Women as spectators

Women were not allowed as spectators at the Olympic games. They had to stay at the other side of the river Alpheios during the games. The only woman to attend the games was the priestess of Demeter. A law stipulated that every other female spectator had to be thrown off a high cliff. For other games such laws are not known. It is however probable that women were also not allowed as spectators of other athletic contests. The Roman emperor Augustus enacted a law that women were allowed in the theatre only after the fifth hour, because before the fifth hour athletic contests took place there.

Only once a woman was caught at Olympia. She was one of the daughters of Diagoras of Rhodes - the sources do not agree if it was Pherenike or Kallipateira -, the head of a family of successful athletes. Disguised as trainer she brought her son to the games after the death of her husband. When he won the boxing contest, in her joy she jumped over the fence, which separated the trainers from the athletes, and lost her clothes. So it became apparent she was a woman, but out of respect for her father, brothers and son, all Olympic winners, she was not punished.

© KU Leuven, 2012