Female Olympic victors in the horse races

P021Because participation in the horse races did not require personal presence - it sufficed to send horses and a jockey to Olympia - it was possible for rich ladies to participate in this event.

The first woman to participate in the horse races in the early fourth century BC, who immediately also won them, was the Spartan princess Kyniska. Plutarch tells that her brother Agesilaos encouraged her to participate to demonstrate that winning the horse races depended on wealth and not on male virtues. Kyniska won twice and erected a statue of herself and of her horses at Olympia. Her victories made her world-famous. After her death a shrine was built in which she was honoured as a heroine.

After Kyniska, other women won in the Olympic horse races. Many belonged to the house of the Ptolemies: queen Berenike I, the mother of Ptolemy II, Arsinoë, his sister and at the same time his wife, and princess Berenike Syra, his daughter, all won Olympic victories in the horse races. Belestiche, the mistress of the Ptolemy II, won in 268 the four-horse chariot race for foals and in 264 the two-horse chariot race for foals, that was then organized for the first time. Berenike II, the wife of Ptolemy III, also took part in the Olympic horse races, but we do not know whether she won.

© KU Leuven, 2012