THE WOMEN: WERE THE ANCIENT OLYMPICS JUST FOR MEN?
with the athletic contests held at ancient Olympia, there was a separate
festival in honor of Hera (the wife of Zeus). This festival included foot
races for unmarried girls. Although it is not known how old the festival
was, it may have been almost as old as the festival for boys and men.
Little is known about this festival other than what Pausanias, a 2nd century
AD Greek traveler, tells us. He mentions it in his description of the Temple
of Hera in the Sanctuary of Zeus (model, courtesy of British Museum, shown
above and plan shown below), and says that it was organized and supervised
by a committee of 16 women from the cities of Elis. The festival took place
every four years, when a new peplos
was woven and presented to Hera inside her temple.
Plan of the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia in the 5th century
BC showing the Temple of Hera, the Hera Altar, and the stadion.
(Plan from H. V. Herrmann, Olympia, Heiligtum und Wettkampfstatte,
Pausanias gives us a description of a girl's attire for the Hera games of
the 2nd century AD. The girls wore their hair free down their back and a
tunic hanging almost as low as the knees covering only the left shoulder
and breast. The costume that Pausanias describes may have been the traditional
costume at Olympia and possibly elsewhere for centuries.
Unmarried girls had a number of advantages at Olympia. They not only had
their own athletic contests of the Hera festival in which to participate,
but they were also allowed to watch the men's and boys' contests of the
festival of Zeus. Married women, on the other hand, were not allowed to
participate in the athletic contests of the Hera festival, and were barred
on penalty of death from the Sanctuary of Zeus on the days of the athletic
competition for boys and men. We don't know whether or not the women allowed
the men to watch the girls' contests!
lady is a champ...
Red Figure Amphora, ca. 490 BC. A winged Nike (goddess of victory)
hovers above the ground, holding a flowering tendril and a smoking
censer. The shape of the amphora is similar to those awarded to victorious
athletes in the Panathenaic Games at Athens and therefore may have
been a victory prize. Museum Object Number: 31-36-11.
Bronze Statuette of a girl runner, probably from
Sparta, ca. 500 BC, British Museum.
Did you know...
The first women's marathon was at the 1984 games in Los Angeles.
Softball made its Olympic debut at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
It's an Olympic event for women only.
US Women's Hockey made history in the 1998 Nagano Games winning
the first gold medal in the first year of women's Olympic hockey
Women's events introduced in 2000 at Sydney: water polo