athletics, late antiquity

Sofie Remijsen

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics

Published online April 2019 | e-ISBN: 9780199381135 | DOI:

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Whereas chariot races gained popularity in late antiquity, athletics declined. Traditional agones, such as the Olympics, disappeared in the course of the 4th and 5th centuries ce. The traditional explanation, that they were abolished by Theodosius I, is no longer widely accepted, as the imperial policy clearly remained positive towards games. Changes to the administration of the cities, which administered the funds of these games, must have had a stronger effect, as did the rise of new, and in particular Christian, values. The drive to compete in the individual competitions typical of Greek athletics can be linked to the ambition to excel that was typical of the earlier political culture, but which was increasingly perceived as a vain pursuit and replaced by an ideal of humility. Not all forms of athletics disappeared, however, as the spread of circus games created new opportunities for the demonstration of spectacular feats by athletes.

Keywords: athletics; agones; late antiquity; decline; Christianity

Article.  2087 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Greek History ; Byzantine Studies

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