In older works, scholars often make a strict distinction between 'crown-games', where one could only win a symbolic crown, and 'prize-games', where material prizes were awarded. The former category was considered most important, the latter insignificant. This modern terminology does not exactly mirror the ancient conception of games, however, but is in fact influenced by the modern ideas of amateurism. The ancient terminology for games evolved, moreover, throughout their centuries-long history.

The term 'crown-games' occurs for the first time in literary texts from the fourth century BC as a description of the Olympic, Pythian, Isthmian and/or Nemean games (the later periodos). Only in the third century BC, the term starts to be used in inscriptions, which reflect the technical language of athletics. At this time, a larger group of games was included under the term. At the time a lot of new contests were introduced, and the initiators naturally wanted their games to become prestigioud. Therefore, treaties were concluded between cities: cities had to acknowledgethe new games by a decree, which stipulated that winners in that particular contest would be rewarded at home on the same level as for example winners of the Olympic or Pythian games. Therefore, the new games were called is-Olympic or iso-Pythian games, and 'crown-games' became an umbrella term for all of them. A term for the other contests, which were no crown-games, did not exist.

In the Roman period the status of games could only be accorded by the emperor. In this period, the 'crown-games' were for a short while called 'sacred crown-games' and later just 'sacred games'. Because the number of games with rewards grew too high, from the reign of Trajan on they made a distinction between the 'sacred games', where exemption from taxes and other obligations could be won, and the 'sacred games with entrance in the city', where the victors were also entitled to a ceremonial entrance and to pensions. Around the same time extra categorizing terms were developed for lower ranking contests, such as 'talent-games' (a talent being 6000 drachmae) or 'thematic games'.

© KU Leuven, 2012