Greek games became a way of spreading the Hellenistic culture over the Mediterranean regions. Listed below are the 9 games that brought forward the athletic spirit in ancient Greece.
1. Boxing (Greek Pygmachia)
Ancient Greek Boxing dates back to the 8th century when it was considered as an important part of Greek athletic culture. There are numerous legends related to the birth of boxing as a game in ancient Greece. The first legend holds that the heroic ruler Theseus invented boxing. In his invention of boxing, two men sat facing towards each other as they beat each other with their fists till the time one of them gets killed. As the time passed by the sitting positions changed into the standing, and the boxers started to wear gloves with spikes. They fought completely naked except the fact that the Another legend is an artistic work of Homer. In his Illiad, the Mycenaean warriors included boxing in their competitions favourite the fallen. Boxing was listed among the contests that were held in memorial of Achilles Trojan war
In opposition to the modern day boxing, there was no segregation regarding weights and age. The competition was not divided into rounds rather it ended when one of the competitors gave up, was killed, or both were exhausted on mutual consent. Moreover, any blow with the hand was allowed except the use of hands to gouge at the eyeballs. Holding or wrestling each other was prohibited. If the fight happened to last too long due to the perseverance of the competitors, they were then allowed to exchange blows undefended for speeding up the process.
2. Chariot Racing
Pottery is an artistic evidence stating that Chariot Racing began during the Mycenaean period. The chariot race is believed to be the event that founded the Olympic Games. According to a legend, as mentioned by Pindar, King Oenomaus challenged eligible suitors for his daughter to race. They were defeated by Pelops who founded the Olympic games in honor of his victory. Homer’s Illiad is the first literary evidence of Chariot Racing held at the funeral games of Patroclus.
In the Olympic Games of ancient times, as well as the Panhellenic Games, there were both four-horse and two-horse chariot races. These were primarily held with same rules keeping aside from the number of horses.The sport was first added to the Olympics in 680 BC. Initially, the event took place for a day and later was expanded to a two-day event. The chariot racing was the most important event out of all other equestrian events such as racing on horseback. Furthermore, the sport was an important patron during the festival days. The races took place on a wide, flat, open space called Hippodrome.
The ancient crowd’s favourite Pankration was a form of martial art formed as a combination of boxing and wrestling. It was launched back into the second millennium BCE. It was undoubtedly considered to be one of the toughest and most dangerous games as from gouging into the eyes to strangling the other person; everything was permitted. In 648 BCE, the game was introduced to 33rd Olympic Games in Greece. It is believed that the birth of Pankration took place at the hands Theseus, the founder and the king of Athens. He allegedly used this unique combination to defeat the half-human half-bull creature, Minotaur; locked in the Labyrinth of Minos. More from mythological origins, Hercules is said to have won in Pankration contest in Olympia. Many Greek vases have been depicting images of the hero conquering the Nemean lion using a strong lock which is a part of the methods of Pankration fighting.
It had two main phases. The first was Ano Pankration or the Upper Pankration during which contestants fought upright. The goal was to use punches, kicks, and lethal blows to knock down the opponent. The second phase was as Kato Pankration or the Lower Pankration which included joint locking, grappling, and strangulation techniques to defeat the opponent. Pankration gave its players liberty to develop their own style. The fighters even got nicknames according to their unique method of defeating enemies. Initially, the players fought with bare hands and naked oiled bodies. Later in the time, they thong wrappings were used to cover their hands and forearms.
4. Discus Throw
A part of ancient Greek pentathlon, Discus throw dates back to 708 BC. During the ancient times the discus was made of lead, stone, iron or bronze, lead depending on the availability of the metal in the old Greece.
Athletes hurled the discus in a spinning motion. Moreover, the game has not gone any severe changes, it is almost the same even today. Both the shape and the technique of throwing the discus is similar to that of the ancient times. The distance to which the discus gets depends on the weight of the thrower’s body and discus, and the technique of throwing. In many ways, this sport a test of both the thrower’s strength and the accuracy of the throwing technique itself. Homer mentioned about the discus throw in his epic, Illiad. Furthermore, Myron, an ancient sculptor has preserved the game in form of a sculptor of an athlete in the motion preparing to throw a discus.
Jumping is believed to have links with the ancient Greek warfare. Greek countryside was covered with ravines, and the soldiers’ ability to jump across long distances was unmatchable. This provided them with rapid movements during the wars. Adapted as a sport, jumping was a component of pentathlon in the ancient Olympic Games. Unlike the modern-day jumping, the athletes in Greece had stone or lead weights known as halters on their feet.
Halters were made in the shape of either dumbells or cones with depressions which gave an easy holding grip. The pit was 50 feet long and had a fixed point known as bater. From this point, the jumps made were measured. The jumper gained acceleration by running and swinging the weights at the same time. Power, followed by the perfect coordination of running and swinging played a major role in achieving a great jump.
Running as a sport can be traced back to 776 BC in Greece. The ancient Greeks developed their training programmes which helped people to take part in the running events organized during the Olympic games. Being a spectator to the running events was vastly enjoyed by the Greeks. Wealthy and large-hearted gentlemen even showered the winners with precious gifts. The sport unquestionably was physically challenging.
There were different types of foot races having varied lengths that took place in ancient Greece. The standard distance of the races was measured in the stade where a single stadia measured approximately 185 meters. The one-stade race was the most eminent which the legendary founder of the Olympic Games could run in one breath allegedly. Other events were the Dolichos and two-stade race. Dolichos was a 20 or 24 stades long race. The races which were longer than one stade required runners to turn 180 degrees around a post located at the two ends of the stadium.
Also known as Palé, the ancient Greek wrestling was one of the most popular sports in the history of Greek games. To win a wrestling match, three points were to be scored by the wrestler. A point was scored when one of the opponents touched the ground with his hip, back or shoulder, or accepted the defeat due to a submission hold, and last but not the least was forced out of the wrestling-area. Wrestling was added as a sport in the Olympic Games during 708 BC. The competitions were held following the elimination-tournament style under which the bout continued until one wrestler was crowned the victor. The wrestling area was a square plethron or stremma. This event came under the pentathlon category. Wrestling showcased the best expression of strength and was represented in Greek mythology by Heracles.
Here are some rules that were followed by the ancient wrestlers in Greece-
- Gouging the eyes or biting was not permitted
- It is the referee’s call whether or not twisting the fingers with the intention of forcing the opponent to concede defeat is permitted
- Attacking the genitals was prohibited
- After scoring a point, the opponent was to be given time to rise to his feet before the wrestling continued
8. Horse Racing
The horse races were quite prominent in the ancient Greece. They were an evident part of festival celebrations. It was listed under the equestrian events that took place in the Olympic games. The people who had a lavish lifestyle were able to afford the horses which later participated in the racing events. The owners irrespective of who rode the horse were given the title of the victors. This gave women an opportunity to be the winners of horse racing without actually being a participant in the event.
It took place at a hippodrome which had two turning points that were considered as dangerous as most of the accidents used to happen there. The sport of horse racing started to lose its importance when the Roman period took over. Not everybody was capable enough to take horses at different regions of Mediterranean, and hence the horse racing in Greece started to demolish.
9. Javelin Throwing
Javelin throw was among the five events in the pentathlon in the ancient Olympics. The competition was to take place on a running track where the athletes ran a few meters and stopped before the starting point to throw the javelin to a distance as far as possible from that beginning point. The wooden javelin’s height was similar to that of a man. The difference between the contemporary method and the old technique of throwing is that the leather loop was attached to the very spot from where the javelin was held. The athlete could have an artificially extended arm by placing one to two fingers in the loop. This provided with the advantage of javelin being accelerated over a longer distance. Moreover, the loop made the javelin to rotate over its axis which bought stability in the whole throwing process.
Sports in Greece had played an important role both now and then. Originated from the warrior skills, the games in Greece became the foundation of Olympics. Games in Greece were both athletically and culturally significant. Greeks have been the most influencing civilizations. From artistic to the architectural world they have ruled like Kings. Now adding to their list, the ancient games that were introduced long back in the historical boundaries of Greece continue to exist even today.