The Ancient Library

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On this page: Olympic Games (continued)



practice of the pancration (a combination of wrestling and boxing); with 520, the race in armour, with helmet, greaves and shield, though afterwards the shield alone was carried. Competitions between heralds and trumpeters also found a place here. Originally it was only men who took part in the contests; but after 632, boys also shared in them.

The contests were open only to freemen of pure Hellenic descent, provided that no personal disgrace had in any way attached to them; but, after the Romans came into closer relationship with Greece, they were opened to them also, and indeed (as is well known) the Romans were not officially con­sidered barbarians. Even to barbarians however, and to slaves, permission was given to view them, while it was refused to all married women [Pausanias, vi 20, § 9], or more probably all women what­soever, except the priestess of Demeter, who even received a place of honour among the spectators. Those who took part in the competitions had to take a solemn oath at the altar of Zeus to the effect that they had spent at least ten months in prepara­tion for the games, and that they would not resort to any unfair trick in the course of their contest: this oath was taken for boy competitors by an older relative. Special practice for thirty days at Elis was also usual, but probably only for those who were coming forward for the first time. The duties of heralds and judges were dis­charged by the HellanOdiri, appointed by popular election from among the Eleans themselves. Their number rose in course of time from 1 to 2, 9, 10, and 12, but after 348 it was always 10. Distinguished by purple robes, wreaths of bay-leaves, and a seat of honour opposite the Stadium, they kept guard over the strict observance of all the minute regulations for the contests, and in general maintained order. In these duties they were supported by a number of attendants provided with staves. Trans­gressions of the laws of the games, and unfairness on the part of competitors, were punished by forfeiture of the prize or by fines of money, which went to the revenue of the temple. Out of the money from penalties of this kind, a whole row of bronze images of Zens (called z<J)i<?s) was erected in front of the eleven treasure-houses along the eastern end of the northern wall of the Altis.

The games were opened with the sound of trumpets and the proclamation of

heralds, the marshalling of the various competitors in the Stadium, accompanied by the announcement of their name and country by the herald, and the appointment by lot of the pairs of combatants. The victors in the several pairs of competitors had then apparently to contend in couples with each other until one couple alone remained, and the winner in this was declared victor. If the number of com­batants had been uneven, so that one of them had remained without an opponent, he had finally to meet this rival. The con­tests were accompanied by the music of flutes. The name of the victor (and one, whom no adversary had come forward to meet, counted for victor), as well as his home, were proclaimed aloud by the herald, and a palm-branch presented to him by the Hellanodlci. The actual prize he only received at the general and solemn distri­bution on the last day of the festival. This was originally some article of value, but. 1 at the command of the Delphic oracle, this ! custom was dropped, and the victors were graced by a wreath of the leaves of the sacred wild olive, said to have been origi­nally planted by Heracles, which had been cut with a golden knife by a boy of noble family with both parents living. After about 540 the victors also possessed the right to put up statues of themselves in the Altis.

The festival ended with a sacrifice made by the victors wearing their crowns at the six double altars of the hill of Cronus, and with a banquet in the PryUneum of the Altis. Brilliant distinctions awaited the victor on his return home, for his victory was deemed to have reflected honour on his native land at large. He made his entry, clad in purple, upon a chariot drawn by four white horses, amidst the joyous shouts of all the people, and then rode amid an exultant escort to the temple of the highest god, and there deposited his wreath as a votive offering. During the ride, as also at the banquet which followed there­upon, the song of victory, often composed by the most celebrated poets, was chanted by choral bands. There was no lack of other rewards: at Athens the Olympian victor received 500 drachma, the right to a place of honour at all public games, and board in the Pi-ytaneum for the rest of his life. The opportunity afforded by the assembling of so vast a crowd from all parts of Greece at Olympia was utilized, from about the middle of the 5th century

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All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.