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The Ancient Olympics
by CTCWeb Editors

The Events (con't)


Origin Though it was not used as a weapon in war, the discus has a reputation for being an instrument of accidental death in mythology. In Homer’s Iliad, the discus is an event at Patroklos’ funeral games.
Equipment Originally made of stone, later discuses were made of bronze, iron, or lead. The ancient discus looked a lot like the ones used today. It weighed between 1.3 and 6.6 kilograms and was anywhere from 17 to 32 centimeters in diameter. Boys threw a different, smaller discus than the men.
Rules The technique used to throw a discus at the ancient Olympics is much the same as it is today. Officials marked a legal throw with wooden pegs and measured the distance with rods.
Images See these two vases for images of discus throwers, Boston 01.8020 and Philadelphia MS2444.
Text See Homer, Iliad, 2.770 and 23.430
Modern Athlete Alfred Oerter, an American discus thrower, just casually picked up a discus at track practice one day and threw it further than anyone else on the team. Oerter went on to win four consectutive gold medals at the 1956, 1960, 1964, and 1968 Olympic games. Between 1962 and 1964, Oerter set new world records four times.


Origin Introduced at the 33rd Olympics in 648 BCE, the pankration was thought to be invented by Theseus since, to defeat the Minotaur on Crete, Theseus combined boxing with wrestling. A brutal sport, the event Minoan palacecombined skills needed by a warrior or any man fighting an enemy without weapons.
Equipment No equipment was used.
Rules There were very few rules in the two versions of the pankration, the kato pankration, in which the competitors could fall to the ground, and the ano pankration, in which the competitors had to remain standing. All boxing blows and wrestling holds were allowed. Competitors could use moves like the gastrizein, or stomach trick, a kick to the gut, as well as the apopternizein, or heel trick, where a foot was grab to throw an opponent off balance. Also an opponent could hold another and punch him during a match. Biting and eye gouging were not allowed.
Images Click here to see an image of the pankration.
Text See Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.8.4.
Ancient Athlete The son of a priest at the temple of Herakles, Theagenes of Thasos, earned fame for his athletic abilities at age nine. According to the story of Theagenes, at age nine, he tore a bronze statue from its base and took it home. His punishment was to bring the statue back, which he did. Later in life Theagenes won numerous competitions including Olympic championships in boxing and the pankration. Proud of their prodigal son, the people of Thasos erected a statue of Theagenes after his death. A man, who was unable to defeat Theagenes while he was alive, would go to the statue every night and beat it. One night, while beating the statue, it fell on him and killed him. The statue was exiled for committing murder. Eventually retrieved from the sea where it was exciled, the statue was reinstalled. Thasos came to think of Theagenes as a god of healing because they attributed the ending of a plague that ravaged their city to the return of the statue.

Pentathlon & Running << Table of Contents >> Wrestling & Jumping


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Inside Connection

Complementary Resources

CTCWeb Resources
Sport & Daily Life in the Roman World

The Life and Labors of Hercules

Netshot: Homer's Iliad

Roots of English: an Etymological Dictionary

The Roman Gladiator

Knowledge Builders
Dress & Costume, Zeus, Colonization, Homer's Iliad & Odyssey, and more.

Teachers' Companions
Dress & Costume, Zeus, Colonization, Homer's Iliad & Odyssey, and more.

Other Resources
The Ancient Olympic Games Virtual Museum

The Ancient Olympics

An Olympic Games Primer

The Olympics Through Time

The Real Story of the Ancient Olympic Games

Global Glossary Terms
- discus
- Homer
- Patroclus
- pankration
- Theseus

- Herakles

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