History : Jul-Aug 2016
DAGLI ORTI/ART ARCHIVE 48 JULY/AUGUST 2016 professionalization of sport began later in the fifth century b.c. and conclusively from the fourth century. As sportsmen from the lower classes became increasingly in- volved in athletic games, the nobles started to withdraw. Pleket’s studies reveal that lower-class athletes did indeed start to practice the once exclusively aristocratic activity of sport— but this process happened much earlier than Gardiner’s original theory suggests. At the beginning of the sixth century b.c., only the aristocracy had the necessary free time and access to facilities for practice. Later in that same century, however, in line with the social and political changes transforming Greek city-states, public gymnasiums were built, increasing access to training. These encouraged the gradual inclusion of other social classes in sport. Apart from the phys- ical, intellectual, and moral benefits these facilities provided, they were also consid- ered to be useful in preparing the populace for military service. From this time onward citizens from the lower social classes were able to take part in sporting events. At first this was limited to local games. The great Panhellenic Games remained the almost exclusive domain of the ancient nobility and the wealthy mer- chant class due to the high costs associ- ated with travel and housing accom- modations at the places where the games were held. At Olympia, for example, athletes were required to arrive a full month before the games began. Pleket also cites inscrip- tions and literary documents that confirm beyond doubt that members of the aristocracy and the merchant class, far from retreating from the stadia, continued to compete in local and Panhellenic Games from the fourth century b.c. In other words, aristo- cratic athletes, and those from the wealthy 100 drachmas to those who triumphed at the Isthmian Games. These were considerable sums. Two centuries later, during the time of the philosopher Plato, a skilled workman’s daily wage was one and a half drachmas. The public coffers might pay for a statue of the athlete to be built. The winner enjoyed other benefits, such as public jobs and, in particular, certain privileges reserved for an extremely small number of people who were considered VIPs of the community: a lifelong stipend paid by the city, the right to a seat of honor at public events, and even exemption from taxes. The distinction between professional and amateur athletes becomes rather blurred in the classical Greek world. In fact, the first pro- fessional athletes in the history of European, and perhaps world, sport came not from the lower social orders but from the aristocracy. Such cases can be cited from as early as the sixth century b.c., if a professional athlete is defined as someone who works“full time”on training and competing, and receives rewards in the form of cash or honors, even if he does not depend on them to make a living. Pleket stressed that competing for money or honors—and even taking advantage of vic- tories for political ends—was not frowned on in ancient Greece. There was no social stigma attached to it, as there was for the 19th-cen- tury proponents of “amateur sport.” Much the same attitude can also be seen in The Iliad, Ho- mer’s epic poem of the eighth century b.c., in which aris- tocratic warriors compete for costly prizes awarded by the hero, Achilles. Access to All? One of the most fiercely debated is- sues among historians in recent de- cades is when, and to what extent, did the middle and lower classes begin to systematically take part in sport and com- pete in the games. The traditional idea, set out in Gardiner’s work, is that the growing VICTORY CROWNS AN ATHLETE. FIFTH-CENTURY-B .C . KRATER. KANELLOPOULOS MUSEUM, ATHENS UNTIL THE BEGINNING of the sixth century b.c., sport was the almost exclusive realm of the aristocracy, who had the necessary free time and facilities. AT THE ATHENS GAMES, an athlete could win a prize of 100 amphorae of olive oil. That was the equivalent of four years’ pay for a skilled worker. POOR ATHLETES could use their winnings from local games to finance their participation in increasingly bigger— and more lucrative— competitions.