Ancient Olympic Events


Philadelphia MS739
Main panel: runner on right
Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

There were 4 types of races at Olympia. The stadion was the oldest event of the Games. Runners sprinted for 1 stade (192 m.), or the length of the stadium. The other races were a 2-stade race (384 m.), and a long-distance run which ranged from 7 to 24 stades (1,344 m. to 4,608 m.).

And if these races weren't enough, the Greeks had one particularly grueling event which we lack. There was also a 2 to 4-stade (384 m. to 768 m.) race by athletes in armor. This race was especially useful in building the speed and stamina that Greek men needed during their military service. If we remember that the standard hoplite armor (helmet, shield, and greaves)weighed about 50-60 lbs, it is easy to imagine what such an event must have been like.

Harvard 1972.39
Side B: hoplitodromos at left
Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums

The Phaiacian nobles entertain the hero Odysseus by competing in athletic games: "A course was marked out for them from the turning point, and they all sped swiftly, raising the dust of the plain, but among them noble Clytoneus was far the best at running...he shot to the front and the others were left behind." (Homer, Odyssey 8.121ff.)

To read more about these topics, see Further Resources.

This exhibit is a subset of materials from the Perseus Project database and is copyrighted.