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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…

Pythionikai

(225 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (Πυθιονῖκαι/ Pythionîkai, 'victors at the Pythian Games'). Victors at Olympia were in many cases also successful at the Pythia [2] [1]. A list of Pythionîkai was drawn up by Aristotle [6] and his relative Callisthenes [1] [2. 139-144; 3]. Some of the inscriptions written in their honour have survived (FdD 2,1; 2,400; [2. 141-144]). Twelve of the odes of Pindarus [2] are dedicated to Pythionîkai. In Delphi, important anathḗmata (Anathema) have been found, such as the 'charioteer' given by the Sicilian tyrant Polyzalus  [4. no. 13] and the votive g…

Riding

(494 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] (Sport; κέλης/ kélēs). Although there is evidence, for instance from Egypt [1], of riding on horseback as early as the mid-2nd mill. BC, it was only in Greece that it became a sporting discipline, riding competitions having apparently taken place at the Olympic Games (Olympia IV) from 648 BC. Like chariot-racing (Circus II, Hippodromos [1]), riding was the province of the nobility. Among the 31 preserved names of Olympic victors in riding are well-known names such as Hieron [1] I, t…

Running (competitions)

(579 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] Running first appears in Sumeria as a royal attribute [1]. The Egyptian pharaoh showed his running ability in the ritual of the Jubilee Feast (Egyptian ḥb-sd) [2]. The first evidence of competition is among the Hittites, where the office of royal bridle-holder was awarded as a prize in a competitive race [3]. Soldiers of the Egyptian king Taharka performed a race over a distance of c. 100 km after a long period of daily training in 686/685 BC [4]. Running was an essential part of Patroclus' funeral agon (Hom. Il. 23,740-797), held by the 'fleet-footed' (πόδας ὠκύς, pódas ōkýs)…

Actia

(269 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] Augustus founded the penteteric Actia in commemoration of the decisive victory won by him over Marcus Antonius in the sea battle off Cape Actium on 2 September 31 BC (Str. 7,325; Suet. Aug. 18; Cass. Dio 41,1); they were probably celebrated for the first time on the anniversary of the battle in 27 BC [1.105-106] and elevated to the status of periodos. Cited in many victory rolls during the Imperial Age, sometimes in the same breath as the Olympic and Pythian games [2.275]. They comprised a programme that included gymnastics, the arts (Stat.…

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 …

Victor statues

(501 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] Victors in Greek agones (mainly in Olympia; Olympic champions) were awarded the right to erect life-size bronze statues of themselves at the place of competition (and in their home towns), but because of the great cost (ten times the yearly earnings of a craftsman [1. 125]) this was not taken up by all of them. An athlete would therefore only rarely receive more than one VS (three recorded only for Dicon from Caulonia, Paus. 6,3,11) for all his victories. The practice started with…

Prizes (games)

(417 words)

Author(s): Decker, Wolfgang (Cologne)
[German version] Evidence that prizes were given out in athletic competitions exists as early as for the Sumerians [1], Egyptians [2] and Hittites [3; 4] (silver ring; banquet; cake, silver, ram, the courtly office of royal bridle keeper). The woman as a prize in the bridal agon legitimizes rule (examples: the Egyptian tale of 'The enchanted Prince' [2. 67, 78]; myth of Pelops in Olympia [5]; Odysseus' archery competition: Hom. Od. 21; Agariste, daughter of Cleisthenes of Sicyon: Hdt. 6,126-130). The riches that Achilles offers at Patroclus' funeral agon are vast: women, animals, …

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…
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