Taiikugaku kenkyu (Japan Journal of Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences)
Online ISSN : 1881-7718
Print ISSN : 0484-6710
ISSN-L : 0484-6710
Women and sports in the ancient world
Koichi Takahashi
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2011 Volume 56 Issue 1 Pages 19-30


In recent decades, much evidence for women's sports in the ancient world has been uncovered. In ancient Greece, men concentrated on politics, wars, athletics, and the like, whereas desirable womanly qualities were considered to be beauty, modesty and obedience. Accordingly, no women's events were included in the ancient Olympic Games. It is said that married women were not allowed to be present at Olympia during the games, although unmarried women were permitted to watch the games. Except in militaristic Sparta, athletics were usually for male citizens.
However, in the festivals of Hera, only girls could compete in foot-races. Like the boys, Spartan girls paraded naked in the presence of the men and participated in foot-races, wrestling, discus and javelin. Tryphosa, but also her two sisters, competed in and won foot-races in several major athletic festivals, but not at Olympia. Although married women could not compete in the Olympics, they could win Olympic victories in the equestrian events. Thus it is certain that women did participate in athletics. This paper examines the participation of women in sports at the Olympic Games and the festivals of Hera.
Except for the priestess of Demeter Chamyne, married women were forbidden to attend the Olympics as spectators. Unmarried women and girls were also excluded from watching the games. In order to prevent bribery, trainers had to present themselves naked and undergo physical examinations. Unmarried women competed every four years in foot-races at the festivals of Hera held at Olympia. Some have suggested that the Heraian games became Panhellenic, but there is no historic evidence for this. The local festivals in which only women and girls were able to participate took place separately from the Olympics.
Kyniska of Sparta was the first women's Olympic victor in the four-horse chariot race. Agesilaus persuaded his sister Kyniska to enter a chariot race at Olympia and showed that Olympic chariot victories could be won by wealth and not by manly courage. However, it is certain that Kyniska was exceedingly ambitious to enter the Olympic Games, winning twice in all. However Kyniska's victories did not lead to the spreading of women's sports or to improvement of women's rights.

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© 2011 Japan Society of Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences
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