Nationality

Greek cities were proud of their athletes. The city shared in their athletic glory. When the victor was proclaimed, his home town was always mentioned. In honorary inscriptions too the victor is always identified by his ethnic. Being connected with a big athletic victory was a great honour for the city and the victorious athletes therefore received a festive reception and a rich reward when they came home.

Having the nationality or citizenship of a Greek city was also a precondition to compete, for only Greek citizens could participate in the Greek games. The Greek world, however, expanded through time. The red color on the map represents the Greek world about the fifth century BC. The yellow color indicates the areas added by Alexander the Great in the late fourth century BC. In the imperial period, the Greek world expanded even further. By the third century AD, Greek sport was practiced even in the green areas.

Some participants in Greek games were proclaimed as citizens of another city than their home town. The political situation in the home town could oblige the athlete to go to another city. Dorieus and his nephew Peisirodos, for example, who both came from Rhodos, were once proclaimed as citizens of Thurioi when the Rhodians were temporarily opposed to the athletes. The Sicilian tyrants tried to bribe foreign champions to have themselves proclaimed as citizens of the city which they ruled. Astylos of Kroton won the Olympic stadion and diaulos in 488 and 484 BC. Then he was approached by Gelon, the tyrant of Syracuse. In 480 he again obtained the victory in both events, but this time for Syracuse. When the citizens of Kroton heard of this ‘transfer’ of their top athlete, they demolished his statue and turned his house into a prison.

In the Roman period, top athletes were often citizens of several cities at the same time. When an athlete had won local games, the organizing city sometimes offered him an honorary citizenship. Sometimes the victors even received an honorary seat in the local city council. For the athlete multiple nationality may have meant multiple rewards after a victory in one of the major games.

© KU Leuven, 2012