Ancient Greek Athletics


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Stephen G. Miller

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A comprehensive survey of sports in ancient Greece, available just in time for the Summer Olympics in Athens

The earliest Olympic games began more than twenty-five-hundred years ago. What were they like, how were they organized, who participated? Were ancient sports a means of preparing youth for warfare? In this lavishly illustrated book, a world expert on ancient Greek athletics provides the first comprehensive introduction to the subject, vividly describing ancient sporting events and games and exploring their impact on art, literature, and politics.

Using a wide array of ancient sources, written and visual, and including recent archaeological discoveries, Stephen Miller reconstructs ancient Greek athletic festivals and the details of specific athletic events. He also explores broader themes, including the role of women in ancient athletics, the place of amateurism, and the relationship between athletic events and social and political life.

Published in the year the modern Olympic Games return to Athens, this book will be a source of information and enjoyment for anyone interested in the history of athletics and the origins of the world’s most famous sporting event.

Stephen G. Miller, professor of classical archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley, directs the excavations at Nemea in Greece, one of the major sites of ancient games. He is the author of many books, including Arete: Greek Sports from Ancient Sources.

A selection of the History Book Club and the Discovery Channel Book Club

"Stephen G. Miller has written the finest, most complete and most useful account of ancient Greek Athletics that I have seen. It rests on a thorough knowledge of all the literary and material evidence and adds a thoughtful and unmistakable love for his subject."—Donald Kagan, author of The Peloponnesian War

"Miller’s Ancient Greek Athletics nowtakes the crown as the most complete and authoritative treatment of the subject in any language. In particular, the massive collection of illustrations and statuary is unparalleled and makes the text easy to interpret."—Frank Frost, professor of ancient history emeritus from UC Santa Barbara

"An olive wreath to Miller for producing an eminently readable, generously illustrated, and comprehensive text on Greek athletics. A must-read foreveryone interested in the role of sport in the ancient world."—Jenifer Neils, author of Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens

"Everyone interested in sports will want to own this book, which is a lucid introduction to the ancient athletics and an authoritative resource for the scholar. Miller draws on new information, some of which he himself discovered while excavating at Nemea, to show us in detail how athletes trained and how the various competitions were managed. The book introduces us to a world different from our own in which athleticism was a means of honoring the gods, while reminding mortals of their limitations, where there was one winner and many losers, and where the modern categories of professional and amateur did not apply."—Mary Lefkowitz, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, Wellesley College, author of Greek Gods, Human Lives

"Professor Stephen Miller’s special achievement is to have produced the first truly comprehensive account of all ancient Greek games, athletic and otherwise. This miller’s tale is also a cracking read."—Paul Cartledge, Cambridge University

"Stephen G. Miller, excavator of Ancient Nemea and founder of the Nemean Games, has written a masterpiece dedicated to ancient Greek athletics. He knows all the sources, supplies intelligent descriptions and commentaries of facts and problems on ancient sports and gives splendid illustrations."—Wolfgang Decker, Deutsche Sporthochschule, Cologne, Germany (and author of Sports And Games Of Ancient Egypt)

"Miller explores a myriad of engrossing subjects that are relevant today, among them the link between sport and recreation, women and athletics, and the effect of the games on international politics. . . . The book wins a gold."—David Steinberg, Albuquerque Journal

"Appraising the literature, the painted pottery and the ruins, S. Miller’s scholarly, readable, well illustrated and elegantly produced book reviews the cultural, political and social history."—Antiquity

"This is a book with enough insight to make it difficult to put down. It is rare to find scholarship made as completely accessible as this."—Richard Edmonds, Birmingham Post

"This fine book marks the coming-of-age of the study of ancient Greek athletics as scholarly enterprise. . . . Particularly valuable are the vivid reconstruction of the ancient Olympic program and the lucid discussion of the evidence for female athletic contests in ancient Greece. Essential. All collections; all levels."—Choice

"Concise yet comprehensive, and wonderfully illustrated . . . the crowning glory of a lifetime’s work in the field."—James Davidson, Daily Telegraph

"This is a wonderful book. It far surpasses anything else on the subject. Miller is thoroughly familiar with the archaeological material and has marshaled every scrap of evidence from the literary sources, inscriptions, and papyri, as well as visual evidence from coins, sculpture, and vase painting. He writes well, and the intended audience—anyone interested in ancient athletics—will find it an enjoyable read."—Thomas Kelly, History: Reviews of New Books

"A superior piece of work in its own right and by far the best general survey of Greek athletics that is currently available. It will appeal to all non-specialists interested in Greek sport, would be an ideal text for any college-level course on this subject, and will provide specialists with a useful reference tool. . . . [This book] will facilitate the teaching of Greek athletics to undergraduates. Instructors who teach ancient Greek athletics at the college level are fortunate to find themselves, finally, in a position to put Gardiner to the side and use a text that is engaging, informative, and up-to-date."—Journal of Sport History

"Written with clarity and grace, Miller's work exemplifies arete, the excellence of virtue that the ancient Greeks sought to embody. For lay readers and scholars alike."—Library Journal

"Miller is very informative on the way in which, as a result of Alexander’s conquests in the East and, later, the expansion of the Roman empire across the Mediterranean, these uniquely Greek games gradually turned into a form of universal entertainment."—Peter Jones, Literary Review

"A readable and informative survey of the nature and practice of ancient Greek sports."—Thomas J. Sienkewicz, Magill's Literary Annual

"Remarkable for its lucidity of style, it proceeds effortlessly point by point, providing known facts and controversies in a well-conceived and beautifully illustrated volume, which is easy reading for scholar, student, and interested layperson alike. . . . An excellent and most enjoyable treatment. . . . Miller's book will be fundamental to anyone interested in the field."—Wendy J. Raschke, New England Classical Journal

"The best of the new books on the ancient games . . . the locus classicus for the history of sport in Greece."—Jenifer Neils, Odyssey

"The best of the new books on the ancient games is Ancient Greek Athletics.. . . This book will serve as the locus classicus forthe history of sport in ancient Greece."—Jenifer Neils, Odyssey

"As the Olympic Games open in the land where it all began, it is both fitting and delightful to sit down with this beautiful, informative book. Miller . . . brings the ancient Greek athletic festivals to life by reconstructing the scene at one of the Panhellenic games and explores broader themes such as the integral role they played in society and politics."—Scientific American

"The biggest problem in teaching ancient athletics has been the lack of an adequate survey that marshals the diffuse and difficult archaeological and written evidence, so as to engage students, while maintaining a modicum of academic respectability. . . . That gap [since Gardiner's 1930 Athletics of the Ancient World] has now been magnificently filled by Stephen G. Miller's new study, a distillation of three decades spent teaching the subject and directing excavations at Nemea, one of the most prestigious athletic sites in ancient Greece."—Nigel M. Kennell, The Historian

"[A] well-researched, comprehensive survey of ancient sports. . . . Miller gives an entertaining survey of everything from the mechanics of starting blocks to the layout of the festival sites—all aimed toward demonstrating the central place of athletics in the culture of the Greeks."—Bruce Thornton, The Weekly Standard

"Excellently documented and marvelously illustrated."—Mary Beard, Times Literary Supplement

"Ancient Greek Athletics is terrific. A winning combination—erudite and exciting. Miller takes the crown. This authoritative and accessible handbook shows what we can—and cannot—know about Greek athletics."—Donald G. Kyle, University of Texas at Arlington

Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2005

Received rating of "Outstanding" from 2005 University Press Books Committee
ISBN: 9780300115291
Publication Date: August 1, 2006
304 pages, 7 x 10
221 b/w + 71 color illus.