Athletics & Society in Ancient Greece

Spring 2021 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:40-5:00 p.m. EST. Classes begin on January 19.

Above image: Footrace. Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora, ca. 530 B.C.E., on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gallery 899.

Why were athletic games so important for ancient Greek civilization?

How do the Olympics today reflect this ancient Panhellenic cultural institution?

We invite you to enroll in this online course by Dr. Stamatia Dova offered by Hellenic College.

Course Description

Instructor: Dr. Stamatia Dova

This course offers a comprehensive overview of athletic competitions in Ancient Greece, from the archaic to the Hellenistic period. Through close readings of ancient sources and contemporary theoretical literature on sports and society, the course will explore the significance of athletics for ancient Greek civilization. Special emphasis will be placed on the Olympics as a Panhellenic cultural institution and on their reception in modern times.


Terracotta amphora (jar), from The Metropolitan Museum of Art


An athlete carrying off his prize, a bronze tripod. Terracotta amphora, Attic, ca. 550 B.C.E, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gallery 155. 

Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora 520 BC

Chariot Race

Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora ca. 520 BC

From the second quarter of the sixth century B.C. on, victors in the contests for the Panathenaic festival in Athens were awarded a standardized vase containing about forty-two quarts of olive oil from sacred olive groves in Attica. As depicted,  this prize vase was given to the victor in the prestigious chariot race.

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 171

Course Objectives

  •  acquire a comprehensive understanding of ancient Greek athletics from the eighth to the second century BC,
  •   develop a deep appreciation for the ways in which ancient Greek mythology, literature, and culture emphasized the social significance of sport, and
  •   identify and analyze the ancient Greek roots of modern athletics.
The_Ancient_stadium_at_Delphi 201229

Delphi Ancient Stadium

Perhaps the best-preserved extant ancient stadium in Greece, it overlooks the sanctuary of Apollo. It likely dates to the second half of the 4th-century B.C.E. 

Luarvick, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Charriot race Priam Painter Met Mus Art L 1999 10 12

Chariot Race

Shoulder of an attic black-figure hydria, c. 510 B.C.E.

Attributed to the Priam Painter Metropolitan Museum of Art L.1999.10.12

Lighting of London Olympics Games 2012

Lighting the Olympic Flame London 2012

Young athletes light the Olympic flame received from Olympian gold medalist rower Sir Steven Redgrave in London, U.K., 2012.

BBC website 28 July 2012, "NI teenager lights Olympic cauldron."