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Cheating, bribery and scandal: how the ancient Greeks did the Olympic Games

is cheating at the Olympics a symptom of modernity? Make recent scandals involving athletes sign of the decline of the Olympic idea?

While in the old corruption cases remained the exception – and were severely punished -. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that attempts to manipulate the outcome of the competitions are as old as the Games themselves

Take the example of Damonikos of Elis. A father of a promising young athlete opponent bribed the father of your child to ensure their offspring a victory in wrestling. They were not found and fined both parents.

Or consider the case of Ateneo Kallipos, who bribed his opponents to ensure victory in the pentathlon. He, too, was seized and a heavy fine was imposed on him and on those who had accepted the bribe.

Athens, however, refused to pay and even boycotted the Games. the intervention of the Delphic oracle was necessary to resolve the situation :. Delphi announced that more oracles would be delivered until the Athenians had paid

Such attempts to influence the outcome of games confirm that competitive streak ran strongly by ancient Greek culture. In a world in which few believed in the afterlife, the glory of this world mattered immensely. And what better opportunity to show to compete with others before an audience from all over the Greek world?

De 776BCE on, the Greeks gathered every four years to celebrate the Olympic Games and compete in a number of disciplines including running, boxing and various equestrian skills. Games became part of an elaborate festival circuit, which also featured competitions in playing the trumpet and reciting poetry. Even beauty pageants – for men! – They are thronged, but not at the same Olympia

scandal in the sanctuary

The ancient Games are held not in a town called Olympia, but in the sanctuary of Olympian Zeus in the western Peloponnese.. They were organized by the city of Elis, who tended the site and provided the helanódicas (judges) every four years to oversee the smooth running of the Games.

This British Museum model from 1980 shows the site of Olympia, home of the ancient Olympic Games, as it looked around 100 BC (on a scale of 1:200).
This model British Museum from 1980 shows the site of Olympia, site of the ancient Olympic Games, as it looked around 100 BC (on a scale of 1: 200).

competitions were part of a festival in honor of the most powerful luxury of Greek gods and included sacrifices, processions and dedications. However, religious configuration does not necessarily ensure a more solemn and respectful by participants attitude. While most athletes stuck to the rules, some were willing to do whatever was necessary to ensure victory.

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The Alexandrian boxer Apolonio arrived too late to the Games and banned from competing. He said bad weather had made it impossible for him to arrive on time. This was a lie straight :. It turned out that Apollonius was late because he had assured himself a good disbursement in some other games

What happened next was even more shocking. In the words of the author: Pausanias

Under these circumstances, the eleos, excluding games Apolonio with any other fighter who came after the prescribed time, and let the crown go to Heráclides without a contest. Whereupon Apollonius put the gloves for a fight, he rushed to Heráclides and began to beat him, even though he had already put the wild olive in the head and taken refuge with the referees. For this madness dizziness that I would pay dearly.

As in the modern world, which was allowed to compete was crucial; in the ancient world, this means (for most of the history of the Games) only free Greek males. That was the theory, at least. In practice, there were times when the residents of a particular city were excluded from the Games for misconduct. This is why a man of Beocia, once said to be of Sparta.

Women were not allowed even to visit the shrine during the Olympics, let alone compete. I had their own games, called Heraia . Once the mother of a young athlete managed to sneak by masquerading as her male coach. When his son’s victory was assured, he got too excited and blew the lid

Pankration scene: the pankriatiast on the right tries to gouge his opponent’s eye; the umpire is about to strike him for this foul. Detail from an Attic red-figure kylix
pancracio scene: pankriatiast right eye is gouge his opponent; the referee is about to hit him for this lack. Detail of a red-figure kylix

Even the judges were not above reproach. In the equestrian disciplines, the owner of the winning horse the win. Some Troilos was able to win two competitions he presided as judge. Apparently, this problem was not found :. A bronze plaque boasts of his achievements to the rest of the Greek world

The Eleans subsequently changed the rules, and horses judges no longer allowed to compete.

Fines and awards

In Olympia, turned out to be traps competitors had to pay a hefty fine. The sanctuary had a row of statues of Zeus – the so-called Zanes – which were funded by the fines and put on display for all to see. Visiting in the second century AD, Pausanias was still able to say which had financed statue and why.

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Even in the ancient world, apparently he paid no deceit.

So what was at stake? The winner took all. Coming second or third did not and brought no public recognition rate. The winning athlete in Olympia received a crown of olive branches -. In Delphi, fresh celery

If this seems not worth the fuss, the most lavish rewards waited at home in the form of cash, free meals and numerous public honors. Some winners also received life-size statues erected in Olympia or in their place of origin, or both.

Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (AD 37-68).
Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (AD 37-68).

The possibility of exploiting the games for political purposes and opportunities for personal aggrandizement were not lost on the former: the Emperor Nero moved to the Games from 65 AD to 67 AD to I could enter competitions chariot races – he did, with a team of ten horses.

During the race, the emperor too interested fell from his chariot and was unable to finish. However, Nero won the crown. Officials simply argued that the accident had happened, the Roman Emperor surely would have won.

Nero “achievements” Olympic were later removed from public records and AD 76 Games declared invalid. The intervention had been too obvious, especially after it became known that Nero had paid bribe judges strong and granted Roman citizenship.

The deception, bribery and scandal apparently were part of the Games from the beginning – as attempts to prevent them. They are not a sign of the decline of the Olympic idea in the modern era, but part of human nature.

For better or worse, apparently, the absolute will to succeed can be absolute and indeed in antiquity as today double-edged ambition, bringing out the best and the worst in people.

Author: Julia Kindt, Associate Professor and Director of the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Sydney

Courtesy: The Conversation

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