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Susan Bilynskyj Dunning

In Roman conceptions of time, the saeculum became the longest fixed interval, calculated as a period of 100 or 110 years (as opposed to, e.g., a lustrum of only five years; cf. “census”). The term originally indicated a “generation” or “lifetime,” but greater significance developed through its association with the Ludi Saeculares (Secular Games), which were performed to celebrate the advent of a new saeculum in Rome. Through the Secular Games, the emperor advertised his role in establishing his dynasty and ushering in an age of peace; emperors who wished to capitalize on this expression of authority made official references to the saeculum in coinage and inscriptions if they were unable to hold the Games during their reigns, thus creating a close link between the saeculum, imperial families, and political control. In Late Antiquity, the Christianization of the empire led to other usages. Because of its association with political power, the saeculum came to signify “the present age of the world,” in contrast with an eternal, heavenly realm; it could also be applied to a new, Christian era.


Delphic oracle  

Michael Scott

The origins of the oracle of Apollo date to the very end of the 9th centurybce. Eventually it developed into the most important Greek oracle and was consulted by poleis (see polis) as well as individuals. It played an important guiding role in the formation of the Greek poleis and in colonization; it gave guidance on warfare, pollution, “release from evils,” (rarely) laws, and—above all—cult. The story that Apollo was not the original owner of the oracle but replaced an earlier deity (different versions naming different deities, but all including Gaia or Themis, or both) is unlikely to reflect cult history; it is a myth, expressing the perception that at Delphi the chthonian, dangerous, and disorderly aspects of the cosmos have been defeated by, and subordinated to, the celestial guide and lawgiver.1 Apollo’s oracle has tamed the darker side of the cosmos—both at the theological (Gaia’s defeat) and at the human level: it therefore gives men divine guidance through which they can cope with this side of the cosmos.


Pancrates, Greco-Egyptian hexameter poet, 2nd century CE  

Tim Whitmarsh

Pancrates was a Greek hexameter poet of the 2nd centuryce,1 a native Egyptian operating in Alexandria in the time of Hadrian. He may be identical with the Heliopolitan prophet and magician Pachrates attested in a magical papyrus.2 He won his fame for his work on the lion hunt of Hadrian and his lover Antinous in the Libyan desert in September of 130ce. The poem constituted an aetiology of the red lotus flower, which was said to have gained its colour from the lion’s blood. According to one near-contemporary report, “Hadrian was delighted by this inventive, innovative conceit, and rewarded him with free board at the Museum” (Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 677 f).How long the poem was originally and how much of it survives are both open to debate. Athenaeus securely cites and attributes four hexameter lines, a flower catalogue with a proleptic conclusion: “For not yet did the bloom named for Antinous grow” (Deipnosophists 677f = Heitsch 1963: XV.


Secular Games  

Susan Bilynskyj Dunning

The Ludi Saeculares were a religious performance held at Rome from the Republic to late Empire that came to be connected with the arrival of a new age or saeculum. The earliest celebrations included sacrifices and theatrical games (ludi scaenici; see ludi) at an altar by the Tiber in the Campus Martius; this location was called the Tarentum. In later centuries, new rituals were added to these older elements as the Ludi Saeculares came to be connected with the creation and legitimization of imperial dynasty and authority.The Republican predecessor of the Ludi Saeculares was a cult associated with the Valerian clan (see gens): a legend concerning their foundation describes how a legendary figure named Valesius instituted the first ludi and sacrifices to chthonic deities, Dis Pater and Proserpina (see Persephone), in thanksgiving for the miraculous cure of his three children at the Tarentum (.


athletics, Greek  

Reyes Bertolín Cebrián

Athletics is often used as a synonym for sport. It involves physical activity, mostly organized through training and competition. Athletics was an integral part of Greek cultural identity throughout all periods of Greek history. In the realm of material culture, sources for the study of sport range from the great sanctuaries at Olympia or Delphi to sculpture, ceramics, votive offerings, and even coins. Written sources of all genres describe the practice of athletics or use sport metaphors and anecdotes to embellish the narrative or discuss issues. There are mentions of athletics in epic poetry, lyric, tragedy, comedy, oratory, philosophy, history, and technical writings. Inscriptions offer abundant information as well. From the great variety of sources available, it is obvious that athletics was more than a mere pastime for the Greeks. Apart from competition, the Greeks saw value in athletics as a way to socialize and educate the young. Through the practice of athletics, the Greeks projected the image of strong, self-controlled, and independent individuals.


gladiators, combatants at games  

Garrett G. Fagan

Gladiators were armed combatants who performed in the arena during Roman games called munera. They could be slaves, freeborn, or freedmen (ex-slaves). Slave gladiators were usually trained professionals based in a training school (ludus) run by a manager (lanista). Freeborn or freed gladiators were volunteers who fought under contract to a manager (such fighters were termed auctorati). There were different styles of armaments, carefully considered to pitch advantage against disadvantage. Thus the net-man (retiarius) was largely unprotected but carried a net and a trident with a long reach, whereas his opponent (secutor) carried a short sword but was more heavily armored and had a large shield. Evidence from gladiatorial graveyards and gravestones confirms the violent, often lethal nature of the contests, though a win could be achieved without a kill and the fighters clearly took pride in their skills and status with their peers and their fans. Despite their popularity, gladiators were officially regarded as infames (people of bad reputation) and ranked alongside or below actors, prostitutes, pimps, and bankrupts as social and moral outcasts.



Kim Shelton

Nemea is a fertile upland valley in southern Corinthia where the Sanctuary of Zeus and its panhellenic festival with athletic games was founded in the 6th century bce. After a period of disruption in the Classical period, when the games were removed and celebrated in Argos, the later 4th century bce saw a renewal of the games at the site which underwent a substantial building program with a new temple, stadium, and facilities for athletes and festival participants. A hero shrine in the form of a tumulus was constructed in the southwestern part of the sanctuary in the Iron Age and was rebuilt with a stone perimeter wall in the late 4th century. The Nemea valley was occupied and farmed from prehistory through the medieval period when the pagan sanctuary was converted for Christian worship with the construction of a basilica from the spolia of the Temple of Zeus.Nemea (.