Corruption and fines

Just as today, also in Antiquity ambitious athletes sometimes tried to bribe their opponents. In the early third century AD, Philostratus complained that corruption was widespread, except at the Olympic games. But also there it happened occasionally. When a case of corruption was discovered, the guilty athletes were fined (both he who had offered the bribe and he who had accepted the money). This punishment did not change the result of the contest. The athlete who won was proclaimed victor, even if he was corrupt.

In Olympia there was a special row of statues, the Zanes. These statues of Zeus were erected with the fines of corrupt athletes. They stood along the terrace wall at the entrance of the stadion (see nr. 8 on map) and functioned as a warning for the athletes. They were also peace-offerings to Zeus, because the athletes had broken the Olympic oath to him.

Pausanias describes why each of the statues was erected. In 532 BC for example, the Athenian Kallippos had bribed his opponent in the pentathlon. Therefore the Eleans fined him, but the Athenians sent a famous orator to Olympia who pleaded to drop the punishment. The Eleans refused and for that reason the Athenians wanted to boycot the Olympics. But when the Delphic priests refused to give any oracles to the Athenians because of this boycot, they payed the fine after all. With this money six statues of Zeus were erected.

Another mistake which could cost athletes a fine at Olympia was withdrawing after the games had officially started. This was only allowed during the preliminary rounds.

© KU Leuven, 2012