Athletics in Ancient Athens

Donald Kyle concludes this fine book by stating that it should now be clear
that the interrelationship between the histories of Athens and its athletics is
significant and continuous . . . Athletics were a public, integral, and poten-
tially unifying or disruptive element in the civic experience of the Athenians
(p. 177). Among the many strong points of this study is its steady focus on the
historical and cultural significance of athletics: this book is no mere exercise in
antiquarianism, but a carefully documented analysis of the prosopography and
politics of athletics in Athens.
At the core of the book is a catalogue of known and possible Athenian
athletes. Each athlete receives a separate biographical entry in Appendix II with
the relevant ancient testimonia and bibliographical notes: classicists and ancient
historians wiIl find this sober and detailed catalogue a valuable research tool.
The background of Lysis, known to us from Platos dialogue, is nicely illumi-
nated, as is that of the charismatic Autolykos, whom Xenophon, among others,
described. Taking to heart the importance of the work of H. W. Pleket and
David C. Young, Kyle uses his catalogue to address in chapter 4 the question of
the athletes socio-economic background: who are the participants? Does the
personnel change over the centuries of Athenian history? Kyle correctly dis-
tinguishes between elitism of birth and the elitism of wealth to which it
increasingly yielded in the fifth century BC. What is problematic is the
difficulty in determining whether the socio-economic status of a given athlete
was the result of athletic achievement or the prerequisite for it, and there are few
cases where the hereditary nobility of the athletes, or its absence can be proven.
It is daunting to consider how few of Athens archons, strategoi, choregoi and
other notables are known to us at all, to say nothing of their interests (or lack
thereof) in athletics. Kyle is careful to warn the reader repeatedly that the trends
he points out are based on very fragmentary evidence, and he wisely refrains
from computing percentages or otherwise giving a misleading positivism; the
trends he does point out are sensible and sound deductions from the evidence
that has come down to us.
This book presents new insights into the dynamics of the relationship between governors and provincial subjects in the Later Roman Empire, with a focus on the provincial perspective. Based on literary, legal, epigraphic and artistic materials the author deals with questions such as how provincials communicated their needs to governors, how they expressed both their favorable and critical opinions of governors’ behavior, and how they rewarded ‘good’ governors. Provincial expectations, a continuous dialogue, interdependence, reciprocity, and ceremonial routine play key roles in this study that not only leads to a better understanding of Late Roman provincial administration, but also of the successful functioning of an empire as large as that of Rome.

Title: Athletics in Ancient Athens
ISBN: 9004276629,9789004276628
Publisher: BRILL
Genre: Literary Criticism / Medieval
Date Published:
Pages: 264
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