The Pythian games

P223The Pythian games were held at Delphi, a sanctuary called 'Pytho' in poetic language. On this spot, the god Apollo had according to the myth killed the dragon Python. The Apollo sanctuary originated in the tenth century BC and became world famous for its oracle. In early times, a contest in singing a hymn for the god was held there every eight years. In 586 BC, a power struggle on the control over the sanctuary unfolded between the nearby city Crisa and the amphictyony (a league of twelve surrounding tribes, who had sworn to defend the interests of the cult). The amphictyony took control of the sanctuary and added other musical events - in which quite early women could take part as well - and sports contests to the games. The year 586 BC is therefore considered the foundation date of the Pythian games.

P195The Pythian games belonged to the periodos and were held every four years in the summer, always in the third year of an olympiad. Even after the introduction of sports contests the musical events remained the most important. They came first in the program:
- day 1: religious ceremonies (sacrifice, performance of the mythical struggle between Apollo and Python and procession)
- day 2: a large banquet
- day 3: musical contests
- day 4: athletic contests
- day 5: horse races

Originally the winners received a laurel crown as prize, but later apples. Because of their prominent place in the periodos, the Pythian games had an exemplary function for other games. In the Hellenistic and Roman period, iso-Pythian games were organized in other cities in the Mediterranean.

© KU Leuven, 2012