Ancient Greek Recreation And Past-times: The Athenian philosophers strongly believed in the concept of the unity of mind and body and also in building up the strong relationship of all forms of human qualities as well as skills.

These ancient philosophers gave equal importance to play activities as they felt that such activities were vital for the healthy physical as well as social growth of children.

Ancient Greek corinthian

Importance of Sports in Ancient Greek Way of Life

It will be very interesting to note the importance of sports in the life of the Ancient Greeks by quoting the thoughts of Plato who believed that education should be made compulsory and should begin with the right direction of children’s sports as he believed that the plays of childhood contributed immensely to the maintenance or non-maintenance of laws.

The Ancient Greeks played games seriously as well as with full dedication, especially physical athletic competition. The Greeks attached a religious flavor to Ancient Greek Recreation And Past-times as well as leisure activities as they believed that they loved to see their people strong, fit, graceful human bodies, particularly boys’ and men’s bodies.

Girls playing knucklebones

Hence, one sure way of pleasing the gods was by exercising, eating right, to oiling their skin, thereby creating a beautifully toned body that the gods would love. The Ancient Greeks were fiercely competitive and one of the famous example of the same being the commencement of the Olympic Games.

Ancient Greek Recreational Activities

Apart from traditional sports, the Ancient Greek people also resorted to certain specific entertainment activities. Some of them are listed below:-


It was usually a aristocratic enjoyment activity. The elite populace used hunting as a symbol of nobility and royalty. Hunting of lion was such a typical activity. The animals hunted were horses, dogs and slave bears.


These were purely recreational activities which were used as means of training for other prominent sports. Swimming was the core such activity. Fishing was more of an occupation and there are stories of a fisherman having won the Olympics.


These were used as recreational means for children. Children of the Ancient Greek city-states amused themselves by  playing in the streets. Juggling, swings, somersaults were practiced as healthy exercises for the children. Hoop was used by the parents to identify their children while yo-yo was another toy for the kids. Other toys were dice, knuckle-bones, and tops. Knuckle-bones were usually found in the socio-educational circles and also in the sanctuaries and graves. Ball games were also very common. ‘Episkyros’ or the commonball was similar to modern football with two teams of equal men fighting it out to get the ball over the backline. ‘Aporrhaxis’ was quite similar to modern basketball where the ball was bounced vigorously and dribbled. ‘Ourania’ was another ball game where the winner would give orders like the king while the loser would sit on a donkey. ‘Ephedrismos’ was setting stone at a distance and trying to aim at hitting it with balls. Games such as using a curved stick by an athlete to move around small disc/ball were also popular.

Ancient Greece Games

Many of the games played in Ancient Greece are included in the Olympics of today. Some of these games are boxing, weightlifting, and the pentathlon. Boxing was much the same in Ancient Greece as it is today.

Some Famous Games


“Fighting with the fists” or “Boxing” was  much harder than the modern sport. Boxing matches were prevalent in Ancient Greece right from the Minoan and Mycenaean times. Images of boxers, in sitting posture, later in standing posture, were seen in Ancient Greek pottery. Theseus, the famous ruler is believed to have invented a form of fighting where the boxers fought with each other until one of them had died. The rules were very harsh and the boxers began to bleed, there were no gloves and winner was the one who would force the other to leave the podium. The “scale” rules decided the winner, if the contest got prolonged. They were like present penalty shootout where punches would be hurled at the faces of the players and the one who stood tall was declared the winner. Some boxers were even killed in this process.  But in the course of time it became less lethal and was included in the Olympics in 688 BCE. God Apollo was regarded as the founder of the sport and Onosmastus of Smyrna is the first winner in Olympic boxing.

Some of the prominent boxers from Ancient Greece were Spartan Ipposthenes, Diagoras of Rhodes, Melankomas and Evrydamas from Cyrene.


Halteres were the Ancient Greek dumbbells and were used in athletics. They were popular in use in the fifth century BCE and dated back to 700BCE. They were used in long jump trainings and weighed usually around 2 to 9 kilograms. It was used for training in battles and also for making the body fit, in order to, resist diseases. But is unlikely that they were used by the common populace, because of their inconvenient shape and they were also difficult to hold. They were only used by the athletes and the soldiers. Halteres exercises included the curl movement, lunges and dead-lifts.


It was a multi-event athletic competition that included five sports- discus toss, javelin throw, long jump, stadion and wrestling. It featured in the Pythian Games, ancient Olympic games and Nemean Games. The winner of each category was to fight it out in wrestling to determine the ultimate winner. The pentathletes were considered to be more of an all round athlete and aesthetically pleasing.

The discus toss of the ancient pentathlon was quite similar to the modern version but had certain other rules and there were five attempts alloted, with the theme of fives within the pentathlon. The ancient Greek javelin throw was much like its modern counterpart. There were two variations- ‘ekebolon’ and ‘stockastikon.’ Here also five attempts were alloted of which the longest throw was recorded.  The long jump was also a series of five consecutive jumps. Stadion was a sprint and it was the first sport to have been featured in the Ancient Olympics. Greek wrestling was called “pale” and it was the final event of the pentathlon. It also had two segments: ‘orthe pale’ and ‘kato pale.’


All of these events are still included in the Olympics today. Another sport played by the Ancient Greeks was the chariot racing which was some sort of a dangerous sport. Young men particularly from the rich families who didn’t need to work spent a lot of their time training for these competitions, and then the best of them were chosen to compete against the best young men from other cities.

Then they would all meet, at the Olympic Games or the Isthmian Games or elsewhere, and compete for prizes and for the favor of the gods. However, only men could compete.

Greek boys also played games which were not part of the Olympic Games, like field hockey. Greek boys usually played games without their clothes on and hence girls were not allowed to watch.

Apart from this, the Ancient Greeks also played some less active games like dice and marbles, knucklebones, and checkers. Even while playing these games, the Ancient Greeks were equally competitive as they had a belief that losing at games implied that the gods didn’t like them.

The Athenean Treasury

Participation of Women in Ancient Greek Gaming Activities

Before concluding, it is important to mention about the participation of women in Ancient Greek games and events. History has records showing the Ancient Greek girls throwing balls, though the Greeks were much less interested in physical activity for girls. The girls from Sparta were believed to exercise naked, while their Athenian counterparts wore clothes.

Having said that, an important thing to note that women did not enjoy an equal status with men as far as enjoying leisure was concerned in spite of few women getting the benefit of decent education and participating in some of the athletic events, according to the Ancient Greeks citizens involved only the men.