Athleticism In The Ancient Olympic Games

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The Ancient Olympic Games celebrated culture and politics as much as athleticism. Examining the Ancient Games through these lenses reveals a contradiction between fostering national Greek unity and the rivalries between Greece’s many city-states. Every four years, tens of thousands of Greeks from hundreds of different city-states came together to compete against each other in sports but also to conduct politics and important business. On the one hand, the Games were grounded in religion and myth, something common to all Greeks across the empire. However, the focus on individual athletes and their victories necessarily served to divide the city-states as they fought for individual honors and prizes. The Ancient Olympic Games were held every…show more content…
There were no prizes for second or third place, as in today’s Games. The city-state of the athlete would also share in the glory. The word “athlete” is a Greek word meaning “one who competes for a prize.” The victor received a wreath made from the sacred olive tree at the rear of the Temple of Zeus, as per the Oracle of Delphi. Though this does not seem like much, the winners also received many prizes from their hometown city-state. This often took the form of money, though some athletes were “allowed to dine for life at public expense.” One scholar reported that an Olympic victor from Athens received a cash award of 500 drachma – a fortune. Another victor was rewarded with immediate rights of citizenship. One victorious runner was given a lavish homecoming by his city-state: He was welcomed home “with an escort of 300 chariots pulled by white horses and a section of the city wall was knocked down for the hero’s entrance.” Upon death, some Olympians were given expensive burials. Many of these benefits of victory were also bestowed on an athlete’s family and descendants. Athletes vying for these personal accolades and for the honor given to their city-states stood in direct contrast to any unifying

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