The Panathenaic games

The Panathenaia are an ancient religious festival in Athens. The Athenians went in procession to the akropolis, sacrificed 100 oxen and gave offerings, including a richly embroidered cloth, to the goddess Athena in the Parthenon temple. In the sixth century athletic and musical contests were added to this festival, probably under the influence of the rising popularity of top games such as the Olympics. The Panathenaia became one of the most important games outside the periodos with international competition.

The program consisted of different parts. It started with the musical events, like kithara- en flute-playing. Next followed the Olympic events, like running and combat sports, and the horse races. The final part consisted of traditional sports for Athenians only, e.g. a torch-race between villages, a boatrace, javelin-throwing towards a target from horseback, traditional dancing, etc.

This complete program was only covered during the Great Panathenaic games, which were held every four years in july, shortly before the Pythian games. In the other years only a few contests for Athenian citizens, e.g. the torch-race, were organized during the Lesser Panathenaic games.

The victors of the Panathenaia were richly rewarded. The athletes with a first or second place received large Panathenaic amphoras with a depiction of the event and filled with almost 40 liter of first class olive oil. The number of amphoras depended on the event, the age-category and the place obtained. A boy who obtained a second place in the pentathlon received only six amphoras, but a young man (ageneios) who was first in the pankration received already sixty. The largest number of amphoras were for winners in the horse races. For the musical competitions, there were money-prizes. A victory in some of the tradional sports was rewarded with a cow. Most of the amphoras recovered during archaeological excavations date from the sixth to the fourth century BC. In the course of the Hellenistic period, a prize consisting of hundreds or thousands of liters of olive oil became too inconvenient for the travelling competitors. The victors continued to be awarded with one symbolic amphora, though.

© KU Leuven, 2012