Prof. Panos Valavanis, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
Athletics and Politics in the ancient Greek games
Athletics in general and the Olympic Games in particular were two of the most characteristic expressions of the ancient Greek spirit. For the first time in history, the Greeks had regularized the striving for physical excellence, dignifying it with religious status and creating special buildings (stadiums, gymnasiums, etc.) to serve the agonistic activity.
In this lecture, we shall focus on a lesser known aspect of those famous events, namely their relation to politics, which was no less important than the athletic facet. The most prominent attendees at the games were usually members of the ruling classes from the city states, who travelled to the major sanctuaries not only to watch their athletes competing in the games, but also to engage in politics or diplomacy at a personal or state level.
The panhellenic festivals held from the 8th c. BC to the 5th c. AD featured many athletic and non-athletic events which provide very interesting insights into the mentality and attitudes of the ancient Greeks. We shall be looking at these in an effort to understand the political aspects of the games and the changes in the methods used by the athletes and their patrons in each particular period to assert political supremacy and influence not only in their own states but throughout the ancient Greek world.