The ancient Greeks were huge sports fans. The sports and Ancient Greek Games today date back to the original Olympic Games between 776 B.C and 394 A.D, introduced by the Greeks.
They loved sports and most cities in Ancient Greece had public gymnasiums where people gathered to train and relax. The Greeks strongly believed that a healthy body was very important. Sports were seen as the best way to keep fit.
Athletes were highly respected in Ancient Greeks, especially Olympic champions. They held great prestige in society and even statues were erected of such athletes. This status was even used to secure certain political advantages sometimes. During the games, even wars were stopped by calling a truce so that the soldiers could participate in these games, as the honour of a state was also connected with their games. Such was the importance of these games in Ancient Greece.
Ancient Greek Games
Religion like in many other spheres of ancient Greek life played a major role in these competitions. They were played as a honor to the gods and they even started with sacrifice to the Gods. It was believed that winning was a sign of favor from the gods. Some believed that the winners were predetermined by the gods. Athletic festivals included an entire day of sacrifices to the deities. Cheaters were banned from sports forever because it was believed that they had insulted the gods.
The sport was a good preparation for war too. The Greek armies had to be fit enough to march long distances, carrying all their heavy equipment, and then begin the fight with the enemy.
The Greeks had four national sports festivals, where athletes from different city-states from all over the Greek world competed against one another. The most important of the sports contests was the Olympic Games, but there were also three more such games recorded in ancient Greek history.
(1)Olympics founded in 776 BC in the honor of Zeus
(2)The Isthmian Games founded in 581 BC in honor of Poseidon
(3) The Nemean Games founded in 573 BC in the honor of Zeus and Hercules
(4) The Pythian games founded in 582 BC in the honor of Apollo
Ancient Greek Olympic Games
Greece is the home country of the Olympic Game and it were played at Olympia, every four years, in honor of Zeus. On the first day of the Olympics, sacrifices of grain, wine, and lambs were made to Zeus.
The games was started in the year 776 BC, with a footrace as the single event, whioch was won by a cook named Coroebus. With time more events were added to the Olympics and it became the most popular and prestigious games in Ancient Greece.
According to the Olympic Museum, athletic competitions lasted five days and included only individual events, no team sports. Athletes competed in events such as running, long jump, javelin, and discus.
There were also equestrian events, such as chariot races and horseback riding. One day included combat sports, such as boxing and wrestling. The original Greek Olympic Games allowed boys to compete in their age group.
However owing to the inaccuracy of birth records, the Olympic and Panathenaic Game only had three groups, namely the boys, youths, and men. Boys were forbidden to compete in the martial art called pankration, a form of wrestling and boxing, and also the pentathlon till 200 B.C. as both these sports were considered too dangerous for children.
The Isthmian Games
The Isthmian Games were held at Corinth being named after the Isthmus of Corinth and were held every 2 years. It is said to have been created by the founder of Corinth, Sisyphus, as a funeral game.
The festival included both musical and athletic competitions and was also used to honor the Greek God of the sea, Poseidon.
The games were open to all Greeks and consisted of chariot races, wrestling, and boxing but only men were allowed. Women were only allowed to take part in musical and poetic events.
The Nemean Games
The Nemean Games were held at Nemea every two or three years and were held in the honor of Zeus. Hercules is said to have started the games after defeating the Nemean lions.
The events included a foot race, a marathon like Long race, wrestling, a sport like boxing, and even a chariot race.
The winners of the events received wild celery leaves from the city of Argos. Initially, the games were quite warlike and only allowed warriors before being allowed to all Greeks.
The Pythian Games
The Pythian Games were held every 4 years, two years before and after the Olympics, and took place in the sanctuary of Delphi in honor of Apollo and were considered the second most prestigious after the Olympics.
The games lasted six to eight days and their pomp and glamour almost equaled the Olympics. A ritual took place in the temple of Apollo.
The events were the same as the Olympics except for a four-horse chariot and the addition of a running race of boys.
The best athletes in Greece competed in different events. Non-athletic Ancient Greek Games, such as dice, marbles, and checkers were also common in ancient Greece.Children in ancient Greece played games like Morra, Knucklebones, and Ostrakinda.
7 Sports Popular in Ancient Greece
- Boxing: Boxing was a very brutal and dirty game in ancient Greece. It was said to be invented by the heroic ruler, Theseus and was an important part of Greek culture. It was a deadly sport where the game ended when one of the two combatants was beaten to death or one of them surrendered. In a legend written by Homer, hiding was one of the sports contested in honour of Achilles, after his death in the Trojan war.
- Chariot Races: Chariot racing was a sport popular right from the Mycenaean period. According to legends about the origins of the Olympic games, Pelops organized chariots at Olympia to honour his dead father-in-law which inspired the beginning of the Olympic games. Both four-horse and two-horse chariot races took place in the Olympic games and were a very popular sport among the aristocrats.
- Pankration: It was a type of martial art by combining boxing and wrestling. It was another deadly sport where violence and bloodshed were very common. Hercules had been portrayed as killing a Nemean lion using a Penkration technique.
- Discuss throw: The modern discus throw competitions are directly influenced by ancient Greek discus throws. The discus was made of stone, lead, iron or bronze and the distance the disc was thrown decided the winner. It even finds a mention in Homer’s Iliad.
- Jumping: It was a part of the ancient Olympic games and was a direct influence from Greek warfare.
- Running: It was the first sport to be included in the ancient Olympic games, and it was the most common sport preferred by athletes. The long races were started in ancient Greece and were named marathons, in honour of a runner who died after delivering the news of Greek victory at the battle of marathon against the Greeks.
- Wrestling: It was a very popular game in ancient Greece and was included in the Olympics in 708 BC. It was a sport where strength was important and it symbolized the strength of Hercules.
- Javelin throw: Another sport which is still represented in modern Olympics. The javelin was made of wood. The winner was decided by the highest length thrown by the athlete.
- Horse racing: This sport has been popular from ancient times even to modern times among aristocrats. It was a sport of prestige and also a show of wealth for them. It was also a part of equestrian events which was another popular sport in the Olympics.
Ancient Greek Children’s Games
The kids in ancient Greek had a number of toys to play with, in their pastime. Dolls, rattles, tops, swings, and many other items have been unearthed by archaeologists. As is seen today, those from richer families had a greater assortment of toys, while those from poorer families were expected to work for the family at a much younger age. Evidence also shows that Greeks kept pets such as dogs, pigs, tortoises, and caged birds. One ritual designated for young girls was the agora or swinging ritual.
There were many games common for ancient Greek children like Ephedrismos which was a type of piggyback game, Ostrakinda which included chasing each other. Juggling was another common game that was encouraged to improve their senses and instincts. The Greeks had many ball games like Episkyros but they used pig bladders for a ball instead of rubber like in modern times.
Some other games were:
- Ourania: It was a sort of catching game
- Aprrhaxis: It was a game which bouncing a ball
- Passe-boule: It was sort of passing game resembling modrn day basketball