Sports and games in ancient Greece were essentially a part of military service. So it makes sense why sports and games were such serious business in ancient Greece. Participating in sports wasn’t just a matter of pride and honor but it was a way to draw attention and rise in ranks. This article explores the Top 10 Best Ancient Olympic Sports.
Best Ancient Olympic Sports
The sport of Mule-racing was introduced in 500 BCE and it’s hard to conceive but mule-racing generated an enormous amount of enthusiasm among the audience. But by 50 years it had lost its charm and was therefore pulled out of the Olympics. This probably happened because the spectator just couldn’t gulp the sight of an ungraceful half-ass replacing what was essential a sport of horses and men.
Despite facing contempt everywhere, some aristocrats in Italy and Sicily were so gaga over the sports that they celebrate victories in mule-racing by commissioning imprinted coins and composing lyrical odes. This sports now definitely deserves its mention among the best ancient Olympic sports.
The sports of Javelin has its origin from the days when hunters and gatherers roamed the face of Earth. Javelin involved the use of a long wooden pole (lighter than what warriors use) that in length was equal to the height of the athlete and had a pointed end (simply sharpened or metal covered). The goal was to throw the pole and strike the target. Often throwing straps were used to increase forward momentum.
Throwing the javelin on horseback was also commonly done. Rules of the game were that the horse would gallop forward and upon reaching a certain marked point the rider would throw the javelin towards the target. It sounds easy enough except it’s tremendously hard. It now holds the ninth place in the list of best ancient Olympic sports.
Also known as stade, is the commonest game ever played since the time humans evolved and got their long slender and awfully attractive legs – running races. Besides, this definitely deserves its mention among the best ancient Olympic sports.
Running was the premier event of the gymnikos agon or nude competition (yes, nude competition). And, I can very well imagine why. And imagine, some of the hottest Olympic athletes participating in it. Okay, jokes apart, running being a part of the five major Pentathlon was so big of a deal that sometimes, winner of a race was considered the winner of an entire Games. Weird huh!
At number 7 of the best ancient Olympic sports, Torch-race is somewhat similar to relay race except instead of handing off the baton, the athlete passes the torch to her/his team member. In those days, torch-races had more of a religious significance than competitive ones.
The goal was to race from one place to another with the burning torch exchanging hands. And, the goal is to reach the final destination without letting the fire getting extinguished. Torch-races were a big part of Greek religious festivals where the winner was allowed to light the fire at the altar of sacrifice. Introduction of Olympic flame in the 1936 Berlin Games was inspired by this ancient torch-race.
6. Discus Throwing
Speaking of best ancient Olympic sports, Discus throwing, although not a part of the modern Pentathlon was an iconic sport in the Ancient Olympic Games. The usual drill is to throw a heavy lenticular disc weighing 1 Kg for women and 2 Kg for men at a distance that needs to be farther than your opponent.
Discus throwing has been featured in a number of Greek statues – Discobolus followed by and Discophoros being the most famous ones. In the modern-day, Discus throwing has been a part of the prestigious Olympics world since the 1896 Summer Olympics for men and for women, since the 1928 Summer Olympics.
5. Long Jump
It’s interesting to note that ‘long jump’ is the only known jumping event of the ancient Olympic sports. And it was somewhat different and perhaps more difficult to what we understand/do while attaining a long jump. One of the Sports That Ancient Greek Loved.
In those days, athletes weren’t allowed to run the long-distance necessary for momentum before the jump. Instead, they had to carry a bag in each hand called halteres (which weighed something between 1 and 4.5 kg). In order to increase forward momentum, the athlete would sway the halteres forward while making the jump. They then land on the skamma which is nothing but a fancy word for a dug-up area (yup, pit full of landing sand is a modern invention). Music was often played to give the athletes a sense of rhythm.
At number 4 of the best ancient Olympic sports, we have hoplitodromia. Literally meaning ‘races of soldier’, hoplitodromia is a fancy word for a bad-ass game where soldiers would have to participate in a race wearing armors (only armor). I’d give anything to see that happening today! And, this one holds its place now holds its place among the best ancient Olympic sports.
Anyway, unlike Pankration, Hoplitodromia was more like a test of endurance rate than strength. And, that is pretty awesome when put in that way. The athletes who contested had to carry heavy armor and shield while running. And, the end of the stadium had to make abrupt turns around the turning post called kampter. That was probably introduced to train for fast “rushing” maneuvers during the fighting.
Probably the commonest ancient race (followed closely by running) that existed not only in any or every epic historical drama film but also in real life. Like any ridiculously dangerous sports, chariot racing caused hearts to flutter and hence the popularity. Gee, common Greek (and Byzantine and Roman) folks were such sadists.
Legend says that chariot racing started with King Oenomaus. He challenged suitors for his daughter to a race against one-another on chariots. The chariots normally had four horses and one driver risking their lives for fame and glory. In Rome and Byzantine, the excitement surrounding chariot races were such that fans fought amongst each other. And, that leads to great distress over society as a whole.
At number 2 of the best ancient Olympic sports, Pankration is an ancient blend of wrestling and boxing. The fact that it hardly had any rules is freaking crazy. Because, scarce-rules is similar to beat-the-s**t-out-of-the-rival and win at no-matter-what-the-cost. Had this game been played today, people would die at every alternate match. No wonder it was called Pankration which literally means “all of might, strength, power”.
Some believe that Pankration had its origin from Greek Mythology. And, people began contesting Pankration when the Greek Society felt the need to feel the concept of power via physical violence. Other than biting and gouging out each other’s eyes out, the athletes were allowed to use techniques like hand-strike, leg-strike, locking, chocking, throw-back, takedowns and to other tactics and strategies.
At number 1 of best ancient Olympic sports, Pentathlon is a kick-ass contest that involves five games – long jump, javelin throwing, discus throwing, stadion, and wrestling – in a single day (Note that these games were played individually too). This was a big deal kind of event. Only the best athletes were allowed to compete at that time. Moreover, the training of Pentathlon was necessarily a part of the military drill. Well, come to think of it each of the five games are actually useful in the field during the war.
Unlike the ancient version of Pentathlon, the modern one includes other competitions like swimming, shooting, fencing, cross-country running, and equestrianism.
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