by CTCWeb Editors
begat me . . . and he sent me to Troy and straitly charged me
ever to be bravest and pre-eminent above all, and not bring shame
upon the race of my fathers. - Homer,
Like the modern Olympics, strict rules
and regulations governed the ancient Olympics. The Eleans were
accomplished promoters and sought to make the Olympic games a
positive experience for all participants, athletes, and spectators.
Consequently, the ekecheiria, or truce, was the most
important rule. Originally initiated by three kings, Iphitos
of Elis, Kleosthenes of Pisa, and Lykourgos of Sparta, for the
period of one month, the Eleans extended the ekecheiria
to three months. During the truce, participants from warring
city-states could presumably pass through the territory of their
enemy without jeopardy. To add to the positive atmosphere, no
armies could enter Elis, and the death penalty was suspended.
Violating the truce
cost the guilty party dearly. In book five of his History
of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides describes an incident
in 420 BCE when the Eleans fined the Spartans 200,000 drachmai
for attacking Fort Phyrcus and for sending heavy infantry into
Lepreum during the truce. The Spartans denied the charges and
refused to pay the fine. As a result, the Spartans were prohibited
from participating in and sacrificing at the games that year.
Any Greek could participate in the Panhellenic
Olympics. The geographic range of participants stretched from
Sicily to the Black Sea. According to Olympic rules, slaves and
barbaroi, non-Greeks, could not compete at the games.
In addition, any man who had committed a crime or stolen from
a temple was barred from participation. Married women could not
enter the Olympic stadium or attend the games, although young
girls (virgins) and the priestess of Demeter Chamyne were welcomed.
According to Pausanias, punishment for a
woman attending the Olympics was to be thrown off mount Typaeum.
One woman, Kallipateira, defied the rule by disguising herself
as a trainer so she could watch her son compete. She had trained
him following her husbands death. Kallipateira was so elated
when her son won that she jumped over the barrier that enclosed
the trainers area and lost her clothing. Her identity revealed,
Kallipateira faced certain death. Happily, because her father,
three brothers, nephew, and son were Olympic victors, the officials
pardoned her in honor of her victorious family.
The athletes themselves were bound by more
specific rules of participation and conduct. Every athlete participating
in the games had to arrive in Elis at least one month prior to
the start of the games and remain in Elis to train under the
watchful eye of the Elean judges until the games began. Unlike
in the modern games, in which Olympic trials determine who competes
in Olympic competition, the month prior to the start of the ancient
games served as a weeding-out period in which the judges selected
who would and would not participate, based on each aspirants
level of training. During this period, the judges also divided
athletes into age groups.
Once admitted, athletes could not withdraw
from competition. Every athlete had to participate unless he
was an ephedros, an athlete with an ephedreia,
a bye, waiting to compete. The Hellanodikai, literally
"judges of Greeks," or officials, imposed fines or
corporal punishment on athletes who did not follow the rules.
They were assisted by a special police force called the alytarches.
The rabdouchoi, rod-bearers, and mastigophoroi,
scourge-bearers, carried out the punishments. If an athlete could
not pay a fine, his hometown paid it for him.