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The Ancient Olympics: bridging past and present
The Ancient Olympics: bridging past and present

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An elevated citadel. The Acropolis of Athens is the site of several temples and monuments that were of great cultural significance to ancient Athenians.
An alliance of cities from the southern region of mainland Greece. The Aetolians are credited with reviving the Soteria games in the 3rd century BCE.
An Ancient Greek poet who lived in the 5th century BCE. All his works have been lost.
A prominent public figure of Athens. He was born in the 5th century BCE to a wealthy family and developed a successful career in politics and the military.
Alexander the Great
King of Macedon (a region in northeast Greece) during the 4th century BCE. He oversaw a programe of military expansion that led to the creation of one of the largest empires in ancient history, stretching from the Ionian sea to the Himalaya.
The sacred grove of Olympia, where temples, halls, altars and the treasuries were located
In Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Leto. Apollo, as a god, had a broad range of associations, including medicine, the sun, truth, music and poetry.
Inhabitants of Arcadia, a central region of the Peloponnesian peninsula.
The excellence that an Ancient Greek athlete was expected to strive for in his training and competitions. Arete was associated with notions of courage, strength and virtue.
Ancient Greek philosopher, poet, mathematician, physicist, musician and biologist who lived in the 4th century BCE.
A traditional small Ancient Greek container used to store olive oil or perfume.
Athenian democracy
Political system developed in Athens in the late 6th c. BCE whereby individuals voted in person during an assembly rather than appointing political representatives. Only adult male citizens were allowed to vote.
Attic calendar
One of the several calendars that existed in Ancient Greece. The Attic calendar was used in the region of Attica, which included the city of Athens.
In Greek mythology, a king of Elis. One of Hercules’s tasks was to clean Augeias’s stable, which supposedly had 1,000 cattle and had not been cleaned for 30 years.
a strip of starting blocks that stretched across the surface of the stadion with a groove for the athletes to position their toes.
Byzantine period
the period of Roman history between the 4th and 15th centuries CE, when the capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire was located at Constantinople, Greek was the primary language and Christianity was adopted as the official religion.
An Ancient Greek city founded in the 7th century BCE. Byzantium would later become Constantinople and, in 1930, Istanbul.
Classical period
In Ancient Greece, the period between the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. It was a period of significant artistic, philosophical, scientific and political developments.
a legendary archon (i.e. ruler) of Pisa, an ancient town in the western Peloponnese which controlled an area that included Olympia. Pisa was subjugated by the town of Elis in the 6th century BCE.
Cotswold Games
An annual celebration held in the Cotswolds (England), including a combination of dance, spectacles and competitions such as shin kicking and tug of war.
Cretan bull
A bull sent by Poseidon. King Minos thought the bull was too beautiful to sacrifice, so, in anger, Poseidon, made it rampage all over Crete. Hercules killed the bull by order of Eurystheus as one of his labours.
Dark Ages
According to some historians, the period between the 13th and 9th centuries BCE in Greece. ‘Dark’ refers to the fact that relatively little historical or archaeological evidence was available for this period (although this is increasingly being rectified by more modern research).
A city in lower central Greece, where the Sanctuary of Apollo and the Delphic oracle were located.
Delphic oracle
Part of the sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi. The oracle was highly sacred and influential throughout the Greek world. It was believed to provide council and prophetic opinons. However, it only spoke through a priestess (an older woman who would convey the oracle’s message to the priests whilst in trance).
A type of race in which athletes had to run the length of the stadion and back.
A long race of approximately 7.5 to 9 kilometres.
Ancient Greek philosopher who lived between the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. No writings of Epictetus himself have survived, but his teachings were transcribed by one of his pupils, Arrian.
An Ancient Greek playwright who lived in the 5th century BCE. Hippolytus, Medea, Electra and the Bacchae are among his most famous plays.
Gladiatorial contests
In the Roman Republic and Empire, public spectacles consisting of fights that involved armed combatants. These combatants could fight against each other, against wild animals or condemned criminals.
A public location used for training, education, exercise and socialising.
An ancient athlete’s coach. It was the responsibility of the gymnastes to train the athlete’s body and mind, encouraging the development of physical skills, endurance, strength and moral values.
Gymnikoi agones
Literally the naked games (the sporting events in which naked athletes competed against each other). The gymnikoi agones were held on the stadion and did not involve horses.
The Ancient Greek equivalent of the modern long jump.
The judges of the Ancient Olympic Games. They supervised events, participated in religious ceremonies, made sure that all rules were followed, and awarded prizes to the victors.
Adjective relating to the Greek nation or identity.
Hellenistic period
In Ancient Greece, the period between the 4th and 2nd centuries BCE. It followed the Classical period.
In Greek mythology, goddess of women and marriage. Hera was the wife of god Zeus.
In Ancient Greek mythology, an epic hero, son of Zeus and Alcmena. According to the legend, Eurystheus, the king of Mycenae, sent Hercules on a series of near impossible tasks, known as the Labours of Hercules. The Greek name for Hercules is ‘Herakles’.
In Greek mythology, the messenger god. He was patron of boundaries and guided human souls into the Underworld.
Ancient Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BCE. His most significant work is The Histories, where he describes various cultures and geographical regions from the Mediterranean and Western Asia.
Long oxhide straps that were wrapped around the boxer’s wrists and hands.
Hippikoi agones
Literally, the equestrian games (including horse and chariot races). They were held on the hippodrome.
Daughter of king Oinomaos. Pelops fell in love with Hippodameia, but Oinomaos would only give her hand to the suitor who could beat him in a chariot race. Pelops and Hippodameia sabotaged Oinomaos’s chariot, causing Oinomaos’s death during the race.
Hippodrome of Constantinople
A large area in the city of Constantinople (the capital of the Byzantine Empire), where sporting and social events were held.
One of the greatest epic poets of Ancient Greece. He is believed to be the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. He probably lived around the 8th century BCE, although very little is known of his life.
A race in which athletes dressed in military armour and ran two laps around the stadion.
An epic poem attributed to Homer, describing the clashes between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles in the context of the Trojan War.
International Olympic Committee
The international corporation that organises the modern Olympic Games. It was founded by Pierre de Coubertin.
Ionian Sea
The body of water in the Mediterranean Sea that lies between the Italian and Greek peninsulas.
A king of Elis who, according to legend, restored the Olympic Games after the Dorian invasion.
The sense of fairness and equality that, in principle, all Ancient Olympic athletes had a right to.
Isthmian Games
An athletic festival held in Corinth every two years between the 6th century BCE and the 4th century CE. It was considered one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece.
Isthmus of Corinth
The narrow stretch of land near the city of Corinth that connects the Peloponnese with the rest of mainland Greece to the North.
A Roman province covering areas of modern Palestine and Israel.
Roman poet who lived during the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. He is best known for his Satires, which provide a poignant critique of Roman society.
The classical principle of balance and harmony of body and mind. It was associated with a good upbringing and a noble character.
A German philosopher who lived in the 18th century. He wrote on a wide range of subjects, including ethics, which he explores in detail in his text Critique of Practical Reason.
King Eumenes II of Pergamon
Ruler of Pergamon during the 2nd century BCE. He allied with the Romans against the Macedonians and the Seleucid Empire, but later fell out of favour with the Romans when he was suspected of conspiring against them.
King George I of Greece
King of the Hellenes between 1863 and 1913. He presided over the 1896 Olympics in Athens.
Klados phoinikos
A palm branch awarded to an Ancient Olympic victor.
The honour and fame that an athlete obtained with his victory. Kleos was also used to refer to the glory associated with epic heroes in classical mythology and honourable citizens.
A traditional Ancient Greek wine-drinking cup. It was broad and shallow and had a handle on either side.
Lycurgus of Sparta
A lawgiver of Sparta, who according to legend, made his people promise that they would obey his laws while he was away visiting the Delphic oracle and then committed suicide instead of returning so Spartans would remain bound to their promise for eternity.
A professional speech writer who lived in Ancient Greece during the 5th century BCE.
Ancient inhabitants of the alluvial plain around the rivers Haliacmon and lower Axius in the northeastern part of the Greek mainland.
In classical architecture, a decorative band made of stone, often carved and painted, usually found on the frieze of temples and other monumental buildings.
A Bronze Age civilisation associated with the island of Crete. They flourished between the 27th and 15th centuries BCE and used a script known as Linear A, which has not been deciphered yet.
A Bronze Age civilisation of Ancient Greece that flourished between the 17th and 12th centuries BCE. They participated in long distance trade and used a script known as Linear B.
An ancient Greek site in the northeastern region of the Peloponnesian peninsula, controlled by the town of Cleonae.
Nemean Games
An athletic festival held in Nemea every two (or three) years between the 6th century BCE and the 4th century CE. It was considered one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece.
The Ancient Greek goddess of victory. She was represented as a winged female, flying over sports grounds and battlefields and rewarding victors with glory and fame.
Nikephoria Games
Ancient games held in the town of Pergamon (the modern city of Bergama) in honour of the goddess Athena Nikephoros (i.e. Athena the victory bringer).
In Greek mythology a king of Elis, father of Hippodameia. He feared a prophecy that claimed he would be murdered by his son-in-law.
Name given to the four-year cycle between each Ancient Olympic festival.
Olympic charter
The rules, guidelines and fundamental principles set by the Olympic Committee for the organisation of the modern Olympic Games.
Ancient Olympic wrestling.
Literally ‘all-Greek’, relating to the common identity and / or culture shared by Greek citizens from different city-states in antiquity. ‘Panhellenic Games’ was the name given to the four large athletic festivals that brought together Greek citizens from different corners of the Hellenic world: the Pythian, Nemean, Isthmian and Olympic Games.
A pankration fighter.
A temple on the Athenian Acropolis dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, protector of the city of Athens.
In Greek mythology, Patroclus was Achilles’s best friend. According to Homer’s Iliad, when Patroclus died, Achilles cremated his remains and organised funeral games in his honour.
Greek author who lived in the 2nd century CE. One of his most famous works is Description of Greece, in which he describes the Greek Isles from firsthand observations.
Peloponnesian peninsula
The southernmost region of mainland Greece, covering an area of some 8,320 square miles. It was named after the mythological character Pelops.
According to Greek mythology, one of the ancient kings of Pisa (an ancient town in the western Peloponnese which controlled an area that included Olympia). The cult of Pelops developed into one of the founding myths of the Ancient Olympic Games.
An influential politician and general who lived in Athens during the 5th century BCE.
Philostratus the Elder
A Greek philosopher who lived between the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. His two most significant works are Heroicus (where he discusses the heroes of the Trojan War) and Imagines (a description of 64 works of art – possibly imaginary – from a gallery in Naples).
An Ancient Greek poet who lived between the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Pindar produced, among other things, victory odes celebrating the triumphs of athletes in Panhellenic games.
Ancient inhabitants of Pisa, a town in the western Peloponnese. Pisa controlled an area that included Olympia. However, in the 6th century BCE, they were subjugated by the town of Elis.
Ancient Greek philosopher who lived between the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. His most significant work is a corpus of texts written in the form of conversations and known as the Socratic Dialogues, named after his teacher, Socrates.
The Ancient Greek god of the sea and earthquakes. According to mythology, he was a son of Cronus and Rhea.
A city’s seat of government in Ancient Greece (a rough equivalent of our modern town halls). Olympia’s Prytaneion was the seat of government of Elis. The Prytaneion also fulfilled a religious role (as the home of Hestia, goddess of the hearth). Olympic victors were given a banquet in the Prytaneion.
Pythian Games
An athletic festival held in Delphi once every four years between the 6th century BCE and the 4th century CE. It was considered one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece.
The Ancient Olympic equivalent of modern boxing.
The long stick used by the Hellanodikai and the gymnastes to maintain discipline.
Sebasteia Games
Games held in the city of Sebastaeia, in Judaea, in honour of the Roman emperor.
Shrine of Pelops
A structure used as part of the cult of Pelops in Olympia. It was located in the sacred grove, next to the Temple of Zeus and the alleged tomb of Pelops.
A shallow pit dug into the surface of the stadion and used for wrestling matches.
Soteria Games
Small athletic festivals held in several cities across Ancient Greece in honour of the soter (a heroic figure regarded as a saviour).
Inhabitants of a Greek city-state situated in south-eastern Peloponnese. Sparta was the principal enemy of Athens during the Peloponnesian War of the 5th century BCE.
The running track in which the gymnikoi agones were held. The stadion of Olympia was a very simple structure, consisting of a flat surface made of plain soil with two slopes on either side for the audience to stand. Stadion was also the name given to a type of sprint race.
A traditional Ancient Greek container used to store liquids.
A wreath awarded to an Ancient Olympic victor.
The symposion was a drinking party in which men got together to celebrate an event, debate or simply enjoy themselves. It was normally a semi-private event held in the homes of the more affluent families.
A ribbon awarded to an Ancient Olympic victor.
Temple of Hera
A Doric Greek temple erected in the northern area of the Altis in Olympia. It housed a statue of the goddess Hera and one of her husband, the god Zeus.
Temple of Zeus
In Olympia, the largest temple of the sacred grove, dedicated to the god Zeus (in whose honour the Games were held). The temple housed a large gold and ivory statue of Zeus, which was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
A Greek racing chariot drawn by four horses (also the name of the four-horse chariot race in the Ancient Games).
Theodosius I
A Roman emperor who ruled between 379 and 395 CE. He made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and banned all non-Christian cults.
In Greek mythology, a demi-god who, among other things, founded the city of Athens and killed the Minotaur that lived in the Cretan Labyrinth.
Ancient Greek historian who lived between the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. His most significant work is History of the Peloponnesian War, which provides an account of the conflict between the Spartans and Athenians.
Wenlock Games
An annual sporting festival held in Much Wenlock (Shropshire) since 1850.
Bronze statues of Zeus located in the Altis area of Olympia. They were erected with money from fines imposed on those who violated the rules of the Games.
The Ancient Greek god of sky and thunder. He was considered the patriarch of all the Olympian gods (i.e. the principal gods of the Greek pantheon).