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Pentathlon

(466 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (πένταθλον; péntathlon). First ever multi-discipline event in the history of sport, held in Olympia allegedly from 708 BC for men, and just once for youths in 628 BC. Mythical derivation from the campaign of the Argonauts (Philostr. Perì gymnastikês 3) [1]. The strong iconographic presence and long tradition with sources that are at times difficult to analyse have led to appreciable differences in interpretation both as regards the running and order of the exercises (but not of the…

Discus throwing

(385 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] The discus (δίσκος, dískos) was originally a product of copper smelting, a solidified puddle. In origin a desirable Bronze Age commodity, it developed into a piece of sports equipment. In the Iliad (23,826-849), where it appears as σόλος ( sólos) (23,826, 839, 844; this poetic term also in Quint. Smyrn. 4,436), this link is still tangible, because in the discus throwing contest, the discus is both projectile and prize, however, anachronistically made of iron [2]. As a throwing disc made of metal (occasionally stone), between 17 and 32 cm in diameter and c. 4-5 kg in wei…

Olympic champions

(463 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (ὀλυμπιονῖκαι/ olympionîkai). The victory won at Olympia [IV] was considered the greatest of all victories in the Greek games. Pindar (Ol. 1,3-7) is not the only witness to this, the idea is also confirmed by the frequent accentuation of this place of competition in victory inscriptions [1; 2 passim]. The glory of Olympic champions, in which the home cities also bathed, was proverbial (Plat. Rep. 5,465d). Victory odes ( epiníkia ) were written to them (e.g. Pind. Ol. 4; 5 to Psaumis of Camarina, victor in the chariot race). Statue…

Milon

(396 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] [1] see Medon [7] see Medon [7] Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne) [German version] [2] Famous wrestler from Croton, 6th cent BC. Milon (Μίλων) of Croton. A wrestler, one of the most famous athletes of Greek antiquity, with 32 victories at Panhellenic competitions ( Sports festivals). No other ancient athlete won six times at Olympia as he did (540; 532-516 BC) [1. no. 115, 122, 126, 129, 133, 139]; he was also a six-time periodonikēs ( Periodos, Periodonikes) [2. 16-18; 3. 340]. His countryman Timasitheus [1. no. 145] thwarted his attempt at a seventh Olympi…

Athletes

(954 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] With their designation by name, athletes step out of the anonymity of prehistoric sports and become individual figures in the history of sports. Examples of early athletes are Pharao Djoser at the Jubilee race (3rd dynasty, 2624-2605 BC) [1.A 6-9] and especially Amenophis II (18th dynasty, 1438-1412 BC) with his accomplishments in archery [2.44-50], and Šulgi of Ur (end of the 3rd millennium BC) [3; 4. 46-53] and Šulgigalzu [4. 30f.] should also be placed in this array. As individ…

Pulydamas

(136 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (Πουλυδάμας/ Poulydámas; also Polydamas/Πολυδάμας/ Polydámas) of Scotussa (Thessaly). Victor at the Olympic Games (Ol. 93 = 408 BC) in the pankration , of unusual body size whose deeds were embellished by legend (Paus. 6,5,4-9). His fight with the lion and his appearance at the royal Persian court where he was said to have killed unarmed three armed bodyguards of Darius II are depicted on the base of his victor's statue in Olympia, which was sculpted by Lysippus [2] and was alleged …

Capitolea

(182 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] ( Agon Capitolinus). In contrast to the Neroneia, the Capitolea festival, introduced by the emperor Domitian in Rome in AD 86 (Suet. Dom. 4,4), considerably outlasted their founder because of their name connection with Jupiter Capitolinus. The highly regarded contest based on the Greek model and consisting of an athletic (held in the stadium Domitiani, now the Piazza Navona [1]), musical and hippic programme, certainly won by 64 victors [2. 123-155], still existed in the middle of the 4th cent. During Domitian's rule, it also comprised a cursus virginum (‘race of yo…

Age groups

(346 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] The athletics programme of the Greek agones ( Sport festivals) was mostly designed for the age groups παῖδες ( paîdes; boys, approximately 14-17 years), ἀγένειοι ( agéneioi; youths, actually ‘beardless ones’, approximately 17-20 years) and ἄνδρες ( ándres; men). At the Olympic Games, where, it is said, in 632 BC the track event was supposedly the first competition for youths (here called παῖδες, age limit probably 18 years), and the Pythian Games, the two most prestigious games of all, there were only two age groups…

Bow-shooting

(369 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] In contrast to the ancient Middle East [1] and ancient Egypt [2. 42-54; 3. 1,139-189, 2, pl. 68-83, 446-450, folding plate A], where impressive reports and depictions of competitions or royal demonstrations in the art of bow-shooting (especially from Amenophis II, 1438-1412 BC) have survived, bow-shooting played only a modest role in athletic contests of later Greece [4.365-371; 5.155-158]. However, bow-shooting appears a number of times in both the Iliad (23,850-883; and, followi…

Fist-fighting

(875 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (πυγμή, πύξ; pygmḗ, pýx; pugilatio, pugilatus). There is already evidence of the discipline in the pre-Greek period (Egypt [1. N 1-2]; Mesopotamia [2. fig. 69; 3. 16f.]) and it was also practised in ancient marginal cultures (Etruria [4. 181-268]; representation on situlae [4. 168-174; 185f.; 226-231]; Lucania [5. 54f.]). In the early Greek Aegean area impressive documents from Thera (fresco of the so-called ‘boxing princes’) [6. pl. 38; 7. 43-45] and the depiction on a rhyton from Hagia Triada [6. pl. 106f.; 7. 43-45]…

Apobates

(258 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (ἀποβάτης; apobátēs). Relic of an early style of combat portrayed in Homer [1.31], the apobates contest, in which an armed man sprang from a moving chariot, had to run for a distance and then jump back aboard (?) while the driver kept the vehicle moving, evidently later enjoys high favour as a sporting event only in Athens [2.188-189; 3.138-141]. The complex discipline, where, besides equestrian qualities, great skill on the part of the armed runner and precise co-ordination between him and the …

Dolichos

(314 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (δόλιχος; dólichos). Longest running race at Greek sporting events. At Olympia, where the dolichos reportedly came into the program in 720 BC (15th Olympiad) as third sport, it probably covered a stretch of 20 stades ( c. 3,845 m) [1. 108f.]. Over that distance the disadvantage of turning around a central post ( Diaulos), was reduced. Graphic [2] and archaeological (Nemea [3]) evidence to this effect should therefore be taken seriously. A good turning technique created distinct advantages. Successful dolichos-runners were, by way of example, the periodonikai (vic…

Periodos, Periodonikes

(275 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (περίοδος/ períodos, περιοδονίκης/ periodoníkēs). The four most significant Panhellenic agons (Sports festivals) at Olympia, Delphi, Nemea and the Isthmus were brought together from the 3rd cent. BC under the term periodos ('circuit'). An athlete who had been victorious at least once in each of those games received the honorary title of periodoníkēs documented only from the 2nd cent. AD (cf. today's Grand Slam for success in the four most important international tennis tournaments of the year). Only c. 60 ancient athletes were entitled to this distinction …

Agonothetes

(400 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (ἀγωνοθέτης; agōnothétēs). While nothing is known of the office and function of the agonothete in pre-Greek times, Achilles as patron of the funeral games in honour of Patroclus already entirely fulfils the duties of later agonothetes (Hom. Il. 23,257-897) [1.81-82]. As patron he provides and distributes valuable prizes from among his own possessions, and repeated calls are made on his abilities as arbiter (disputes, distribution of special prizes). At the same time, he is active a…

Sports festivals

(3,926 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] I. Introductory remark The general term SF is broader than the Greek cultural phenomenon of the ἀγών/ agṓn. The Greeks did not invent SF, but undoubtedly brought them to a peak with the institution of the agṓn. Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne) [German version] II. Egypt The Pharaonic culture of the Nile valley, according to Hdt. 2,58-59,1 the birthplace of the festival ( panḗgyris), provides clear indications for combining sports and festival in a single event [1]. The jubilee festival, the pivotal royal celebration, had a strong athletic accent…

Akoniti

(191 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (ἀκονιτί; akonití). Honorific technical term in the language of the agon: ‘without a fight’, literally ‘dust-free’, i.e. not required to sprinkle the body with fine sand after oiling, as laid down in the athlete's regimen (Philostr. De Gymnastica 56). Akoniti victories occurred when only one athlete had entered (e.g. Paus. 5,21,14), or, more often, when opponents withdrew out of fear or when they had no prospect of victory. This occurred most often in combat sports, but not only in wrestling, as Philostratus indicates …

Isthmia

(568 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] The Isthmia, held in the sanctuary of  Poseidon on the Isthmus of Corinth from 582 BC, belongs to the   períodos (περίοδος, circulation) of the Panhellenic agons. Myths connect the founding of the Isthmic Games with funeral games for the drowned Melicertes (Paus. 2,1,3) or with Theseus (Plut. Thes. 11e) [1]. Archaeological finds for athletic competitions do not precede the 6th cent. BC [2. (jumping-weight); 1. 76 (chariot)]. As early as 229 BC, the Romans were permitted to take par…

Pankration

(255 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (παγκράτιον; pankrátion). The third kind of fighting besides  wrestling and boxing in the programme of Greek agones (Sports festivals). Its goal was to “totally dominate” an opponent, with any means but biting and scratching being allowed for the purpose  (Philostr. Imag. 2,6,3). It is distinguishable in iconography from boxing by the lack of fist straps and from wrestling by the representation of fighting on the ground (Philostr. De gymnastica 11). The famous marble sculpture in F…

Swimming

(387 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (Egyptian nbj; Greek κολυμβᾶν/ kolymbân; Latin natare). Swimming was a basic cultural skill as early as in ancient Egypt ([1]; likewise later in Greece, Pl. Leg. 689d; in Rome, Suet. Aug. 64,3: Augustus teaches his grandsons to swim) and was part of the education syllabus of high-ranking people, even of the king's children (biography of nomarch Cheti, end of 3rd millennium BC [2. document 3]). There are also sufficient sources for the Ancient Near East to assume that swimming was known …

Wrestling

(658 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] I. Egypt and the Ancient Middle East In ancient times, wrestling, an age-old form of martial art, was widespread. The earliest representations in Egypt go back as far as the First Dynasty ( c. 3000 BC) [1. 533-564, L 1]. In seven Middle Kingdom graves of district princes in Banī Ḥasan there are depictions of in all some 500 wrestling pairs, some arranged in cinematographic sequences [1. L 15-21; 2. 70-72]. Wrestlers are also documented for the New Kingdom, including at sports festivals; Nubians among others are me…
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