We are searching data for your request:
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.
The Olympic Games – Ancient Greek For Kids
While we all know the modern version of the Olympics quite well, not everyone is familiar with its origins.
These games started about 3,000 years ago in 776 BC. They were then held for over a thousand years until they were stopped in the year 393 AD. Just like today, these ancient games were held every four years.
Olympic Events in Ancient Times
Unlike today, where we have Winter and Summer Olympics, the Olympics in Ancient Greece consisted only of Summer weather games. Another big difference was that only men competed.
The original Olympics was a much smaller affair than what we celebrate today. In fact, the very first Olympic Games consisted of a single event.
This event was called the stadion and was a running race. This race was about 200 meters in length, which was about the length of the stadium.
This continued until the 14 th Olympic Games when a second event was added. It was another running race, which was one lap around the entire stadium, or about 400 meters.
More events were added over the next several Olympics. These mostly consisted of running races of different lengths.
Even later on, wrestling, chariot racing, boxing, and the pentathlon were added to the list of events. The pentathlon combined the scores of five different events.
These events were the long jump, discus throw, javelin throw, stadion race, and wrestling.
While many of the events had similar names to events that we have today, they sometimes had very different rules.
For example, in the long jump, jumpers were allowed to use hand weights to propel their bodies forward.
Boxing and wrestling were also very different than our modern versions. They had very few rules, making them extremely dangerous.
In boing, you could hit your opponent when they were down. The match would not stop until one boxer gave up or died.
Of course, if you were trying to win, you wouldn’t want to kill your opponent. If someone did die during a boxing bout, then they would be awarded the victory.
There were not a lot of requirements when it came to who could compete in the Olympics. Basically, you just had to be a free man and speak Greek. Participants were also required to be nude when they competed.
There was not a rule set in stone about the age of the participants, but more youthful competitors were preferred.
Athletes were only supposed to be men, though there were some women that were allowed to compete, especially in chariot races.
That did not happen all that often, however. In fact, women were not allowed to attend the Olympics at first. Instead, they had their own festival dedicated to Hera.
Before the games could begin, athletes had to take a vow to Zeus that they had been training for a minimum of ten months.
Winning the games were considered to be a great honor. The winners were considered to be heroes.
They received olive branches and became famous. Later on, winners even received lots of money from the town that they were representing.
The Olympic Games in Ancient Greece were always held in the same location. This is very different from today, where the location is changed every 4 years.
The Ancient Olympics were held in Olympia, which is why they were named the Olympics in the first place.
The reason that they were held there is because that is where Mount Olympus is. Mount Olympus was the supposed home of all of the Greek gods and goddesses.
The games were originally designed as a way to honor Zeus.
Athletes would travel to Olympia from all over Greece. Sometimes they came from far away Greek colonies.
Were the games important?
The Greeks took the Olympics very seriously. Every single city-state would send multiple athletes to participate.
The games were so important that wars wouldn’t stop them. If the different city-states were at war with each other, they would stop the war for the duration of the games so that their athletes could compete.
The games were very popular. At the height of the games, 20,000 to 40,000 people would attend.
Olympian Rules and Regulations
The Olympic Games of ancient Greece adhered to certain codes and regulations, just as they do today, and each challenge had to abide by certain rules. Those who were chosen to judge the events were well informed and kept up-to-date of those rules with rigorous training in anticipation of every Olympic cycle. The judges of the Olympic Games were called the Hellanodikai. Their responsibility was not merely to pick the victors of each of the games, but also to maintain the steadfast peace declared during each period. Their role was therefore both political and religious.
As Elis was the region within which Olympia resided, the Eleans were responsible for choosing the judges. This prevented bias. Though the post of judge was originally hereditary, over time this changed to the choosing of judges from each of the Elean ruling families. This ensured a constant rotation of judges for each Olympic Games and helped prevent bias from repeat judges. After a case in which a judge won two events and was accused of corruption, Hellanodikai were no longer allowed to participate in the Olympic events.
Image of a Boxer from Olympia crowned with an olive wreath. The olive wreath was known as kotinos and was the official prize for victors at the Olympic Games held at Olympia. The wreaths were made from the branch of a sacred wild olive tree that grew at Olympia. ( shako / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Charioteer of Delphi
The "Charioteer of Delphi" is one of the best known ancient Greek statues, and one of the best preserved examples of classical bronze casts. It is considered a fine example of the "Severe" style.
The sculpture depicts the driver of the chariot race at the moment when he presents his chariot and horses to the spectators in recognition of his victory. Despite the severity of the moment, the youth's demeanor encapsulates the moment of glory, and the recognition of his eternal athletic and moral stature, with abundant humility.
- The Charioteer of Delphi is one of the most important sculptures of ancient Greece partly because it vividly represents the passage from the Archaic conventions to the Classical ideals. It exemplifies the balance between stylized geometric representation and idealized realism, thus capturing the moment in history when western civilization leaped forward to define its own foundations that braced it for the next few millennia. Charioteer --though victorious-- stands with admirable modesty and faces the crowd in total control of his emotions. This Self-discipline was a sign of civilized man in Classical Greece, and a concept that permeates the art of this period. The ability to restrain one's emotions especially during the most challenging of moments came to define the entire Classical era of Greek art and thought. The posture of the Charioteer is well balanced, and his long chiton drapes over his abundant athletic body with architectural certainty, allowing idealism to flow through the serene parallel folds that run the length of his lower body before they begin to curl neatly over his torso. The geometric folds of the chiton overlie an obvious and well proportioned muscular body, thus achieving a rare harmony between idealism and realism. The facial expression betrays none of the exuberance we would expect a victorious athlete to project, especially immediately following the race. Instead the athletic youth stands and stares with a natural ease that allows him to levitate in a realm between earthly and divine spaces. The statue's eyelashes and the lips are made of copper, while the head band in the shape of a meander is impressed in silver, and the eyes are made of onyx. The detailed curls of his wet hair and soft beard speak of the preceding race in intimate and subtle details that lend the sculpture an aura of luxury and idealized realism. The Charioteer's garment, the xystis, is the typical chiton that all chariot drivers wore during the race. It spans his whole body all the way to his ankles, and is fastened high at the waist as was customary with a plain belt. The two straps that cross high at his upper back and round his shoulders are also typical of a chariot racer's attire, and they prevent the xystis from "ballooning" as the air is forced inside the chiton during the race. The feet of the Charioteer have been modeled with scholarly realism, and exist not as a mere base for the statue, nor as a simple representation of human anatomy. Instead they act as the negotiator that instigates the delicate twist of the entire body, and infuses fluidity and lightness to the naturally heavy bronze mass. Iniohos (he who holds the reins) as is his Greek name, was part of a complex of statues that included his four horses and the chariot upon which he stood. With the exception of his missing left arm, the bronze statue is preserved in remarkable state. Most of the surface details are evident as the attractive green patina has protected the bronze for centuries when it was buried underground.
What remains of the entire complex of statues besides the Charioteer is small parts of the horses and the reins as witnesses to the lost, grandiose, three dimensional composition.
Parts of the base have also survived with an inscription indicating that the statue was commissioned by Polyzalus who was the tyrant of Gela -- a Greek colony in Sicily as tribute to Apollo for helping him win the chariot race during the Pythian games.
The Charioteer as exhibited at the Delphi museum (left) in a dedicated room with excellent lighting, appropriate of the statue's importance.
The World Chariot Racing Federation (WCRF) is a newly established organization dedicated to revitalizing and rebranding the harness racing industry with the application of new technologies, new sponsorship opportunities and new crowd-funding participation models. Celebrity Farms and the World Chariot Racing Federation (www.celebrityfarms.com) Celebrity Farms is a renowned New York based racing stable and farm, which is owned and operated by Sam Stathis.
Chariot racing also known as "Harness Racing" was one of the most popular ancient Greek and Roman sports. Often dangerous to both drivers and horses, who frequently suffered serious injury and even death, the sport generated strong spectator enthusiasm comparable to modern-day interest in motor sports. Some of the organizational aspects of chariot racing also paralleled current practices in professional sports
Sam Stathis, Founder of World Chariot Racing Federation and Owner of Celebrity Farms Racing Stable
"The next generation of Harness Racing will be more than a spectator sport. It will capture the crowd as fan, participant, investor, and, even for some, driver. The new Harness Racing industry will be better, stronger, faster, smarter and much more lucrative, inventive, interactive and sustainable. Bringing back fierce competition to the same world stage that once hosted Gladiators and Olympic stars. Even a small guy can drive and compete with the best in the world, and even beat them." The true cradle of civilization and the rightful cradle of harness racing Egypto, Trinacria and Hellas. Are you ready for this?"
Stathis is a passionate entrepreneur, investor, developer, engineer, inventor, philanthropist and harness racing enthusiast.
Prowess in Battle and Sport
The first recorded Olympics was held in 776 B.C. at the site of Olympia in the Western Peloponnese. They likely developed from the practice of holding funeral games to honor fallen warriors and local heroes, though some myths made the Greek demigod Heracles the founder of the games. They continued without interruption once every four years for almost 1,200 years. They were abolished in A.D. 393 by the Emperor Theodosius, a Christian who saw the worship of Zeus throughout the games as a pagan abomination.
The practice of warfare in the ancient world inspired many Olympic events. A mass of soldiers running in full armor, for example, was an effective way to surprise and terrify enemy armies. (The Greek historian Herodotus describes the Greek army advancing at a run toward the Persians at the battle of Marathon, a tactic the eastern invaders had apparently never encountered before.)
In the hoplitodromia, or race in armor, a field of 25 athletes ran two lengths of the 210-yard-long (192-meter-long) stadium at Olympia wearing bronze greaves and helmets and lugging shields that may have weighed 30 pounds. Contestants in the target javelin event hurled javelins at a shield fixed to a pole while galloping on horseback, a standard military practice documented by the historian Xenophon.
Chariot races with teams of two and four horses were incredibly dangerous and popular events. War chariots were used in Greece since at least the time of Mycenaean civilization, roughly 1600 to 1100 B.C., and the four-horse chariot race was one of the oldest events in the games, first introduced at Olympia in 680 B.C. Only the wealthy could afford the expense of maintaining horses and a chariot. And while the owners of chariots claimed the glory of any victories, they generally hired charioteers to face the risks of competition for them. Crashes were common, spectacular, and often deadly, with the most dangerous moment usually coming at the narrow turns at each end of the stadium.
One famous charioteer was the Roman Emperor Nero, who in A.D. 67 competed in the chariot race at Olympia. It was hardly a fair contest. Nero entered the four-horse race with a team of 10 horses. He was thrown from his chariot and was unable to complete the race, but he was proclaimed the champion on the grounds that he would have won had he finished the race.
What the Greeks called “heavy” events were also closely connected to combat. Boxing, wrestling, and a combination of the two called pankration all rewarded strength and tactical cunning. Boxers wore thin gloves made of leather thongs and fought on the open ground, which made it impossible to corner an opponent and extended the length of fights. If a bout dragged on for hours, the boxers could agree to exchange undefended blows—a pugilistic equivalent of sudden death.
In at least one case, sudden death was exactly what resulted. The Greek geographer Pausanias tells the story of a fight between Damoxenos and Kreugas that ended when the former jabbed the latter with outstretched fingers, piercing the skin and ripping out his entrails.
Wrestling and pankration could also be brutal. Wrestlers had to throw their opponent to the ground three times to win. Because there were no weight classes, the largest wrestlers had a distinct advantage. In pankration everything but biting and gouging was allowed. One fighter, nicknamed “Mr. Fingertips,” was known for breaking an opponent’s fingers at the start of the match to force immediate submission. Another fighter would twist his opponents’ ankles from their sockets.
Despite all of their martial overtones, the ancient games promoted at least temporary peace between the frequently warring Greek city-states. An inscription on a bronze tablet known as the Sacred Truce guaranteed safe passage for athletes traveling to and from the games and prohibited participating states from engaging in hostilities during the duration of the Olympics. Because some athletes in the fifth century and after traveled from as far away as North Africa, Asia Minor, Western Spain, and the Black Sea, this truce was ultimately extended to a period of three months. Violators paid a fine of silver to the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.
The king of the Greek gods was also honored by lavish sacrifices of oxen and dedicatory statues. By the second century A.D., the pile of accumulated ash from centuries of sacrifices stood 23 feet (seven meters) tall.
On the opening day of the games, athletes swore an oath before Zeus, “Keeper of Oaths.” The brothers, fathers, and trainers of the athletes took the oath as well, promising to uphold all the rules and guaranteeing that they had been training for at least 10 months.
But cheating was an irresistible temptation for some. Dishonest wrestlers rubbed themselves with olive oil so they could slide from their opponent’s grasp. Bribing judges or even fellow competitors were other documented methods of cheating. Those caught were publicly whipped and fined, and their shame was immortalized on inscribed statues lining the route athletes walked to enter the stadium.
Like many aspects of the ancient games, this custom is in no danger of being revived by the International Olympic Committee.
Motya Charioteer – Ancient Greek Sculpture at its Finest
The Motya Charioteeris a very rare surviving example of an original Greek victor’s statue and is believed to represent the winner of a chariot race that took place some 2,500 years ago.
He was found in 1979 amid excavations on the tiny island of Motya on the western tip of Sicily, which was a Phoenician stronghold in ancient times and a region renowned for breeding horses.
Based in Motya the Phoenicians were able to raid a number of the Greek cities in Sicily, looting statues and taking them home to Carthage in North Africa.
It was excavated from amid what appeared to be hastily constructed fortifications, which the Phoenicians could have rapidly built when Dionysios I, the Greek ruler of Syracuse, invaded in retaliation.
He is known to have sacked Motya in 397 BC.
In ancient times it wasn’t unusual to utilize statues or any other stonework at hand to hastily build up a barricade in times of siege.
He has been identified as a charioteer because of the long tunic he is wearing, the xystis.
It was a garment that covered the entire body, and was fastened with a simple belt. Two straps crossed high at the racers back preventing the fabric from “ballooning” during the race.
The broad belt on to which the reins would have been fastened – on the statue were secured via fixings in the two holes in the belt at the front. This prevented the reins from being pulled out of the hands, but also dangerously, prevented the charioteer from being thrown free in any crash.
Today this amazing sculpture is regarded as a national treasure by Sicilians and thought by many to be one of the finest surviving examples of a classical sculpture anywhere in the world.
It resembles the more famous Delphian charioteer, which is not very much older.
Greek statues were created in three main materials, bronze, marble and chryselephantine (gold and ivory on a wooden base).
When they were produced originally they looked very different to the natural state of the stone we see them in today.
Their sculptors sought to imitate what they saw before them and coloured their flesh, hair and clothing as it would have been.
Motya Charioteer on display British Museum – Rear View
Ancient Greek poet and writer Homer’s Iliad includes an account of a chariot race, as part of funeral games held in honour of Patroclos, the Greek hero Achilles beloved comrade and brother at arms, before the walls of Troy.
Charioteering could be described as being the equivalent of today’s Formula One car racing with owners and sponsors – the race complete with laps, safety rails, etc.
The sculpture is believed to have shown a winning charioteer at the conclusion of a race, his body exhausted, yet standing proud and triumphant with a pushed out chest and erect head.
His hand digs into the flesh of a thrust-out hip, pulling the fine cloth of a long tunic into incredibly realistic folds.
The virtually transparent cloth clings to his body with the sweat and effort of the race.
He must have been formed by a very capable artisan. The veins on his upper arms still stand out with the blood coursing through.
The Dying Warrior from the East Pediment of the Temple of Aphaia on the Greek island of Aigina
Greek sculpture was the first, the only ancient art to break free from ‘conceptual’ conventions for representing men and animals, and to explore consciously how art might imitate nature or even improve upon it.
There was no conscious striving toward realism until it was understood as a possible and desirable goal and this began to happen during the sixth century BC.
Winning athletes in ancient games became super-heroes, were given massive home-coming parades, and public honours such as free meals and theatre tickets for life. Some were even thought to have healing powers.
They became celebrities, and could command prize money for appearances at festivals. The winner here would find a lot in common with our 2012 sporting heroes.
By the beginning of the fifth century before Christ the Greek pantheon of Gods were complete and the great myths about them had acquired a definitive form. Religious life revolved primarily around the cults of the ‘Olympian Gods Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter, Artemis, Apollo, Hestia, Hermes, Ares and Hephaestus, and their place of abode was Mount Olympus in Northern Greece.
The Olympian Gods were honoured with offerings of various forms, from animal sacrifice to splendid festivals lasting two or three days. The God of wine Dionysus in particular, who may have seemed a shade marginal, was part of a concept or religion if you like far more concerned with ritual than dogma.
For over 1000 years, between 776 BCE and 395 ACE, citizens from all over the classical world flocked every four years to Olympia. Spectators came from as far away as Spain and Africa long distances when travel was mostly on foot.
There was a public banquet for victors, and various private celebrations where the wine flowed and songs, revelry and victory hymns, celebrated the occasion. Athletes competed as individuals, although victory brought great honour to their home city.
Prime rewards of victory at the ancient Olympic Games, much as today, were fame and celebrity Victors were granted the privilege of having a statue made to be set up at Olympia, the oldest sanctuary of Zeus, which became a sort of athletic ‘hall of fame’.
However, unlike in the modern Games where participating is considered a conquest in itself, in antiquity winning was the only objective. Coming second or third did not come into it at all.
Because of its thrills and dangers, chariot-racing was hugely popular and it was also the only Olympic sport in which women were allowed to take part, although only as owners of the teams of horses.
The Motya Charioteer is normally displayed at the Museo Giuseppe Whitaker, Motya.
Ancient Greek Olympics: Pentathlon & Equestrian Events
- The event consists of 5 prizes
- Stadion/ Wrestling- was apart of both the pentathlon & Olympia
- Discus, Halma (jump) and Akon (javelin throw)
- The competitor must do well in ALL events to have a chance of being crowned a victor
- Not sure if discus were standardized (made of bronze (2kg) or sometimes iron), athletes could have potentially used heavy discus as they progressed into the competition.
- Extremely heavy prize discus was given to a successful pentathlete
- Discus start position: weight on the right leg (rear leg), hold discus at head level in a vertical position left hand supports the weight of the discus while the right grasps the top edge.
- Not sure if they twisted/ twisted & spun like modern discus throwers (many depictions of twisting & spun motion)
- Diskabolos: (discus thrower) favorite of sculptors
- Semeion: small peg used by discus throwers to mark their throw lengths also used by jumpers, javelin throwers
- Halteres (weights) were used in the long jump (halma) either spherical or long
- Could be simple and carved by hand, or special pairs could be made for athletes or dedicated winners or gods. (however, nothing was standardized)
- The jump run was made from bater they jumped into skamma “dig-up” (did not contain sand, which is a modern invention)
- Listening to a flute player was an essential part of the halma
- Jumping, was the most difficult of the rule-based events, and the music was used for rhythm
- The jumpers complete an area in his jump and release the halters at the end of his jump.
- The longest jumps win but footprints must be clear
- Speculated it to be a triple jump, purely based on Phayllos of Kroton (who has a 16.5 meter jump)
- Akon: third and final event of the pentathlon (2m long, diameter if a human thumb) made of wood and bronze tipped different from the spear which consisted of a broad-iron head.
- Ankyle: thin leather thong that was wrapped around the shaft to make a loop for the first two fingers of the throwing hand this helped to propel the akon (wrapped around the akon, unwrapped [fall completely off] during flight and acting like a rifling effect)
- Took great skill to precisely wrap it and it played a critical part in throwing it “shaking-down”- the javelin was wrapping using the big toe and used the index/ second finger to throw
- Flute player was also present at the javelin but sources are unsure about their actual purpose
- The throw began with a run-up javelin was raised to shoulder level, bring the right arm forward and project the javelin, ankyle then flew off.
- A winner was determined by semeion markers [the LONGEST of five throws were marked and counted for each athlete]
- ORDER OF EVENTS: stadion, discus, halma, akon, pale
- DO NOT KNOW exactly how the victor in the pentathlon was determined ( speculation: win 3 of 5 otherwise)
- The competition available to boys were restricted perhaps to prevent them from peaking too early and performing poorly in the adult games
- Hippikos Agon (Horse Races)- a fundamental component of the ancient games
- Four-horse chariot race (tethrippon) was added to the Olympic games in 680
- Horses were expensive and restricted when and who could compete in horse races
- Consisted of 12 laps around the hippodrome (horse track). May circle around a kampter or nyssa
- NO dividing wall down the center of the track so head-on collisions did occur between racers going toward or away from the kampter
- The chariot was a light vehicle (made of metal or wicker) Wheels had four spokes with a central hole for the axle.
- The Center of the chariot was attached to the two front horses outside horses were loosely connected
- Charioteer was a slave or professional driver held long lash with reins (left and right hand) used to control/ steer the horses by pulling/ pushing
- Reins were fastened to broad waistbands to prevent the rider from losing them
- Kiman, legendary chariot rider, won 3 Olympic crowns
- Horses were often named to mythology/ Greek heroes
- The winner of the event was the owner of the horses, not necessarily the driver
- HOWEVER, the city-state entered as competitors, not individuals
- WOMEN were also allowed to win the equestrian at Olympia (Kyniska of Sparta was the first winner even though they can’t physically be present at the Olympia events)
- Horseback Race (keles) added in 648BC to Olympia and was six stadia long. Often racers were small boys, had reins and a whip
- Horses were also named (i.e Pherenikos the Victory Bringer)
- Synoris– two-horse chariot race in 408BC. 8 laps of the hippodrome (
Ancient Olympic athletes competed in the nude
The word “gymnasium” comes from the Greek word gymnos, which means naked. In ancient times athletes practiced in the nude to the accompaniment of music. They also performed naked at the Olympic Games. Women were not allowed to participate or even to attend as spectators.
The first Olympic games were held in 776BC – and then every 4 years until 339BC. The first Olympic race was won by Corubus, a chef.
For many years the Olympics consisted of only one race, a sprint of 192 metres (210 yards, the length of the stadium) called the “stadion.”
A second race of 400 metres was added 50 years later. The pentathlon, wrestling, boxing, single-horse and four-horse chariot races were included later still.
There also was a special event in which runners competed in hoplite armor, helmet, shield, and greaves that weighed 20-25 kg (50-60 lbs).
There were no team events, relay races or the long distance race of Marathon – these events were introduced in the modern Olympics.
Go for silver
No medals were awarded in the ancient Olympics. A winner received an olive wreath to wear on his head. Second and third placings received nothing.
When the Olympics were revived in 1896 in Athens, Greece, winners received silver medals instead of gold medals. Eight years later, at the 1904 Games in St. Louis, gold replaced silver for first place. Today’s gold medals actually are sterling silver covered with a thin coat of gold.
Olympic medals since 1928 have featured the same design on the front: a Greek goddess, the Olympic Rings, the coliseum of ancient Athens, a Greek vase known as an amphora, a horse-drawn chariot, and the year, number of the Olympiad, and host city.
Games for all
At the first modern Olympic Games there were 311 male but no female competitors. Women were allowed to take part in the next Olympics in Paris. In the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games there were 3543 female competitors.
The oldest Olympic athlete at the Sydney Games was a 62-year-old archer representing Vanuatu. But he has some years to go to be the oldest ever Olympian. That title is held by Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn who won his sixth Olympic medal at the 1920 Antwerp Games at the age of 72 years and 280 days old.
The youngest ever Olympian is Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras, who competed in the 1896 Athens Olympics. He was 10 years old.
The first ever perfect score of 10 in Olympic gymnastics was achieved at the 1976 Montreal Olympics by Romanian Nadia Comaneci. She won 3 gold medals.
The record for the most Olympic medals ever won is held by Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina. Competing in three Olympics, between 1956 and 1964, she won 18 medals: 9 gold, 5 silver and 4 bronze. Thus she also tops the list of gold medals winners, beating Olympic stars such as US swimmer Mark Spitz and Finnish long distance runner Paavo Nurmi.
The Olympic Games is the largest single broadcast event in the world, broadcasted in 220 countries to more than 3.5 billion people.
The modern Olympics is the brainchild of Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France. He organised the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece in 1896. A total of 245 athletes from 14 nations competed.
1928 Amsterdam, Netherlands
2016 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Olympics not held due to war: 1916, 1940 and 1944
The first Winter Olympics Games was held in 1924 in Chamonix, France. The venues since:
1928 St Moritz, Switzerland
1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
1948 St Moritz, Switzerland
Winter Olympics not held during WWII 1940 and 1944
You may also like -
Did you know? - fascinating facts and interesting stories about people, places and history, with top lists and trivia facts © 2021
Chariots in Greece
A chariot is a two-wheeled, horse-drawn vehicle. In Latin biga is a two-horse chariot, and quadriga is a four-horse chariot. It was used for battle during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and continued to be used for travel, processions and in games after it had been superseded militarily. Early forms may also have had four wheels, although these are not usually referred to as chariots. The critical invention that allowed the construction of light, horse-drawn chariots for use in battle was the spoked wheel. In these times, most horses could not support the weight of a man in battle the original wild horse was a large pony in size. Chariots were effective in war only on fairly flat, open terrain. As horses were gradually bred to be larger and stronger, chariots gave way to cavalry. The earliest spoke-wheeled chariots date to ca. 2000 BC and their usage peaked around 1300 BC (see Battle of Kadesh). Chariot races continued to be popular in Constantinople until the 6th century.
The Mycenaean Greeks made use of chariots in battle. Administrative records in Linear B script , mainly in Knossos, list chariots (wokha) and their spare parts and equipment, and distinguish between assembled and unassembled chariots. The Linear B ideogram for a chariot (B240, D800DCCC) is an abstract drawing, showing two four-spoked wheels. The chariots fell out of use with the end of the Mycenaean civilization, and even in the Iliad, the heroes use the chariots merely as a means of transport, and dismount before engaging the enemy. Chariots were retained only for races in the public games, or for processions, without undergoing any alteration apparently, their form continuing to correspond with the description of Homer, though it was lighter in build, having to carry only the charioteer.
Greece, Classical Antiquity
Helios (or Helius) in his Chariot with the horses Pyrois, Eos, Aethon and Phlegon, probably image from a 435 BC krater, British Museum, London
The classical Greeks had a (still not very effective) cavalry, and the rocky terrain of the Greek mainland was unsuited for wheeled vehicles. In spite of this, the chariot retained a high status, memories of its era were handed down in epic poetry, and they were used for races at the Olympic and Panathenaic Games.
Chariot races were held in all panhellenic games.
Greek chariots were made to be drawn by two horses attached to a central pole. If two additional horses were added, they were attached on each side of the main pair by a single bar or trace fastened to the front of the chariot, as may be seen on two prize vases in the British Museum from the Panathenaic Games at Athens, Greece, in which the driver is seated with his feet resting on a board hanging down in front close to the legs of his horses. The biga itself consists of a seat resting on the axle, with a rail at each side to protect the driver from the wheels. Greek chariots appear to have lacked any other attachment for the horses, which would have made turning difficult.
The body or basket of the chariot rested directly on the axle connecting the two wheels. There was no suspension, making this an uncomfortable form of transport. At the front and sides of the basket was a semicircular guard about 3 ft (1 m) high, to give some protection from enemy attack. At the back the basket was open, making it easy to mount and dismount. There was no seat, and generally only enough room for the driver and one passenger.
Athena on a Chariot, 4th century BC, Cyprus
The central pole was probably attached to the middle of the axle, though it appears to spring from the front of the basket. At the end of the pole was the yoke, which consisted of two small saddles fitting the necks of the horses, and fastened by broad bands round the chest. Besides this the harness of each horse consisted of a bridle and a pair of reins. The reins were mostly the same as those in use in the 19th century, and were made of leather and ornamented with studs of ivory or metal. The reins were passed through rings attached to the collar bands or yoke, and were long enough to be tied round the waist of the charioteer to allow him to defend himself.
The wheels and basket of the chariot were usually of wood, strengthened in places with bronze or iron. They had from four to eight spokes and tires of bronze or iron. Most other nations of this time had chariots of similar design to the Greeks, the chief differences being the mountings.
"No one shall have my daughter," said the old king, "until he proves that he is worthy to be my son-in-law. If you want her, you must come for her in a chariot drawn by a lion and a wild boar. If you come in any other way, she shall not be your wife." And Pelias laughed, and drove the young man out of his palace. Admetus went away feeling very sad for who had ever heard of harnessing a lion and a wild boar together in a chariot? The bravest man in the world could not do such a thing as that. It was not yet noon when they came to the edge of the woods and saw the sea and the city of Iolcus only a little way off. A golden chariot stood by the roadside as if waiting for them, and the lion and the boar were soon harnessed to it. It was a strange team, and the two beasts tried hard to fight each other but Apollo lashed them with a whip and tamed them until they lost their fierceness and were ready to mind the rein. Then Admetus climbed into the chariot and Apollo stood by his side and held the reins and the whip, and drove into Iolcus. James Baldwin , Old Greek Stories
Hermes and his (flying) Chariot
Nike and Hercules and a Centaur Quadriga (look at the barbaric faces of the Centaurs)
The Iliad describes a chariot race held for Patroclus
Anthony, David W., 1995, Horse, wagon & chariot: Indo-European languages and archaeology, Antiquity Sept/1995
"The Northern Frontier in Pre-Imperial China", Cambridge History of Ancient China (pp. 885-966) ch. 13, Nicolo Di Cosmo
The central pole was probably attached to the middle of the axle, though it appears to spring from the front of the basket. At the end of the pole was the yoke,