Dr. David Gilman Romano

Karabots Professor of Greek Archaeology

School of Anthropology, University of Arizona

School of Anthropology Haury Anthropology Building, Room 315,
1009 East South Campus Drive, P.O.Box 210030

Tucson, AZ 85721
+1 (520) 621-5343

During this Olympic season, you may hear from announcers, critics, commentators and even athletes that the Olympic games are too commercial, too political, too “professional.” Or that the judging is too nationalistic.

It’s easy to assume that the ancient Olympic Games were different, that ancient Greek athletes were pure in mind and body, that they trained and competed for no other reason than the love of physical exercise, fair competition and to honor their gods.

But is this really true? Well, no.

In fact, politics, nationalism, commercialism and athletics were intimately related in the ancient Olympic Games. We may not realize it, but in today’s games we recreate–with surprising accuracy–the climate and circumstances surrounding the ancient Olympic Games.

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Photo: Scene from Attic Black Figure Amphora, ca. 510-490 BC, depicting a boxing contest ('pugme'). Two boxers wear soft leather 'himantes' or boxing gloves. The man with the long stick is either a judge or trainer. A naked youth stands by, holding extra 'himantes.' University of Pennsylvania Museum Object ID MS403.