Classical Studies 2300 Lecture Notes - Hoplitodromos, Pankration, Ritual Purification

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Chapter 6 - The Olympic Games (300 BCE)
120th Olympiad took place in 300 BCE; reconstructing this one because hardly any evidence left from physical setting of
Olympia in 500 or 400 BCE
o Olympic Games always took place at second full moon after summer solstice
In this case, that was August 9
o Elis, 36 km northwest of Olympia, is the rural town that controlled Olympia and supervised games
o "Old gymnasion" which "athletes go through all the customary training before they repair to Olympia" - Pausanias
Gymnasion held racetrack, separate practice track, plethorion (Hellanodikai [judges] match wrestlers by age and
Second square gymnasion for wrestling
One road from here led to baths and another led to the agora and Hellanodikaion (judges building)
Third gymnasion for young men of the city for the entire Olympic festival; also has a council house
(Bouleuterion) of the Eleans
o Even public spaces had an athletic bias - marketplace (agora) was called hippodrome,
o Elis was therefore the ancient predecessor of the Olympic Village
o 3/4 years of each Olympiad, nothing much connected to the festival occurred at Elis
o Year before the Games, Olympic prep began
10 months before Games, 10 Hellanodikai, elected by Eleans to supervise Olympics, move into Hellanodikaion by
'Guardians of law" instructed Hellanodikai on their duties
Olympic council was a 50 member panel with supervision over the games; athletes would appeal to them for
Hellanodikai were split into subcommittees - one group in charge of horse races, another footraces, and third for
heavy events
Last two worked together in pentathlon
o Prep had to be made to announce the sacred truce (ekecheira) which covered the month before the games, from July 10-
August 9
Allowed participants (athletes and spectators) to travel in safety to games
Broadcast by groups of heralds
Theorodokoi, envoy-receivers, facilitated task of heralds when they arrived in their cities
Served as local reps of the games
o After Olympic truce, athletes gathered at Elis and would undergo a month of training under watch of Hellanodikai
Athlete who got there late and couldn't prove he had been delayed by illness, pirates, or shipwreck, was assessed a
fine; if he couldn't pay, was flogged
Start of the competition, athletes took an oath stating they had strictly adhered to training for past 10 months
Sometimes spectators would come to Elis to watch athletes practice
Final pairings of athletes, done by drawing lots from a vessel, may have occurred at this time, but more likely
occurred at Olympia
o Festival site at Elis never abandoned during 4-year Olympiad - permanent staff needed to take care of tourists
Number of on-call officials who helped visitors make sacrifices to Zeus
Sacrificing priest who was aided by flutist, libation-pourer, 3-man libation-dancers, woodman who
provided fuel for sacrifices, butcher cook
5 bailiffs to keep order
Official guide to satisfy visitors' curiosity
Officials paid with a portions of the sacrificial animal
o Games drew near, craftsmen came in to Olympia perform specialized tasks
Stadium had to be cleared and prepared
Other buildings needed repairs and fresh paint
Fixed problems with water channel surrounding racetrack and stadium
Dug up surface of track with handpicks and sprinkled with water, then compacted with rollers to create smooth
running surface
Pits (skammata) for jumpers had to be dug up (but this took place DURING the competition)
White earth was applied to stadium floor
Starting mechanisms, hysplex II in 300 BCE, had to be installed
Hippodrome also had to be cleaned and have a starting mechanisms installed
o August 6, Olympia is prepared for the Games
Crowd at Elis ready to take off
Hellanodikai gather athletes before departure to say, "If you have worked to be worthy of going to Olympia, if
you have done nothing indolent or ignoble, then take heart and march on; but those who have not so trained may
leave and go wherever they like"
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