William Sterling

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The Ancient Olympics

June 12


As the Modern Olympic Games are going to take place this summer, it is time to reflect on their origin in Ancient Greece. Other Greek cities held games and the class will include a virtual visit to the British Museum.

  1. What is the course about?

Using images from sculpture and pottery and the descriptions by ancient authors, we shall look at the origins of the Olympic Games and how they developed over the centuries and also at games at other places in Greece such as Athens, Corinth and Delphi.  We shall look at all the contests and how they differ from their modern versions but also at the lives of the athletes involved in the games and what it meant to win or lose or to be found cheating.

  1. What topics will we cover?

The games that will be covered in the course include running, running in armour, discus, javelin, jumping with weights, boxing, wrestling, the pankration, pentathlon and equestrian events.  At some games (such as Delphi and Athens) there were also music, poetry and painting competitions.  The history of the Olympic Games from 776 BC to 393 AD will be looked at showing how different games were added over time.  The differences between the four Panhellenic games, at which the prizes were wreaths only, and other games such as the Panathenaic games, at which the prizes were multiple amphorae of valuable olive oil, will be examined to judge the status of the athletes.  The names of some of the athletes have survived and their stories will be examined as far as possible.  We shall also look at the Heraen games for women but these were much smaller and less well recorded than the games for men.

  1. What will I learn? By the end of the course you should be able to:

Have a better knowledge of how game were conducted in Ancient Greece

Understand how Ancient games relate to modern games

Understand about the lives of the professional athletes and how they were viewed by their compatriots

Discover the relationship between sport and religion.