Women’s Olympic Games in Ancient Greece

running

According to popular belief sports in ancient times were only for men.The ancient Olympic games held in Olympia Greece were only for men and women were not allowed to participate nor attend. Women caught attending the Olympic games were punished by death. Contrary to popular belief and according to Pausanias ( a Greek geographer; 110-180 AD) women were not completely barred from attending the mens Olympic games. As Pausanias states: ““Maidens are not debarred from looking on at the games”.

Most importantly, unmarried women had the opportunity to participate in a women-only sports event in Olympia similar to the men’s Olympic games. The women’s Olympic games were held in honour of goddess Hera and were known as the Heraea (ΗΡΑΙΑ in Greek). 

Although the event was held at least since 700 BC, it seems that we have no other records of the Heraean  games until Pausanias wrote about them. According to Pausanias a running event was held every four years in which  unmarried young women participated to honour Hera. The races were founded by the mythical queen Hippodamia to thank Hera for her wedding with king Pelopas. The Heraean games did not have the prestige of the men’s Olympics, but the Greeks still regarded them as a serious athletic event.

The women were divided into three age groups and ran a distance of 5/6 of a stadium; about 160 meters. The first to run were the youngest; followed by the next in age, and then by the oldest of the maidens. They raced with the hear down, wearing a short tunic that left the right shoulder and breast uncovered (the ancient Greek statue featured fits the description). The Heraean games included many ceremonies. The winners were given an olive wreath and a piece from the cow that was sacrificed in honour of Hera. Also the winners were granted the right to dedicate a statue  with their name inscribed to the temple of Hera. 

Pausanias also refers to Heraean games at Argos and other women-only ritual races at Delphi and near Kameios in Lakonia (region of Sparta). Furthermore a number of women had been awarded winners in the Olympic as the owners of victorious horses in the Olympic races

 

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