Greek sport in Asia Minor (Turkey)

The coasts of Turkey or Asia Minor, as historians usually call this area were part of the Greek world since the archaic period. Polymestor of Miletus, who won the stadion for boys in 596 BC, was the first Olympic victor from Asia Minor. In the archaic and classical periods, victors from Asia Minor remained, however, rather exceptional at the games in Greece. They always came from coastal cities, moreover.

From the late fourth century BC onwards, there was a clear increase of athletes from Asia Minor. Because of the conquests of Alexander the Great, the whole area we today call Turkey belonged to the Greek world. Also in the inland, Greek cities emerged, which organized their own Greek games and whose citizens were allowed to compete at the important international games. Tlepolemos, an aristocrat from the town Xanthos in Lycia, the region of present-day Antalya, won the Olympic race for horse with rider as early as 256 BC.

Especially in the Roman period, Asian athletes were omnipresent in the international circuit. Almost half of the Olympic victors of this period came from Asia Minor. Many new is-Olympic or iso-Pythian games were instituted here. Many international celebrities, such as Marcus Aurelius Demostratos Damas, had citizen rights of several important Asian cities. In this way, the cities thanked the athletes for their exploits at the local games.

© KU Leuven, 2012