Ambassadors

The Greek games offered more than just sports: they also stimulated the international relations between the Greek cities.

Several months before the games started, the great panhellenic sanctuaries, such as Olympia and Delphi, sent ambassadors or 'theoroi' to all corners of the Greek world to announce the date of the games and to proclaim the sacred truce, which made the ambassadors inviolable. This way, they could travel safely and were welcomed in the home of a designated host in every city.

The Greek sport circuit grew during the Hellenistic period. Many new games were established, and other games were upgraded to a higher status, so that the victors would be entitled to rich rewards in their home town. This could only happen in cooperation with other cities, because these had to acknowledge the status of the new games. Otherwise, athletes might not be rewarded upon their return and would therefore prefer not to participate. For this purpose, the organizing cities would send out ambassadors as well.

During the games, the organizing city received ambassadors, or representatives, from others cities, called 'theoroi' or 'observers' just like the other ambassadors. These men, who accompanied the athletes, acted as representatives of their home city and were received with due respect. They took part in the sacrifice during the festival and received an honorary seat in the stadion.

Through these ambassadors, the whole international elite was assembled at the major games. Consequently, the games offered opportunities for political propaganda. Especially the Isthmian games, taking place in an easily accessible sanctuary near the important city of Corinth, were an important political scene. 

© KU Leuven, 2012