The Isthmian games

The Isthmian games were held near Corinth, in a rural sanctuary on the Isthmos, that is the small neck of land that connects the Peloponnesian peninsula with Central Greece. They were organized by the city Corinth, until 146 BC, when Corinth was completely destroyed by the Romans. For some time the games moved to the city Sicyon. In 40 BC Corinth got hold of the organization again and about AD 40 the games moved back to the Isthmos.

The Isthmian games were part of the periodos. They were held in the spring of the first and the third year of every olympiad. The games were dedicated to Poseidon and to Palaimon, a hero from one of the foundation myths. Already in the eleventh century BC, there was a cult place for Poseidon on the Isthmos. The temple was built in the early seventh century and the games were founded in 582 BC.

The program consisted of three parts. The horse races were the most important part for these games, for Poseidon was the patron of this sport. Besides there were athletic contests and from the fifth century onwards also musical contests.

The prize was originally a crown of pine branches. In the fifth century BC, this was replaced by a crown of dried celery. The participants came from all over the Greek world. Only for the inhabitants of Elis it was forbidden to attend the Isthmian games. Consequently they could never become periodos-winners. In the first century AD, there were also Isthmian contests for girls.

The Isthmian games were used by many (e.g. the Roman Flamininus ) as a forum for political propaganda. The Isthmos was easy to reach both from land as from sea, and was therefore a natural meeting place. Moreover, Corinth was a large and important city, unlike Elis or Delphi.

© KU Leuven, 2012