Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 4

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 up 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:

Only male athletes competed at Olympia, BUT a woman could be declared victor for an Olympic event.

Considering the ban against females mentioned in Fun Fact 3, it’s not all that surprising that there were no events for women. Contests were limited to boys, men, and animals (equestrian events were included in the program). However, even if a woman couldn’t physically attend the Games, she could still win an Olympic crown.

Here’s how: for the equestrian events, the victors were not the animals or the jockeys/charioteers (who were usually slaves or hired men) but the OWNERS of the animals. As such, a horse owner didn’t even have to be at Olympia and could still win the event and all the glory that went with it. Horseracing was, as it is now, a rich man’s sport, and this rule allowed the well-heeled elite a chance at Olympic glory without having to risk their necks on the racetrack. But the consequence was that if a female owned horses, she could also enter and win. This is exactly what Cynisca of Sparta, the main character of my WIP, did.

Granted, it was still difficult for women to participate. Racehorses are expensive, and certain Greek city states didn’t allow women to own property. But Cynisca won the chariot event twice, and a handful of women followed in her footsteps.

Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!

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