Ancient Greek Athletics

by Stephen G. Miller

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Ancient Greek Athletics by Stephen G. Miller is a work of non-fiction on the topic of athletics in the ancient Greek world. While it does not have characters in the traditional narrative sense, it discusses many individuals, including ancient athletes, poets, doctors, and philosophers, as well as important historical and political figures. It also discusses the ancient sources from which information about ancient athletics is drawn as well as modern scholars who have studied the field and made important contributions to the understanding of ancient athletics.

Milo of Croton

Milo (or Milon) of Croton was a sixth-century-BCE Greek athlete. He was the leading wrestler of his period. He was born in Croton, a Greek colony located in what is now modern Calabria in Italy. He served with distinction in his city's army, and he had victories in wrestling in six Olympic Games and in seven Pythian Games. The best known story about him is that he trained by lifting and carrying a calf every day until the calf became an adult ox. Thus, he is credited with discovering what is now called progressive resistance training.


Pindar (c.518–438 BC) was a poet from Thebes and his victory odes, or "epinikia," are major sources for uncovering the history of ancient athletics. These odes celebrate victories in contests held at various Panhellenic festivals, or festivals which drew participants from the entire Greek world rather than just a single city state. These odes are divided into four books, dedicated to those who were victorious in the Olympian, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean Games.


Cynisca or Kyniska (born c.440 BC) was the daughter of Archidamus II, a king of Sparta. Although women could not compete in the Olympic games, they could own and train teams of horses and have male drivers enter them into the chariot races. In 396 and 392 BC, Cynisca's teams won the four-horse chariot races at the Olympic games. She commissioned a bronze statue of herself to be placed at the Temple of Zeus at Olympia to commemorate her victories.

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