Before the 8th cent. bc agones seem to have been small‐scale events, centring round a shrine or sanctuary. But the agon at Olympia came to acquire a special status: traditionally founded in 776 bc, by the end of the 8th cent. it was, because of the wide range of athletic contests it offered and its lack of political ties, attracting increasing numbers of foreigners (esp. from among the athletic Spartans) and was organized as a panhellenic agon (see olympic games; panhellenism). With interstate relationships assuming increased importance during the 7th cent., local agones were reorganized at other places too. The Pythian Games became panhellenic in 582; its range of athletics events followed the Olympic model, but it preserved its identity and associations with Apollo through its emphasis on musical competitions. With the reorganization of the Isthmian (c.581) and Nemean Games (c.573), a group of four panhellenic agones came to form an athletics circuit. At Athens the Great Panathenaea (founded 566) was also panhellenic, but for athletes never achieved the status of the other four. Despite this development, local agones with athletic contests continued to flourish: Pindar's victory odes mention more than 20 local games, and a 5th‐cent. Laconian inscription records 72 victories won by a father and son at eight agones in Peloponnese.
Contests were often in athletics, but music, poetry, and equestrian events were also popular. Hesiod won a poetry‐singing competition in Chalcis; the Pythian Games included three types of musical contest and a painting competition. In Athens tragedies, comedies, and dithyrambs were performed in competitions at the City Dionysia, and at the Panathenaea rhapsodes competed in Homer‐reciting contests. Horse‐ and chariot‐races were mainly entered by rich men who paid charioteers or jockeys to ride on their behalf, and hoped for political prestige from good performances. The chariot‐race was often long (about 14 km. (nearly 9 mi.) at the Olympic Games) and dangerous. Beauty contests, and drinking contests (see anthesteria) are also recorded.
At the four major panhellenic agones, victors were honoured with a wreath: olive at Olympia, laurel at the Pythian Games, varieties of selīnon (parsley or celery) at the Isthmus and Nemea. On returning home the victor might receive more substantial rewards: free meals, the privilege of a front seat when spectating at agones, and gifts. Athens was esp. generous to victors, and at the Great Panathenaea in the 4th cent. bc money, gold crowns, bulls, and large numbers of amphorae containing olive oil were awarded as prizes (100 amphorae, c.4,000 lit. (880 gal.), for a victor in the men's stadion race, a very valuable prize).
Subjects: Classical Studies.