Amateurism vs. Professionalism in Ancient Athletics Some Basic Questions

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Amateurism vs. Professionalism in Ancient Athletics

Some Basic Questions

  • What Kind of Prizes Did Ancient Athletes Receive?

  • How Much Training Did They Get?

  • Were Ancient Athletes Honest?

  • Did They Have Professional Coaches/Trainers?

  • Where Did They Get the Money for Training?

  • Were They Aristocrats by Birth?

  • Did Athletes Earn High Status from the Victories or from their Birth Status?

  • How Much Money Could an Athlete Win?

Issues Regarding Professionalism

  • Prizes

  • Professional Training

  • Corruption

  • Athletic Dynasties

  • Evidence of Wealth of Athletes

  • Social Status of Athletes

  • Nationalism and Internationalism


  • Death of Hector (Iliad XX.159-166)

  • Thereby they ran, one fleeing, and one pursuing. In front a good man fled, but one mightier far pursued him swiftly; for it was not for beast of sacrifice or for bull's hide [160] that they strove, such as are men's prizes for swiftness of foot, but it was for the life of horse-taming Hector that they ran. And as when single-hooved horses that are winners of prizes course swiftly about the turning-points, and some -- great prize is set forth, a tripod haply or a woman, in honour of a warrior that is dead; [165] even so these twain circled thrice with swift feet about the city of Priam; and all the gods gazed upon them.

  • Also Funeral Games for Patroclus (Iliad XXIII=Miller 1)

Prizes in Myth

Heracles and Alcestis

  • Hercules Fighting Death to Save Alcestis, by Frederic Lord Leighton.

  • Hesiod Theogony 435-438

  • For to this day, whenever any one of men on earth offers rich sacrifices and prays for favor according to custom, he calls upon Hecate. Great honor comes full easily to him whose prayers the goddess receives favorably, [420] and she bestows wealth upon him; for the power surely is with her.

  • [430] And when men arm themselves for the battle that destroys men, [433] then the goddess is at hand to give victory and grant glory readily to whom she will. [435] Good is she also when men contend at the games, for there too the goddess is with them and profits them: and he who by might and strength gets the victory wins the rich prize easily with joy, and brings glory to his parents.

Hesiod Works and Days 654-657

  • [655] Then I crossed over to Chalcis, to the games of wise Amphidamas where the sons of the great-hearted hero proclaimed and appointed prizes. And there I boast that I gained the victory with a song and carried off a handled tripod which I dedicated to the Muses of Helicon, in the place where they first set me in the way of clear song. [660] 

Sybaris Inscription (Miller 160/220)

  • Sybaris Inscription (Miller 160/220)

  • The problem: How can the athlete “tithe” his prize?

  • Aristis Inscription (Miller 146/205)

  • The problem: Where did he get the money for this statue?

  • Solonic Reforms in Athens (Miller 163/223)

  • The problem: Is this a “reduction” in prize?

Prizes in the Classical Age

  • Simonides Poem about Nicolades of Corinth (Greek Anthology XIII.19)

  • State Subsidy for Athletes in Athens (Miller 161/221)

  • Victory Procession (Miller 162/222)

Panathenaic Games

  • What were these prizes worth?

Panathenaic Games

  • Inscriptional Record of Prizes (Miller 84/120)

    • Extremely expensive prizes
    • Exact worth (purchasing power) difficult to measure
    • 4th place singer makes more than a 2nd place athlete
    • Record datable to early 4th century B.C.

Professional Trainers

  • Pindar often praises victor’s coach by name; e.g., Ol 8.54-66

  • And if in my song I have magnified Melesias' glory as a trainer of youths,

  • let no resentment strike me with a foul stone, for I will also sing of his triumph over the youths at Nemea, and mention next his victory against the men in pankration.

  • To teach, then, is easier for one who knows. The man of no foresight gives a fool's lesson, for the thoughts of inexperience have no weight. Melesias will tell you better than anyone how to train man bent on taking glory from contests. And now Alkimedon is his pride, and his thirtieth triumph:

A Trainer at Ptolemy’s Court

  • Miller 147/207

  • Zenon, “business manager” of Apollonios

  • Apollonios, “Minister of Finance of Ptolemy II (285-246 B.C.)

  • Pyrrhos, young ward of Zenon

  • Hierokles of Alexandria, trainer and teacher of Pyrrhos

  • And Professional Sports Physicians?

  • Demokedes of Croton (Miller 146/216)


  • Inscription of Markos Aurelios Asklepiades (Miller #153/213, c. AD 200): threats against athletes

  • Philostratos (Miller #154/214, c. AD 230): describes scandal in boy’s pale at Isthmia—bribery possible everywhere except Olympia?

  • Galen's attack on professionalization of athletes (Miller #155/215, c. AD 180):

  • unbalanced lives

  • exaggeration of negative stereotypes?

Athletic Dynasties

  • athletic dynasty at Croton (S. Italy):

  • 12 Olympic stade winners between 588 & 484 BC

  • (c. 50% of total) 588, 584, 576, 564, 560, 548 [note gap], 508, 504, 496, 492, 488, 484; first 7 places in one Olympiad

  • Milo's career in wrestling: 536-512

  • Astylos wins stade & diaulos for Croton in 488 & 484, competes for Syracuse in 480 & 476 (corresponds with economic & political decline of Croton) See Miller 224

  • Conclusion: high degree of athletic professionalization already in 6th century BC

Wealth of Athletes

  • Alcibiades (Miller #159/219, 48/67, /116)

  • Evidence for cost of sponsoring chariot team.

  • Question: Is this cost unique to the event?

  • Phayllos of Kroton (Miller #38e/60a, from Herodotus 8.47)

  • Was Phayllos from a wealthy family or did he use his athletic winnings for this?

The Modern Myth

  • Victorian view of Greek Athletes:

  • Earliest Greek athletes are aristocrats. (e.g., Pindar)

  • Non-aristocratic athletes first compete extensively in early classical period .

The evidence for non-aristocratic participation in Archaic period

  • Hesiod (Works & Days, Theogony: last half of 8th BC): wins tripod at Games of Amphidamas

  • Koroibos of Elis: first Olympic victor (cook)

  • Glaukos of Karystos: boxing, early 6th BC (farmboy)

Social Status of Athletes

  • Demokedes the Physician (Miller 146/216, from Herodotus 3.129)

  • at court of tyrant Polykrates of Samos

  • prisoner of war of Darius of Persia

  • marries daughter of Milo of Croton

Ambiguity of Social Status in the Classical Age

  • Astylos (Miller #164/224 from Pausanias)

  • Scholars have called him an aristocrat but why, then did he transfer his allegiance, if not for money?

Athletes in the Roman World

  • Mark Antony and Markos Antonios Artemidoros (Miller 149/209): special honors for athletic guilds (synodos)

  • A Clubhouse for the Capitoline Games (Miller 152/212)

  • From Athlete to Sports Administrator: Marcos Aurelios Asklepiades (Miller 153/213)

  • Attack on Professional Athletes by the Physician Galen (Miller 155/215)

Athletic Loyalty to City-State (Polis)

  • Miller 164-166/224-228

  • Why does Astylos of Kroton decide to play for Syracuse? (Miller 164/224)

  • How does the tyrant Dionysios of Syracuse try to persuade Antipater of Miletus to play for him? (Miller 165/225)

The Value of Athletes to the City-State

  • Miller 167-169/229-231

  • What does the philosopher Xenophanes think is more important than the strength of men or horses? (Miller 167/229)

  • What does the tragedian Euripides think is the greatest evil which exists in Greece? (Miller 168/230). Why?

  • In what way does Socrates argue in Plato’s Apology (Miller 169/231) that he is more helpful to Athens than an Olympic victor? What reward does he think he deserves?

Nationalism vs. Internationalism CONT.

  • Relations Between Panhellenic Sanctuaries

  • Miller 170-174/232-236

  • What is the “curse of Moline”? (Miller 170/232)

  • Why does Plutarch (Miller 173/235) say that the Corinthians chose celery for victor crowns at the Isthmian games?

Relations Between City-States at the Panhellenic Sanctuaries

  • Miller 181-185/243-247

  • Find the document in Miller which describes the building Phillip of Macedon built at Olympia to celebrate his accomplishments (See Perrottet, pg. 153).

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