9 Ancient Greek Games and Events

9 Ancient Greek Games and Events

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Do you know that the ancient Greek games (the first of the Olympic games) were actually a part of a religious festival? The ancient Greek Olympics took place in 776 BC but the ancient event had sparked up ideas and inspirations for the modern Games started in 1896. Originally these games were considered the way to honor and respect Zeus, the king of gods. The event was held once in every four years in Olympia, a specific valley not far from Elis City – thus the name, get it?

Because the idea was to honor Zeus, the strongest leader gods, then the games were created to test the strength, agility, and skills of the participants. At that time, the participants were warriors and they had to compete against each other in games of wrestling, chariot racing, boxing, running, and others. At that time, the games were different – with the opportunities and regulations were different – from the modern games we have today. At that time, participants were only men and only the ones who could speak Greek. Those who couldn’t, unfortunately, wouldn’t be able to participate. It was quite often that foreign participants (from outside Greece) couldn’t take part despite their abilities and skills. For the prize, the winners would be awarded with olive leaf wreath or crowns.

In the old days, the games were used as a political instrument used by the state and also the city as a show of force the dominance over the other rival kingdoms. The regulations weren’t strict or regulated so dirty play often happened. The games were used as a means to spread the Hellenistic culture all over Mediterranean regions. Do you know that some of these ancient Greek games still exist up until today?

1. Boxing (Greek Pygmachia)

Boxing (Greek Pygmachia)
Boxing (Greek Pygmachia)

Do you know that the ancient boxing was an important part within the Greek sports and athletic culture? Back in the 8th century, the boxing was considered super crucial – especially when related to many legends around the birth of the sports. The first one was about Theseus, a heroic ruler, who had invented boxing. In his creation, two men had to sit facing each other and beat one another (with their fists) until one of them was killed. Later, the sitting position was altered and the boxers had to stand. But it wasn’t less brutal because they had to wear spiky gloves. They had to fight naked. Another legend said that Homer was the creator of boxing. In his work, Illiad, Mycenaean warriors had practiced boxing and it was often included in events and competitions. The sport was often held as one of the contests to commemorate Achiles Trojan war.

Unlike the modern boxing, where there were differences in age, weight, and also divided rounds, the ancient Greek games of boxing didn’t have all of those things. Everyone could take part in the sports, despite their age and weight. One was considered the winner when the another one was killed or gave up. If the two were exhausted and agreed on mutual consent, then the fight could stop. Otherwise, it had to continue. Any blow by using the hand was permitted except for eyeballs gouge. Wrestling or holding each other was not allowed either. In case the fight took place too long, exchanging blows between the two participants without them defending themselves was allowed.


2. Chariot Racing

Chariot Racing
Chariot Racing

As one of the many ancient Greek games, it was believed to start during the special time of Mycenaean period. In fact, it was also believed that Olympic Games was founded because of this sports. Pindar mentioned that it was the legend of King Oenomaus to challenge anyone wanting to marry his daughter with the race. Pelops defeated all of the suitors, and then founded the games to commemorate and honor his victory. In Illiad, from Homer, it was the first ever literary evidence of the chariot racing existence and function. In Illiad, the race was held at Patroclus funeral games.


There were different setups for the chariot race of the ancient Olympic and Panhellenic Games. The number of horses could be different – it was either two or four. However, the rules were the same despite the different numbers. Later, this sport was added to the 680 BC Olympic Games. Originally, the event only took one day for everything. But later, it was expanded to two days. There were also other equestrian sports, like horseback or racing, but the chariot racing was considered the most crucial one. Moreover, it was a crucial patron for festival days. The race itself would take place on an open, flat, and wide space, known as the Hippodrome.


3. Pankration

Pankration
Pankration

We are now familiar with MMA (Mixed Martial Art), a type of sports that combine different forms of martial arts where the athletes have to fight against one another. Well, such a sport have existed since the ancient time, known as Pankration. It was combining wrestling and boxing. The sports was launched and brought back into the sports world during the second millennium BCE. It was considered the most dangerous and also the toughest sports ever existed because it allowed strangling or gouging the opponent’s eyes. As long as it could be used to achieve winning, it was allowed.

The sport was introduced to the Olympic Games the 33rd in Greece in 648 BCE. It was said that Theseus, Athens king as well as the founder, was the one who introduced and designed the game. He used various unique combination when fighting off Minotaur, the half human and half bull creature, locked within Minos Labyrinth. There are also other mythological origins of how the game was originated and created. In mythological story, Hercules won the Pankration contest taking place in Olympia. If you take a look at Greek vases, you will see Hercules’ image defeating Nemean lion with a one of the methods in Pankration techniques.

The sports itself had two major phases. The first one was Upper Pankration or Ano Pankration where the participants had to fight upright. They could kick, punch, or launch dangerous blows to defeat the opponent. The second one was Lower Pankration or Kato Pankration that included grappling, strangulation techniques, or joint locking. The participants were free to develop their own unique fighting styles. They got nicknames based on their unique methods. Originally, they would be fighting naked with oiled bodies and bare hands. Later on, they used thong wrapping to cover the forearms and hands.


4. Discus Throw

Discus Throw
Discus Throw

This is one of the ancient Greek games that still exist until today. Originally, it was a part of the pentathlon, dating back to 708 BC. At that time, it was made from bronze, iron, stone, or lead – depending on the metal availability. The athletes had to hurl the discus within a spinning motion – which is quite similar to what we have today. The throwing technique and the shape are still the same. However, the distance of the discus depended on the discus’ weight and the thrower’s body weight – as well as the throwing technique. Basically, it is a game that would test the throwing accuracy and the athlete’s strength. Such a game was discussed in Homer’s epic, the Illiad. Moreover, an ancient sculptor, Myron, had made a sculpt depicting a thrower preparing the discus.


5. Jumping

Jumping
Jumping

This is an ancient sport that is connected to warfare. You see, the countryside area of Greece was covered in ravines. Soldiers had to jump across the ravines – thus, enabling them unmatched skill and ability in the long jump. Not to mention that this skill was quite handy during the war because soldiers were able to move fast. This ability was then taken to the sports arena and included within the ancient Greek games pentathlon. The practice was different back then. The Greek athletes had lead or stone weights on their feet – known as the halters. They were made within cones or dumbbells with depressions so there would be an easy access to the holding grip. The jumping pit was 50 feet in length and had a bater as the fixed point. From this point, the measured jump was made. The athletes had to run for acceleration and then swung the weights simultaneously. When they successfully combined swinging, perfect running coordination, and power, the athletes should have been able to achieve a great jump.


6. Running

Running
Running

As one of the ancient Greek games, this sport dated back to 776 BC in Greece. The Greeks had developed training programs so people were able to join the running events. Greeks enjoy watching the running events. Wealthy gentlemen would give precious and expensive gifts for the winners. Despite the seemingly beneficial and profitable outcome, the sports itself was quite challenging, especially physically.

Running had different types with different distances too. The standard one was having the so-called stade. A single stade was around 185 meters. There was a popular legend of Theseus, Olympic Games founder, stating that he would run in one-stade race within only one breath. Other events include the two-stade race as well as the Dolichos. Dolichos is the longest one, it was either 20 stades or 24 stades. When the race was more than one stade, runners had to run around a post, which was located at each of the stadium’s two ends, in 280 degrees manner.


7. Wrestling

Wrestling
Wrestling

This is one of the oldest and also most well-known sports within ancient Greek games history. It was also known as the Palé. At that time, the wrestler had to score 3 points to win the match. To get one point, one of the participants had to fall or touch the round with the shoulder, back, or hip. One of them had to accept the defeat through submission hold too. Another one was to go out the wrestling area by force. This is a sports that was taken to the Games in 708 BC. At that time, the arena was a square stremma or plethron and included within the pentathlon category. This is a game of strength. Heracles, one of the Greek mythology figures, was representing this game.

There were some rules in the ancient wresting game:

• It wasn’t allowed to bite or gouge the eyes of the opponent

• Twisting the opponents’ fingers to force a defeat is allowed. It was also up to the referee’s decision

• It wasn’t allowed to attack the genitals

• After a wrestler made a score, the opponent had the chance to rise and stand up. Afterward, the wrestling could go on


8. Horse Racing

Horse Racing
Horse Racing

This is another popular sports at that time, being a part of any festive celebration. The horse race was a part of equestrian games taking place in the Olympic Games. Wealthy people could afford the horses and they usually included their horses in the racing events. The owners were given the victor title. Because of this, women were able to take part in the event and be a winner without having to take part in the race.

The race generally happened at a hippodrome,, having two turning points. These two points were the most dangerous parts because accidents often happened there. The importance of horse racing started to wane when the Roman Empire invaded the country and took over. It was because not everyone was having the capability to take horses from different areas of Mediterranean. That’s why the race event in Greece started to wane and demolish.


9. Javelin Throwing

Javelin Throwing
Javelin Throwing

In the ancient time, javelin throw was one among the other 5 events within the pentathlon events. The competition took place within a running track. The athletes were running a few meters before and then stopped right before the starting point in order to throw the javelin to the distance. The idea was to throw it as far as possible from the starting point. The javelin (which was made from wood) had similar weight to a man. The basic different of the ancient sports and the new one is that the old game had a leather loop attached to the holding spot. The athlete could have an extended arm simply by placing two fingers within the loop. It would accelerate the javelin even more and it could go over longer distance. Moreover, the loop function is to rotate the javelin on its axis. It created a stability within the throwing and power process.


Final Words

Ancient Greek sports had an important in ancient times as well as modern era. It started from the warriors ability and skills. It had become the basic foundation the modern Olympic Games. In the ancient time, it was holding an important cultural and athletically role. After all, Greek has always been the most significant and influencing civilizations. And now, we have the modern sports that are based from the ancient Greek games that still exist up to now.

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