Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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On the Web

An overview of the ancient Olympics on the Archaeological Institute of America's website includes a short history of the games and convenient links to descriptions of individual events on the website of The Perseus Digital Library.

Another excellent look at the ancient Olympics is "The Real Story of the Ancient Olympic Games" by David Gilman Romano of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

For the ancient games at Nemea, and their modern revival, see, especially the sections on the stadium, history of the site (Archaic-Classical and Late Classical-Hellenistic), and new games (with the "Step into History" video).

For the modern Olympics in general and the Athens games, see the official websites of the Olympic Movement and of the ATHENS 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

David C. Young has traced the fascinating roots of the modern Olympics to the Greek poet Soutsos in the 1830s; Evangelis Zappas, a wealthy Greek businessman, who staged "Olympic" games in 1859; and Dr. W.P. Brookes of Wenlock, England, who kept the games going. Here's the full story in Young's speech, "Imagine That! Olympic Games in Greece!," which he gave at the Greek embassy in New York. [no longer available online]

At the Library

General introductions include David C. Young, A Brief History of the Olympic Games (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004); J. Swaddling, The Ancient Olympic Games (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984); and M.I. Finley and H.W. Pleket, The Olympic Games: the First Thousand Years (London: Chatto & Windus, 1976).

On the rebirth of the games, see David C. Young, The Modern Olympics: A Struggle for Revival (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996) (reviewed here).

For recent Olympic archaeology and athletic artifacts, see W. Coulson and H. Kyrieleis, eds., Proceedings of an International Symposium on the Olympic Games, 5-9 September 1988 (Athens: Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, 1992); O. Tzachou-Alexandri, ed., Mind and Body: Athletic Contests in Ancient Greece (Athens: Greek Ministry of Culture, 1989); W.J. Raschke, ed., Archaeology of the Olympics (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1988); and C. Morgan, Athletes and Oracles: The Transformation of Olympia and Delphi in the Eighth Century B.C. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). On Nemea, see S.G. Miller, Nemea: A Guide to the Site and Museum (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990) and S. Miller and P. Valavanis, Hysplex: The Starting Mechanism in Ancient Stadia. A Contribution to Ancient Greek Technology (Classical Studies 36) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

A number of works discuss certain aspects of Greek culture and society and the ancient Olympics, like Thomas F. Scanlon's Eros and Greek Athletics (Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 2002). D.G. Kyle, Athletics in Ancient Athens (Leiden: E.J. Brill, rev. ed., 1993), looks at athletics in a civic context. On prizes and rewards, see D.C. Young, The Olympic Myth of Greek Amateur Athletics (Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1984). On violence, see M.B. Poliakoff, Combat Sports in the Ancient World: Competition, Violence and Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987).

For women's games, see H.A. Harris, Greek Athletes and Athletics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966), pp. 179-186; H. Lee, "SIG 802: Did Women Compete against Men in Greek Athletic Festivals?" Nikephoros 1 (1988), pp. 103-117; T. Scanlon, "The Footrace of the Heraia at Olympia," Ancient World 9 (1984), pp. 77-90, and "Race or Chase at the Arkteia of Attica," Nikephoros 3 (1990), pp. 73-120; N. Serwint, "The Iconography of the Ancient Female Runner," American Journal of Archaeology 97 (1993), pp. 403-422, and "Ancient Rites and Modern Constructs: on the Brauronian Bears Again," Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 37 (1990), pp. 1-14.

Sourcebooks include S.G. Miller, Arete, Ancient Writers, Papyri and Inscriptions on the History and Ideals of Greek Athletics and Games (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2nd ed., 1993); and W.E. Sweet, Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook with Translations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

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© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America