Rulers as participants in the Greek games

The earliest known Greek games were the funeral games for Patroklos in the Ilias. Here Homeric heroes and kings competed with each other. In later times too the elites kept a vivid interest in the games. Many tyrants and kings participated in the horse races. They considered the other events beneath their dignity. Afther his victory in the horse races at Olympia king Philip of Macedon was asked whether he intended to participate also in the running events.  He answered "only if my opponents would be kings as well." A victory in the horse races was, however, very prestigious and could function as political propaganda.

The most famous elite participants were the tyrants of Sicily, the Macedonian kings and the Ptolemies. Some Roman emperors, such as Augustus and Domitian, were particularly interested in the Greek games, but only Nero took part in person in the horse races and in the musical competition. He made a grand tour visiting all the major Greek games. The Olympic victory of Tiberius dates from before he was emperor. His adoptive son Germanicus also won the Olympic horse races.

Several rulers were, moreover, active as organizers of Greek games.

© KU Leuven, 2012