). Gymnastics were thought by the ancients a
matter of such importance that this part of education alone occupied as much time and
attention as all the others put together; and while the latter necessarily ceased at a certain
period of life, gymnastics continued to be cultivated by persons of all ages. The word
“gymnastics” is derived from γυμνός
(naked), because the persons who performed their exercises in public or private gymnasia were
either entirely naked, or merely covered by the short χιτών
The great partiality of the Greeks for gymnastic exercises was productive of infinite good.
It gave to the body that healthy and beautiful development by which the Greeks excelled all
other nations, and which at the same time imparted to their minds power and elasticity. The
plastic art also must have found its first and chief nourishment in the gymnastic and athletic
performances. Respecting the advantages of gymnastics in a medical point of view, see Athletae
Gymnastics, in the widest sense of the word, comprehended also the agonistic and athletic
）—that is, the art of those who contended for the prizes at the
great public games in Greece, and of those who made gymnastic performances their profession.
In a narrower sense, however, the gymnasia had, with very few exceptions, nothing to do with
the public contests, but were places of exercise for the purpose of
strengthening and improving the body, or, in other words, places for physical education and
training; and it is chiefly in this point of view that they will be considered in this
Gymnastic exercises among the Greeks seem to have been as old as the Greek nation itself, as
may be inferred from the fact that gymnastic contests are mentioned in many of the earliest
legends of Grecian story; but they were, as might be supposed, of a rude and mostly of a
warlike character. They were generally held in the open air, and in plains near a river, which
afforded an opportunity for swimming and bathing. The Attic legends, indeed, referred the
regulation of gymnastics to Theseus (Pausan. i. 39.3), but according to Galen it seems to have
been about the time of Clisthenes that gymnastics were reduced to a regular and complete
system. Great progress, however, must have been made as early as the time of Solon, as appears
from some of his laws which are mentioned below. It was about the same period that the Greek
towns began to build their regular gymnasia as places of exercise for the young, with baths,
and other conveniences for philosophers and all persons who sought intellectual amusements.
There was probably no Greek town of any importance which did not possess its gymnasium. In
many places, such as Ephesus, Hierapolis, and Alexandria in Troas, the remains of the ancient
gymnasia have been discovered in modern times. The oldest remains are those of the gymnasium
at Olympia, which can not be earlier than the end of the fourth century B.C.
, p. 363 foll.).
Athens possessed three great gymnasia—the Lyceum (Λύκειον
), Cynosarges (Κυνόσαργες
), and the
), to which, in later times, several
smaller ones were added. All places of this kind were, on the whole, built on the same plan,
though, from the remains, as well as from the descriptions still extant, it is evident that
there were many differences in their detail. We have no detailed account of a gymnasium of the
best period. The most complete description of a gymnasium
Plan of Gymnasium.
which we possess is that given by Vitruvius (v. 11), which, however, is very obscure,
and at the same time defective, in so far as many parts which seem to have been essential to a
gymnasium are not mentioned in it. Of the numerous plans which have been drawn, that of W.
Newton, in his translation of Vitruvius, may here be given with a few alterations, although
some of the details are open to criticism.
The peristylium (D) in a gymnasium, which Vitruvius incorrectly calls palaestra, is in the
form of a square or oblong, and is two stadia (1200 feet) in circumference. It consists of
four porticoes. In three of them (A B C) spacious exedrae with seats were erected, in which
philosophers, rhetoricians, and others, who delighted in intellectual conversation, might
assemble. A fourth portico (E), towards the south, was double, so that the interior walk was
not exposed to bad weather. The double portico contained the following apartments: The
Ephebeum (F), a spacious hall with seats in the middle, and one-third longer than broad,
destined for the exercises of youths. On the right is the Coryceum (G), used for exercises
with the sack (κώρυκος
), perhaps the same room which in other
cases was called Apodyterium; then came the Conisterium (H) adjoining, where the body was
sprinkled with dust; and next to the Conisterium, in the returns of the portico, is the cold
(I). On the left of the Ephebeum is the
Elaeothesium, where persons were anointed by the aliptae (K). Adjoining the Elaeothesium is
the Frigidarium (L), or more probably the Tepidarium, where there was a lukewarm bath. From
thence is the entrance to the Propnigeum (M), on the returns of the portico; near which, but
more inward, behind the place of the Frigidarium, is the vaulted sudatory (N), in length twice
its breadth, which has on the returns the Laconicum (O) on one side, and opposite the
Laconicum the hot bath (P). These are the more essential and primitive parts of a gymnasium.
But in the time of Vitruvius important additions were made to it. On the outside three
porticoes are built: one (Q), in passing out from the peristyle, and, on the right and left,
the two stadial porticoes (R, S), of which the one (S) that faces the north is made double and
of great breadth, the other (R) is single, and so designed that in the parts which encircle
the walls, and which adjoin the columns, there may be margins for paths not less than ten
feet; and the middle is so excavated that there may be two steps, a foot and a half in
descent, to go from the margin to the plane (R), which plane should not be less in breadth
than twelve feet; by this means those who walked about the margins in their apparel would not
be annoyed by those who were exercising themselves. This portico is called by the Greeks
, because in the winter season the athletae exercised
themselves in these covered stadia. The ξυστός
had groves or
plantations between the two porticoes, and walks between the trees, with seats of signine
work. Adjoining the ξυστός
(R) and double portico (S) are the
uncovered walks (U), which in Greek are called περιδρομίδες
to which the athletae, in fair weather, went from the winterxystus to exercise. Beyond the
xystus is the stadium (W), so large that a multitude of people might have sufficient room to
behold the contests of the athletae. In this description of Vitruvius, two
important parts of other Greek gymnasia (the Apodyterium and the Sphaeristerium) are not
The Greeks bestowed great care upon the outward and inward splendour of their gymnasia, and
adorned them with the statues of gods, heroes, victors in the public games, and of eminent men
of every class. Hermes was the tutelary deity of the gymnasia, and his statue was consequently
seen in most of them.
The earliest regulations which we possess concerning the gymnasia are contained in the laws
of Solon. One of these laws forbade all adults to enter a gymnasium during the time that boys
were taking their exercises, and at the festival of the Hermaea. The gymnasia were, according
to the same law, not allowed to be opened before sunrise, and were to be shut at sunset (Lex
12). Another law of Solon excluded slaves from gymnastic exercises
, 1). Boys who were children of an
Athenian citizen and a foreign mother (νόθοι
) were not
admitted to any other gymnasium but the Cynosarges (Plut.
). Some of the laws of Solon, relating to the management and the
superintendence of the gymnasia, show that he was aware of the evil consequences which these
institutions might produce, unless they were regulated by the strictest rules. As we, however,
find that adults also frequented the gymnasia, we must suppose that, at least as long as the
laws of Solon were in force, the gymnasia were divided into different parts for persons of
different ages, or that persons of different ages took their exercise at different times of
the day. In the time of Plato the salutary regulations of Solon appear to have been no longer
observed, and we find persons of all ages visiting the gymnasia (De Rep.
2.18). Athens now possessed a number of smaller gymnasia, which
are sometimes called palaestrae, in which persons of all ages used to assemble, and in which
even the Hermaea were celebrated by the boys, while formerly this solemnity had been kept only
in the great gymnasia, and to the exclusion of all adults (Lys.
p. 206). These
changes, and the laxity in the superintendence of these public places, caused the gymnasia to
differ very little from the schools of the athletae; and it is perhaps partly owing to this
circumstance that writers of this and subsequent times use the words gymnasium and palaestra
indiscriminately. But K. F. Hermann (Privatalt.
36) seems to have proved that
the gymnasium was never used for a place of training.
Married as well as unmarried women were, at Athens and in all the Ionian States, excluded
from the gymnasia; but at Sparta, and in some other Doric States, maidens, dressed in the
, were not only admitted as spectators, but also
took part in the exercises of the youths. Married women, however, did not frequent the
Respecting the superintendence and administration of the gymnasia at Athens, we know that
Solon in his legislation thought them worthy of great attention; and the transgression of some
of his laws relating to the gymnasia was punished with death. His laws mention a magistrate,
called the Gymnasiarch (γυμνασίαρχος
), who was intrusted with the whole management of the gymnasia,
and with everything connected therewith. His office was one of the regular liturgies, like the
choregia and trierarchy, and was attended with considerable expense. He had to maintain and
pay the persons who were preparing themselves for the games and contests in the public
festivals, to provide them with oil, and perhaps with the wrestlers' dust. It also devolved
upon him to adorn the gymnasium or the place where the contests took place (De Rep.
1.13). The Gymnasiarch was a real magistrate, and invested with a kind of
jurisdiction over all those who frequented or were connected with the gymnasia; and his power
seems even to have extended beyond the gymnasia, for Plutarch (Amator.
etc.) states that he watched and controlled the conduct of the ephebi in general. He had also
the power to remove from the gymnasia teachers, philosophers, and sophists, whenever he
conceived that they exercised an injurious influence upon the young. Another part of his
duties was to conduct the solemn games at certain great festivals, espe
cially the torch-race (λαμπαδηφορία
), for which he
selected the most distinguished among the ephebi of the gymnasia. The number of Gymnasiarchs
was, according to Libanius on Demosthenes (c. Mid.
p. 510) ten, one from every
tribe. They seem to have undertaken their official duties in turns, but in what manner is
unknown. Among the external distinctions of a Gymnasiarch were a purple cloak and white shoes
33). In early times the office of Gymnasiarch lasted for a year, but
under the Roman emperors we find that sometimes they held it only for a month, so that there
were twelve or thirteen Gymnasiarchs in one year. This office seems to have been considered so
great an honour that even Roman generals and emperors were ambitious to hold it. Other Greek
towns, like Athens, had their own Gymnasiarchs, but we do not know whether, or to what extent,
their duties differed from the Athenian Gymnasiarchs. In Cyrené the office was
sometimes held by women.
An office which is not mentioned before the time of the Roman emperors, but was nevertheless
decidedly connected with the gymnasia, is that of Cosmetes. He had to
arrange certain games, to register the names and keep the lists of the ephebi, and to maintain
order and discipline among them. He was assisted by an Anticosmetes and two Hypocosmetae. This
officer appears only after the reorganization of the gymnasia in the second century B.C., when
they served also as places for intellectual instruction. See Education
, p. 572.
An office of very great importance, in an educational point of view, was that of the
). Their province was to inspire the
youth with a love of σωφροσύνη
, and to protect this virtue
against all injurious influences. In early times their number at Athens was ten, one from
every tribe, with a salary of one drachma per day (Etym. Mag.
s. h. v.). Their
duty not only required them to be present at all the games of the ephebi, but to watch and
correct their conduct wherever they might meet them, both within and without the gymnasium.
The instructions in the palaestrae, sometimes attached to gymnasia, were given by the
) and the Paedotribae (παιδοτρίβαι
); at a later period Hypopaedotribae were added. The
Paedotribes was required to possess a knowledge of all the various exercises which were
performed by the gymnasia; the Gymnastes was the superior teacher, and was expected to know
the physiological effects and influences on the constitution of the youths, and therefore
assigned to each of them those exercises which he thought most suitable.
The anointing of the bodies of the youths, and strewing them with dust, before they
commenced their exercises, as well as the regulation of their diet, was the duty of the
Aliptae. (See Aliptae
.) These men sometimes also
acted as surgeons or teachers. Galen mentions among the gymnastic teachers a σφαιριστικός
, or teacher of the various games at ball; and it is not
improbable that in some cases particular games may have been taught by separate persons.
The games and exercises which were performed in the gymnasia seem, on the whole, to have
been the same throughout Greece. Among the Dorians, however, they were regarded chiefly as
institutions for hardening the body and for military training; among the Ionians, and
especially the Athenians, they had an additional and higher object, namely, to give to the
body and its movements grace and beauty, and to make it the basis of a healthy and sound mind.
Among the games we may mention:
The ball (σφαίρισις, σφαιρομαχία
, etc.), which was in
universal favour, and was here, in Greece, as at Rome, played in a variety of ways, as
appears from the words ἀπόρραξις, ἐπίσκυρος, φαινίνδα
, etc. Every gymnasium contained one large room
for the purpose of playing at ball in it (σφαιριστήριον
Παίζειν ἑλκυστίνδα, διελκυστίνδα
, or διὰ γραμμῆς
, was a game in which one
The Wrestlers. (Uffizi Gallery, Florence.)
boy, holding one end of a rope, tried to pull the boy who held its other end across
a line marked between them on the ground.
The top (βέμβηξ, βέμβιξ, ῥομβος, στρόβιλος
), which was
as common an amusement with Greek boys as in our own days.
, which was a game with five stones, which
were thrown up from the upper part of the hand and caught in the palm.
, which was a game in which a rope was drawn
through the upper part of a tree or a post. Two boys, one on each side of the post, turning
their backs towards one another, took hold of the ends of the rope and tried to pull each
other up. This sport was also one of the amusements at the Attic Dionysia. These few games
will suffice to show the character of the gymnastic sports.
The more important games, such as running (δρόμος
throwing of the δίσκος
and the ἄκων
, jumping and leaping (ἅλμα
, with and
), wrestling (πάλη
), boxing (πυγμή
), the pancratium (παγκράτιον, πένταθλον, λαμπαδηφορία
), dancing (ὄρχησις
), etc., are described in separate articles.
A gymnasium was, as Vitruvius observes, not a Roman institution, and Dionysius of
Halicarnassus (Ant. Rom.
vii. 70-72) expressly states that the whole ἀγωνιστική
of the Romans, though it was practised at an early
period in the Ludi Maximi, was introduced among the Romans from Greece. Their attention,
however, to developing and strengthening the body by exercises was considerable, though only
for military purposes. The regular training of boys in the Greek gymnastics was foreign to
Roman manners, and even held in contempt (Quaest. Rom.
40). Towards the end of
the Republic many wealthy Romans, who had acquired a taste for Greek manners, used to attach
to their villas small places for bodily exercise, sometimes called gymnasia, sometimes
palaestrae, and to adorn them with beautiful works of art. The emperor Nero was the first who
built a public gymnasium at Rome (Suet.
); another was erected by Commodus (Herodian, i. 12, 4). But
although these institutions were intended to introduce Greek gymnastics among the Romans, yet
they never gained any great importance, as the magnificent thermae, amphitheatres, and other
colossal buildings had always greater charms for the Romans than the gymnasia.
See Burette, Histoire des Athlètes
, in the Mém.
de l'Acad. des Inscript.
i. 3; G. Löbker, Die Gymnastik der
Hellenen (Münster, 1835)
; Wachsmuth, Hellen.
vol. ii. p. 344, etc., 2d ed.; Müller, Dorier
5.4, etc.; Becker-Göll, Charikles
, ii. 213-251;
, iii. 168-188; and especially J. H. Krause, Die Gymnastik
u. Agonistik der Hellenen (Leipzig, 1841)
; and Dittenberger, De
Ephebis Atticis (ib. 1863)
. The histories of education among the ancients,
especially that of Grasberger, likewise contain much useful information on the subject. See