2012 is significant in that it is a presidential election year, a leap year, and a summer Olympic year! The modern Olympics, of course, were inspired by the ancient Greek Olympics, a subject I’ve been researching for my work in progress. So in these months leading to the 2012 London Games, I’ll be posting weekly tidbits about the original athletic festival that started it all.
Here’s this week’s fun fact:
Married women were barred from attending the Games.
At other times of the year, women could enter Olympia, where the Games took place, but during the competition, they had to stay out. The one exception to the rule was the priestess of Demeter Chamyne, whose presence was actually required at the Games. As for the rest, Pausanias writes:
As you go from Scillus along the road to Olympia, before you cross the Alpheius,there is a mountain with high, precipitous cliffs. It is called Mount Typaeum. It is a law of Elis to cast down it any women who are caught present at the Olympic Games, or even on the other side of the Alpheius, on the days prohibited to women. (Book 5, Chapter 6, Section 7 of the Description of Greece)
However, the confusing thing is that in chapter 20 of the same book, Pausanias writes, “Maidens are not debarred from looking on at the Games.”
So it appears there were some females at the Games – at least in Pausanias’ time. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was always the case. The Games were centuries old at the time of Pausanias, and the dominating Romans may have tweaked the rules when they overran Greece. It’s also not clear whether the term “maidens” meant entry was based off age or marital status.
At any rate, if you were a woman and married, you’d stay well clear of Olympia during the Games.
Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!