Sports of the Ancient East Athletics in Homer. Athletics and Religion Athletics and Art. Athletics and Education Roman Sports.
The Stadium and the Foot-race. Throwing the Diskos. Throwing the Javelin. The Pentathlon The Pankration. A Greek Athletic Festival Ball Play.. Frontispiece i, 2. Egyptian Games. Boxer Vase, Hagia Triada. Bull-grappling fresco, Cnossus. Boxer on Pyxis, Cnossus. Games on Amphiaraus Vase facing page 20 9.
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Armed Combat, B. Sarcophagus 26 Prize Bronze Bowl. Victory with Hydria, and Panathenaic Am hora facing page 38 13, Boy and Girl Athletes. Physical Types in Early Sculpture facing pages 56, 57 Bronze Statuettes of Athletes. Athletic Bronzes by R. The Athlete at Rest, and in Action. Agonistic Types on Coins. Plan of Palaestra at Olympia. Gladiatorial Barracks and Stabian Baths, 5ompeii facing page 74 Plan of Gymnasium at Delphi. Bath at Delphi, and Washing Trough, Priene facing page 76 Stele of Gymnasiarch. Scenes from the Undressing-room. A Wrestling Lesson. Palaestra Scenes facing page 86 Strigils and Oil Flask.
Washing and using the Strigil facing page 89 Diver, and Torch-race. Victorious Boat, and Pyrrhic Dance facing page 96 Hall of Gymnasium, Statue of Boxer, and rarnese Heracles Etruscan Games Corsini Chair, and Warriors fighting over Trophy facing page Game of Troy Views of Stadium : Delphi, and Epidaurus facing page Starting-lines at Olympia Starting-lines, Delphi, and Stadium, Athens facing page Start of Race in Armour.
The Foot-race facing page The Long Distance Race facing page 94, Modern Running. Jumper and Flute-player. Bronze Diskos. Stone Diskoi, and Diskos-thrower facing page Marking the Throw. The Throw of the Diskos. Diskos raised level with head. Bronze Statuettes of Diskobolos ff Swinging the Diskos. The throw of the Diskos. Adjusting the Amentun facing page Javelin Thrower. Wrestlers engaging. Theseus and Cercyon 9 j85 Wrestling facing page The Flying Mare Peleus and Atalanta wrestling.
Theseus and Cercyon facing page , The Cross-buttock Theseus and Cercyon. Throw from a body-hold Wrestling Groups in Sculpture facing page Boxing scenes Boxers and Boxing Thongs. The Sharp Thongs Boxer with Caestus, and Relief of Boxers facing page , Sparring with open hands.
Boxer knocking opponent down. A knock-out blow Boxers and Pankratiasts The Pankration Pankration, and Heracles and Antaeus. Kicking and Leg-hold, and Arm-locks. Pankration on the ground. Heracles as Pankratiast View of Olympia Acrobats at a Festival, and Horse-race. A Ball Game, and Ball Exercise. A Ball-player Ball Games. The Greeks, as far as we know, were the only truly athletic nation of antiquity.
This does not mean that the Greeks were the inventors of the various sports and games that we describe as athletic. The love of play is universal in all young things. But play is not athletics, though the instinct of play is undoubtedly one of their motives, and recreation is an important element therein.
The child plays till he is tired and then leaves off. The competitor in a race goes on after he is tired, goes on to the point of absolute exhaustion; he even trains himself painfully in order to be capable of greater and more prolonged effort and of exhausting himself more completely. Why does he do this? Why does he take pleasure in what is naturally painful? The idea of effort is the very essence of athletics as the Greeks understood the term and as we understand it; it is indeed inherent in the word itself.
The game that appeals to every true athlete, 1 I. But why does the athlete delight in the grievous contest? Why do we enjoy a hard game? The athlete is one who competes for something, but it is certainly not the material value of the prize that attracts him. The prize may be an ox, or a woman skilled in fair handicraft, a tripod, or a cup, but the most coveted prize in the Greek world was the wreath of wild olive which was the only prize at the Olympic Games. The real prize is the honour of victory. The motive that turns his effort into joy is the desire to put to the test his physical powers, the desire to excel.
It is not every people any more than every individual that feels this joy in the contest, in the effort. The athletic spirit cannot exist where conditions of life are too soft and luxurious; it cannot exist where conditions are too hard and where all the physical energies are exhausted in a constant struggle with the forces of man or nature. It is found only in physically vigorous and virile nations that put a high value on physical excellence: it arises naturally in those societies where the power is in the hands of an aristocracy which depends on military skill and physical strength to maintain itself.
Here are developed the love of fighting and the love of glory, and here we find the beginnings of athletics in wrestling, boxing, and other forms of combat which are the training of the young and the recreation of the warriors. Such were the conditions among the Homeric Achaeans, and probably among many of the tribes of central Europe. But for the tradition which the Greeks inherited from the Achaeans the later development of Greek athletics would have been impossible.
And we may doubt whether the modern athletic movement would ever have taken place but for the spirit handed down to us by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. In the following chapters we shall trace the causes that led to the astonishing development of athletics among the Greeks. Chief among these was the desire to excel. No people has ever been dominated to such an extent by this desire as the Greeks were; no people has ever been so fond of competition. But stimulating as was the spirit of competition and wonderful as were the results that it produced, it was and is a dangerous motive when uncontrolled.
We may doubt if team games could ever have acquired the same popularity among the Greeks as individual contests. Before we proceed to the story of Greek athletics, let us briefly see what traces we can find of athletics in the great civilizations of the East. The walls of Beni-Hassan in particular present us with a truly marvellous display of games and sports. With the sedentary games we are not here concerned except so far as they illustrate the antiquity of the games which have been popular at all times in the Mediterranean, especially of games of chance.
It does not follow that we must look for the origin of these games to Egypt; rather it seems that they are the common property of the whole Mediterranean world, and possibly, if we had fuller knowledge of the Sumerians, we should find the same games among them. Here a few examples must suffice. One of the oldest and most widespread games is draughts.
We have a picture of Rameses III seated on a throne and playing draughts with a lady, perhaps his queen, who is standing opposite. He is in the act of moving one of the men. A late terra-cotta group from Athens shows us a young Athenian and a woman quarrelling over a game of draughts, while an aged dame expostulates with them. Yet a more striking example of the persistence of a game is the Italian game of Morra, known to every visitor to Italy though forbidden by the Italian law. It was especially common among the ladies of fourth- century Athens, and two thousand years earlier the Egyptian artist depicted it on the walls of Beni-Hassan.
With acrobatic performances we come somewhat nearer to athletics, for they imply physical agility and strength and require long and strenuous training. The Egyptians, like all orientals, loved shows of every sort. Egyptian games. Wall-paintings from tombs of Beni-Hassan. The Egyptian acrobats were mostly women, and so were the Greek.
On the walls of Beni- Hassan we see them bending backwards till they touch the ground Fig. These Egyptian acrobats also exhibited their skill in ball play, sometimes singly, throwing up several balls at the same time and catching them sometimes with crossed hands Fig. These ball-playing scenes recur with strange persistence in Greek and Roman art. For example, at Beni-Hassan we see girls mounted pick-a-back on one another, in one case seated side-saddle, and tossing balls to each other to catch Fig.
It is perhaps the game that the Greeks called ephedrismos, in which any player who dropped a catch had to be the ass ovos and carry his fellow on his back. On Greek vases we see it played in the palaestra by young men with an instructor presiding Fig. It is stranger still to find what looks like a team game with three players on each side Fig.
These ball games as depicted at Beni-Hassan were confined almost entirely to women and, as their dress shows, they are mostly professional performers. Yet we can hardly suppose that the games thus represented were not popular also among the young of both sexes.
Boys certainly had games of their own. They played with hoops as did the young Greeks and Romans. In one scene two boys are seated on the ground back to back with arms linked trying to get up off the ground. In another they are swinging heavy bags like Indian clubs Fig. The only truly athletic exercise is wrestling. At Beni-Hassan there is a wonderful variety of wrestling scenes Fig. On one wall alone there are two hundred and twenty wrestling groups. II Egypt 7 They look like illustrations of the wrestling school. Some of the groups show consecutive positions, but it is difficult to discover any definite system or arrangement.
The wrestlers are naked save for a loin-cloth. Every conceivable grip and throw is repre- 2. Beni-Hassany lx. It looks as if it were necessary to get an opponent on his back with his shoulders down. There is, however, no indication of hitting as in the Greek pankration. One of their sports seems very similar to that of single-sticks; the combatants fight with short sticks about two feet long, and their left arms are protected by wooden armguards strapped on Fig. A more formidable weapon was the neboot, which is still used in Egypt and still used to decide quarrels. Wrestling, single-stick, and quarterstaff-play were the exercises of the common people, and of the soldiery who formed a distinct class.
The absence of such competitions is certainly implied by Herodotus,2 who was surprised to find gymnastic contests of a Greek type held by the people of Chemmis at the festival of Perseus. The upper classes seem to have preferred sedentary games and watching the performances of professional acrobats. Both types are represented in the Beni-Hassan pictures, and Strabo 3 tells us of bull-fights held before the temple of Hephaestus at Memphis. From this account of the games of the Egyptians it is clear that they had no claim to be an athletic people though there may have been plenty of athletic material among the poorer classes.
For thousands of years the upper classes lived a life of luxurious ease and security in the fertile Nile valley. They were not a military people, their army was recruited chiefly from the warlike tribes of the Sudan. Among such a people athletics are not likely to flourish, and whatever else Greece owed to Egypt it is certain that she did not owe to them the athletic impulse. Let us turn now to that other great Mediterranean civilization in Crete. Glotz 1 tells us that the Greeks were indebted to Crete for their athletic system and their athletic festivals.
He calls attention particularly to the slim athletic type of figure represented in Cretan art, and describes the Cretan athlete as using a gymnastic belt. The figures represented are certainly of an athletic type, but the slimness that M. Glotz notes is characteristic of much early art, and the wasp-like waist is equally noticeable among the Egyptians.
Moreover, the heavy belt which he describes as a gymnastic belt is part of the ordinary Minoan dress worn by women as well as men. Let us see what we can learn from the monuments. Round it run four bands in relief representing various sports. The topmost band is much damaged, and it is difficult to understand its meaning.
Under the handle are two men fighting, possibly wrestling. They are naked save for loin-cloths and a sort of high boots. Beyond them is a pillar with a curious oblong capital, then two men advancing to the right with outstretched arms, and a third figure stooping down; the rest of the figures are lost.
Athletics in the Ancient World
All three men wear high crested helmets. What are they doing? But without the rest of the group, or the discovery of similar scenes no certainty is possible. The second band represents a scene from the bull-ring. Two magnificent bulls are careering in full gallop, and the second of them is tossing a cowboy; the rest of the scene is lost. The two remaining bands represent boxing scenes. The upper band is divided into three panels by pillars similar to that in the topmost band.
The boxers wear close-fitting helmets, possibly of 1 Glotz, Aegean Civilization, pp. The attitude of the victors is very vigorous. They have the right arm drawn back for hitting and the left advanced. We may notice that the left arm is always bent, a position far superior to the stiff straight guard shown on some Greek vases. In the lowest band the fighters are apparently boys, if we may judge from the thick masses of hair and the short curls on the forehead. Their hands are bare. Two of them have fallen; one sitting on the ground supports himself with his left arm while he holds his right arm above his head to ward off further blows.
The other seems to have been knocked head over heels. Mosso sees in this position traces of the savate. Hall thinks he has been swung by the legs and dashed to the ground, but the attitude of the three standing figures is precisely the same as that of the boxers in the zone above and there is nothing in them to suggest wrestling.
The bull-ring and boxing are, with the doubtful exception mentioned above, the only sports known to Minoan art, and their spectacular character is clearly indicated on our vase. The bands are divided by triple lines and the panels separated by pillars with curious capitals. Moreover, in some of the frescoes connected with these sports we see the actual spectators, elegantly dressed ladies watching from an upper box, or dense crowds represented by a sea of heads.
The scene from the bull-ring represents the Minoan sport of bull-leaping which was a favourite subject of Minoan artists as early as b. It was depicted in frescoes at Cnossus and at Tiryns; it is engraved on seals of Crete and of the mainland. In the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford there is a solid bronze group of a bull and a bull-leaper, and to the same context must belong the well-known ivory figure of a leaper.
The acrobats are sometimes youths, sometimes girls, the latter being 1 Palace of Minos, i, pp. Photograph from facsimile in Berlin from Professor G. The scene is most clearly depicted in the great fresco of the palace of Cnossus, a copy of which is in the Ashmolean Museum Fig. Another scene is represented on a gem said to have been found at Priene. Whether he is going to grapple with him and throw him to the ground we do not know, but here too we are witnessing a performance in the circus.
These circus performances, as Sir Arthur Evans points out, had their origin in the feats of huntsmen or cowboys capturing or mastering the wild bulls in the open country. This is the subject represented on the well-known Gold Cups found at Vaphio. On one cup the bulls are being stampeded into nets. The scene on the other cup is more peaceful, in appearance at least. It is the capture of the bull by a decoy cow. We see the bull first following the cow, then dallying with her, then striding off with uplifted head bellowing with indignation, as he feels the lasso with which the cowboy has fettered his hind leg.
The hunting of the wild bull was a dangerous sport, but in many cases it was a necessity. The wild bull must have been a danger to the country and towns, and many a story was told of the feats of heroes who rid the country of him. One of the labours imposed by Eurystheus on Heracles was to capture the Cretan bull, while the Athenian hero Theseus freed the land from the ravages of the bull of Marathon. These were favourite themes with the Greek artists. From the rodeo of the cowboys of the West we know how man by skill and daring can master the wildest animal, even without weapons.
The Cretan cowboy had the same skill. On many a Cretan seal we see him grappling with the bull. Candia Museum. Thence the sport passed to the Roman amphitheatre and it still survives to-day in the Spanish bull-fight, and in Provence. In the boxing scenes the chief point to notice is the covering of the hand.. This is most clearly seen in a fragment of a relief from Cnossus Fig. The hand is clenched and the guard of the arm extends above the elbow. Now the development of the caestus from these thongs can be clearly traced.
Here a thousand years earlier we find apparently a regular caestus in use. How did it originate? Boxing of the Greek type is a highly specialized form of fighting. It is not natural for the untrained man or the child to use the clenched fist. I will hazard the suggestion that the fist when first used was not empty but held a stone. The Homeric soldiers in battle still hurled stones from a distance. What more natural than that at close quarters stones should be used for striking an opponent?
Here then, I suggest, we have the origin of the use of the clenched fist for fighting. If I am right, we can understand why the Minoan boxer has his arm protected. The Greeks of the fifth century with their hands bound with soft thongs 6. Boxers of late Minoan had no need of such protection, but when period. Fragment of Myce- nean krater from Cyprus: a sharp ring of hard leather was fastened about B.
In British round the knuckles it became necessary Museum, C. But whatever truth there may be in this conjecture, the fact that some of the performers wear helmets is clear proof of the military character of these contests. They have their origin in the experiences of actual warfare just as the bull-leaping in the experiences of hunting. In the same way we saw that in Egypt wrestling was part of the training of the common soldiery.
It is in these contests that the athletic spirit first finds its opportunity. And perhaps it is to the tradition of such combats that boxing owed its early popularity in Eastern lands. The earliest picture of a true boxing-match is on a vase from Cyprus in the British Museum which may be dated about B.
We also find boxing represented on a Babylonian relief in the British Museum. But the relief belongs to the ninth century, and long before this date, as we know from Homer, boxing had developed as a true sport. The combats represented by the Minoan artists however are, we feel, not real athletics, however vigorous they are. It does not even seem clear that they are fighting in pairs. Boxers and cowboys alike are performing not for their own joy in the contest but for the pleasure of the spectators. They have nothing in common with the Homeric warriors who take their delight in the grievous boxing.
Nor can we infer from such scenes that the Cretans were themselves athletic any more than we can infer that the spectators in the Roman amphitheatre were all athletes. It was not from Crete that the Achaeans derived their love of sport, nor is Crete the home of Greek athletics. Excavations are constantly revealing to us the existence of highly developed civilizations in the third millennium or earlier in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, the highlands of Persia, and even north-west India.
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But so far they have not revealed to us the sports of those lands. Those old Persians who learnt to ride, to shoot, and to speak the truth, must surely have been fond of sport. When did they first learn to play polo? Wrestling and ball-games are widely popular in India, but we have no early records of them. For any record of sports in ancient times we must go yet farther east to China. And yet it seems certain that in the Age of Chivalry years before Christ, the Chinese were not only devoted to sports, but that they had something at least of the athletic spirit.
It is stranger still that the most popular Chinese sports were boxing and football. Boxing and football were far older sports. Chinese boxing was more like the Greek pankration than our boxing. No gloves were worn and it included wrestling, la savate, and even the use of the quarter-staff or the spear. It was an aristocratic sport. In a campaign in B. Boxing was regarded more as a business than a sport owing to its practical value in military training. Some of the most famous exponents of the art were Buddhist priests who practised it for the defence of their monasteries, and marvellous feats were related of them.
In later times text-books of boxing were compiled. The esoteric style consists in opposing the adversary but not letting fly unless compelled by force of circumstances. Boxing was evidently an aristocratic and military sport. An old Chinese writer, speaking of the town of Lin-tzii in the third century b. It was not, however, considered a suitable game for emperors, and when one of them persisted in playing one of his councillors sent in a protest against it as too exhausting and undignified for an emperor.
The ball was round, formed of eight pointed strips of leather, and stuffed with hair, but in the fifth century a. The Chinese had apparently only one goal, formed of two bamboo poles, thirty or more feet high, joined by a silk cord over which the ball had to be kicked. In another form of game a net was stretched across the goal in which was a hole a foot in diameter, and the ball had to be kicked through the hole.
It seems that each player took it in turn to kick. There were over seventy kinds of kick, and close dribbling formed part of the game. The opposite side must have been able to interfere in some way, for there were several kinds of foul, but it is not clear how they interfered. The following lines written by the poet Lu Yu a.
Captains are appointed and take their places No allowances are made for relationship, According to unchanging regulations There must be no partiality. But there must be determination and coolness Without the slightest irritation at failure. And if all this is necessary for football How much more for the business of life. We should like to know more of these Chinese sports. It depends on the knowledge of the weakest points in the human body, how to take advantage of these weaknesses, how to grip a limb in such a way as to render it useless.
The former was also published in the Nineteenth Century, They trained themselves for war by all sorts of military and athletic exercises, but these exercises never developed into sports. But sports existed among the common people. Wrestling has always been a popular recreation as in India, and there existed a class of professional 7. Chinese boxers.
Compare the bronze of a pankratiast Fig. But now that jiu-jitzu is no longer kept a secret, it has been proved by actual competition that these giants are no match for the expert in jiu-jitzu, who is usually a small man. The records which we have considered in this chapter are fragmentary and miscellaneous and often hard to interpret.
But one fact emerges clearly. The earliest exercises that can properly be described as athletic are connected with military training and are forms of fighting. These exercises may never develop into athletics, but in them is the germ of athletics. Every Achaean warrior is an athlete and the description of the funeral games in the twenty-third Iliad is by far the earliest account of sports that we possess, and for the sheer joy of sport has never been surpassed.
This is no place to discuss the date and authorship of the Homeric poems. It is sufficient to say that while most authorities date the poems not earlier than the ninth century, it is generally agreed that the state of society that they describe existed at least two or three centuries earlier.
The fair-haired Achaeans of Homer are not the original inhabitants of Greece; they are immigrants from the North, perhaps akin to other fair-haired giants from central Europe who made their way westward as far as our own islands. As far back as the middle of the second millennium tribes of hardy northerners began to move south along the river valleys and across the mountain passes from the plains of central Europe. Some crossed the Straits to Phrygia and Asia Minor, others made their way by sea to Crete; others, chief among whom were the Achaeans, overran Greece, partly destroying, partly absorbing the Minoan civilization.
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There they settled, their chieftains occupying Mycenae and other old Minoan strongholds, their clansmen dwelling round them. They went to war in chariots, and battles resolved themselves usually into a number of hand-to-hand fights between individual chieftains. In sport as in war the hero seeks to be ever the best.
They were probably not Achaeans. But the passage is none the less valuable as showing that Homer regards sports as a natural part of everyday life. Alcinous has entertained Odysseus at a banquet. There the young men disport themselves with running, jumping, wrestling and boxing, and throwing the diskos.
Homer, we see, expects every warrior to be an athlete, and the true athlete has nothing to do with ill- gotten gains. Indeed, in these impromptu games there are no prizes, the young men race and wrestle and box for the sheer joy of the contest. Odysseus is stung by the taunt. He retorts angrily, and picking up a diskos—a stone heavier than those that the Phaeacians were wont to hurl—he lightly slings it far beyond their marks and challenges any of the Phaeacians to beat his throw or to 1 Od.
For, he says, he is no weakling in these sports. In archery, indeed, he surpassed all other men, save Philoctetes. But the Phaeacians have seen enough. No, the Phaeacians are not Achaeans, nor are they athletes in spite of their boasts. Far fuller is the description of the funeral games held in honour of Patroclus which occupies most of the twenty-third Iliad. The custom of celebrating funerals with games is found in many lands; in Etruria, in the Caucasus, in Ireland, even in Siam and in North America.
In Greece it was of extreme antiquity and continued all through Greek history. The aged Nestor in the Iliad recalls his youthful triumphs at the funeral games of Amarynces. The funeral games of Pelias, the uncle of Jason, were represented on two of the most famous of early works of art—the chest of Cypselus at Olympia and the throne of Apollo at Amy- clae.
Funeral games are depicted in many early vases, the well- known Francis vase at Florence and the Amphiaraus vase in Berlin Fig. Sometimes games were held periodically in honour of some departed hero; and it has been argued that all the great athletic festivals in Greece were originally connected with funerals. Many writers have tried to find a ritual significance in the games themselves.
Fighting events have been supposed to be substitutes for human sacrifice, the chariot race a ritual contest for the throne. The celebration of games, it is suggested, was particularly pleasing to the spirit of the departed who had found pleasure in them in his lifetime. There may be some grain of truth in such suggestions, but certainly in Homer we find no hint of any ritual idea underlying the games, nor is there any need of such an explanation. Sports in Homer are part of the daily life and purely secular.
Any important occasion would be a natural excuse for holding sports, the gathering of an army for war, the wedding or the funeral of some great chieftain. Wrestling match, Peleus and Hippalcimus, cp. Departure of Amphiaraus. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory P More information about this seller Contact this seller. Book Description Dover Publications. Seller Inventory NEW Ships with Tracking Number! Buy with confidence, excellent customer service!. Seller Inventory n.
Athletics in the Ancient World
Athletics in the Ancient World. Ancient Greek politics, philosophy, art and scientific achievements greatly influenced Western civilizations today. One example of their legacy is the Olympic Games. Use the videos, media, reference materials, and other resources in this collection to teach about ancient Greece, its role in modern-day democracy, and civic engagement. Skip to content Donate Account. Overview Explore More Vocabulary. Media Credits The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit.
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