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Panathenaic Stadium

Sport in Ancient Greece

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Delphi couldn’t help but remember one of the most embarrassing moments of her life whenever she came here.

“Come on Delphi, dance properly!”

One of the other girls scowled at her as she turned gracefully.  Delphi had tried to shuffle a bit more enthusiastically.

“Don’t you want the gods to grant you a fine husband?” said another, a blonde girl who was keeping time perfectly.

Delphi opened her mouth to say: “No, actually, I don’t want to marry some smelly thirty-year-old soldier,” but she sensed the old ladies at the end of the passage were watching.  So, she didn’t, and just tried to join in the best she could.

Delphi usually liked dancing.  It was dancing naked in a cave round a bonfire with a group of other girls, being watched by old, nagging women that was the problem.

But it was tradition.  And religion.  And when those two things combined, even Delphi couldn’t argue her way out of them.

They had entered the passageway from the centre of the Panathenaic Stadium and had lit their bonfire, before offering gifts of bread, almonds and honey to the gods.  Delphi had at least managed to not eat any of her offering on the way here.  Not much of it anyway.

The stadium itself was magnificent.  Soaring steps of marble seats stretched up in a great sweep around the central track, where the athletes would compete.  It was here that the Panathenaic Games would take place – wrestling, running and throwing events – all to the loud cheers of thousands of Greek spectators.  She was determined to sneak in and watch for herself – it shouldn’t be too difficult.  She was pretty good at pretending to be a boy.  As soon as she had walked in, she could sense the energy of the place – the sweat, the blood, the triumphs.

Delphi didn’t want to be dancing in this dark cave beneath the hill – she wanted to be on the track, running as fast as Hermes.  She wanted to be on the podium and crowned with the laurel leaves.  She wanted to be cheered by thousands of people.

She stumbled in her dance again as she remembered that the men did all their races naked too.  Probably wouldn’t be able to get away with being a boy then, she thought.

Delphi sighed and concentrated on dancing to get it over with.

Panatheniac Stadium: Fact box

  • This enormous stadium, the only one in the world to be made entirely of marble, was the site of the Panathenaic games.  Much like the Olympic games, it was a sporting venue which hosted running, throwing and wrestling events.  The statues in the centre of the arena were called herms. They were used as marking posts and honoured the god of sport, Hermes.


  • It was further developed by the Romans in 144 AD, who built it up with marble and expanded it to hold as many as 50,000 people.  It now weighs over 85,000 tonnes!  The stadium later fell into disuse for over a thousand years.


  • The ancient Olympic Games weren’t held here – that was in the town of Olympia.  However, this stadium hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and then again in 2004.  This means sport has been hosted at this site for over two and a half thousand years!

Sport in Ancient Greece

  • Sport and physical activity was an essential part of any Greek citizen’s day.  Many Greeks believed that physical beauty and good moral character were basically the same thing – so if you were strong and fit then you must be a good person as well!


  • The Greeks also competed in Games together.  There were three major sets of Games – at Athens, Delphi and Olympia.  It was the Olympic games that became famous the world over, and is still the major sports competition in the world today.


  • One important aspect of the Games was that all wars and fighting between different parts of Greece were stopped during the Games, and visitors from all over Greece were welcomed to compete.  This idea of peace through sport is still important to the idea of the Olympic Games even now.


  • Athletes would compete in sports such as running, jumping, throwing events and wrestling. The winners were given a laurel or olive wreath to wear – but there were no prizes or medals to be won!  The winners would certainly become celebrities in their cities though!


  • Famously, the athletes in the ancient Games were all male and always competed naked.  Girls, like Delphi, joined in the religious ceremonies connected to the Games.  There were even occasional girls’ races in honour to the goddess Hera.  Thankfully, they got to keep most of their clothes on when they raced!

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