The World of Heart of Fire – Part IX – Achieving Immortality: To be an Olympic Victor in the Ancient World

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If ever a man strives

With all his soul’s endeavour, sparing himself

Neither expense nor labour to attain

True excellence, then must we give to those

Who have achieved the goal, a proud tribute

Of lordly praise, and shun

All thoughts of envious jealousy.

To a poet’s mind the gift is slight, to speak

A kind word for unnumbered toils, and build

For all to share a monument of beauty.

(Pindar; Isthmian I, antistrophe 3)

Heart of Fire is not only a story of love in war, it is also a story about sacrifice for the ultimate triumph – Victory at the Olympic Games.

In the book, and in this series on The World of Heart of Fire, we hear a lot about the ancient Greek ideals of ponos (toil), Eris Agathos (good strife), philoneikia (love of competing), and philonikia (love of winning).

They were, as we have discussed before, central to the Greek psyche, and those who epitomized those ideals were praised and respected by all other Greeks.

And the respect and admiration that was given to an Olympic champion transcended war, politics, and the boundaries of one city-state. When the Gods, by their divine grace, sought to crown an athlete and warrior who has toiled long, and hard, and honestly, then few mortals dared gainsay them, especially when it came to the sacred Olympiad.

Athlete tying victory ribbon around his head

Athlete tying victory ribbon around his head

The praise of Olympic victors gave rise to a new form of art known as epinikion, which literally means ‘on victory’.

Epinikion art in ancient Greece took the form of poems, or ‘victory odes’, such as the one above, as well as marble or bronze sculpture.

First let us look at the epinikion poetry.

There were several poets who composed in the epinikion genre, but the most famous were Archilochus (680-645 B.C.), Simonides of Ceos (556-468 B.C.) who famously composed the epitaph to the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, and of course, Pindar (522-443 B.C.).

Pindar

Pindar

Of all the epinikion poets of ancient Greece, Pindar is the most famous and well-known to us, partly because much of his work has been preserved. There are about thirty-eight of his victory odes which can still be read today. CLICK HERE to download a free copy of Pindar’s Extent Odes from Project Gutenberg.

There was a certain formula to epinikion poetry that began with a salute to the victor’s achievement, and then a mention of his pedigree, city, or relatives. There was emphasis on the effort and exertion, the all-important ponos demanded of athletic victory. Then the victory was incorporated into the values of the individual’s community.

Another ancient Greek ideal, that of philotimo, the love of honour, played an important role here as well. Loving honour meant bettering not only oneself, but also one’s community or city, the people around you, and the world in general.

When an Olympic victor was praised in epinikion poetry or sculpture, they were held up as an example, an inspiration if you will, to all other Greeks.

Now let Agesidamos, winner in the boxing at Olympia, so render thanks to Ilas as Patroklos of old to Achilles. If one be born with excellent gifts, then may another who sharpeneth his natural edge speed him, God helping, to an exceeding weight of glory. Without toil there have triumphed a very few. (Pindar Olympian Ode 11, for Agesidamos, winner in the boxing-match)

Boxers

It became quite fashionable, among those who could afford it, to have a poet such as Pindar compose an ode to someone’s victory, such as the quote above. And Pindar himself travelled around doing this for a living. However, this should not detract from the power of the words of this poet.

Pindar’s words were so powerful and moving that when Alexander the Great sacked the city of Thebes for rebelling against Macedon, he ordered the home of Pindar to remain untouched, and the poet’s descendants unmolested, out of reverence for Pindar and his work.

The great epinikion poets’ work – Archilochus and Pindar especially – became so representative of the ideals of Olympic victory, that they became a part of the ceremonies at Olympia.

It is said that Archilochus’ Hymn to Herakles, one of the mythological founders of the Games, was sung during the crowning ceremonies at Olympia in the temple of Olympian Zeus. The temple, as it happened, was decorated with metopes illustrating the Twelve Labours of Herakles, the hero’s victories as it were.

Temple of Zeus Metopes

Temple of Zeus Metopes

Epinikion sculpture also played a large part in the history and atmosphere of ancient Olympia, especially in the sacred heart of the sanctuary, the Altis.

It became the tradition that at Olympia, all victors were permitted to erect statues of themselves in the Altis. In a sense, this put them almost on equal footing with the Gods themselves. Some victors, including Kyniska of Sparta, had their victory bronzes in the temple of Zeus itself!

According to Pausanias:

The first athletes to have their statues dedicated at Olympia were Praxidamas of Aegina, victorious at boxing at the fifty-ninth Festival, and Rexibius the Opuntian, a successful pancratiast at the sixty-first Festival. These statues stand near the pillar of Oenomaus, and are made of wood, Rexibius of figwood and the Aeginetan of cypress, and his statue is less decayed than the other. (Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.18.7)

If Pausanias is correct, then the first epinikion statues, not of bronze but of wood, would have been erected in the Altis around 544 B.C.

Epinikion poet, Archilochus

Epinikion poet, Archilochus

If that date is correct, then the tradition took hold quickly enough, and victors began to commission elaborate bronzes from some of the greatest sculptors of ancient Greece, artists such as Myron of Attika, Polykleitos of Argos, Kallikles of Megara, Naukydes of Argos and others.

Victory statues were erected by successive generations of families who had many Olympic victors in their ranks, the most famous being the Diagorids of Rhodes by Kallikles.

The bronze statues of Diagoras who won in boxing in 464 B.C., and also at all four crown games, stood six feet six inches in height.

…I too, sending to victorious men poured nectar, the gift of the Muses, the sweet fruit of my mind, I try to win the gods’ favor for those men who were victors at Olympia and at Pytho. That man is prosperous, who is encompassed by good reports. Grace, which causes life to flourish, looks with favor now on one man, now on another, with both the sweet-singing lyre and the full-voiced notes of flutes. And now, with the music of flute and lyre alike I have come to land with Diagoras, singing the sea-child of Aphrodite and bride of Helios, Rhodes, so that I may praise this straight-fighting, tremendous man who had himself crowned beside the Alpheus and near Castalia, as a recompense for his boxing… (Pindar, Olympian Ode 7; for Diagoras of Rhodes)

Modern bronze statue of Diagoras of Rhodes carried by his sons

Modern bronze statue of Diagoras of Rhodes carried by his sons

The Diagorids of Rhodes were something of Olympic royalty, for not only did Diagoras claim victory, but also his sons Damagetos, Akousilaos, and Dorieus, as well as his grandson, Eukles, whose epinikion statue was also sculpted by Kallikles.

There was also the famous statue of Kyniskos of Mantinea, by Polykleitos of Argos, and another of the legendary Milo of Croton standing high on a round base and holding a pomegranate.

Goddess Nike, Ephesus (Wikimedia Commons)

Goddess Nike, Ephesus (Wikimedia Commons)

Having one’s statues erected in the sacred Altis of ancient Olympia became something to be dreamed of by many, for in winning by the Gods’ grace, and being granted the right to erect a statues of oneself in the Altis, this was as close as one could get to immortality.

Someone who walked away from the Olympiad a victor was lauded across the Greek world, given free meals and drinks, sometimes exempt from taxation and more. The benefits of Olympic victory were indeed great, but none more so, I suspect, than knowing that the Gods had chosen you for victory.

It was a heady dream.

I tried to tap into this in Heart of Fire. The male protagonist, Stefanos of Argos, has a father who is a famous bronze smith of Argos, a centre of bronze artistry in ancient Greece. It is the dream of the father that an epinikion bronze be erected in the Altis of Olympia, and it is the son’s challenge to make that happen.

One supposes that many families of athletes had similar dreams of victory, of seeing the immortal likenesses of their fathers, sons, or grandsons erected in the forest of bronzes that stood all about the Altis, among the monuments of the gods and heroes of that place.

And every four years, when the Greek world would return to Olympia for the sacred games, the statues would remind men of those victors who had gone before, of the songs that were sung for them, and how the Gods had blessed them.

Statue of Nike, Goddess of Victory in the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Olympia

Statue of Nike, Goddess of Victory in the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Olympia

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned until next week for the final part in The World of Heart of Fire.

 

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The World of Heart of Fire – Part VIII – Kyniska of Sparta: The Woman who made Olympic History

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SPOILER ALERT!

Before you read further…

If you have not yet read Heart of Fire – A Novel of the Ancient Olympics, and you are planning on doing so, you may wish to read the book first, before you continue with this blog post.

The events discussed here, in Part 8 of The World of Heart of Fire, involve the climax of the book, and so your experience in reading the story might be lessened somewhat if you continue.

However, if you have already read Heart of Fire, or are just here to read about the history, then please do carry on. I hope you enjoy it!

Heart of Fire

In Part 7 of this blog series, we discussed chariot racing at the ancient Olympics. However, we did not touch on why that event was so pivotal to the Olympiad of 396 B.C.

We have mentioned before how only men were permitted to compete in the Olympic Games in the ancient world. However, there was one event in which women were permitted to compete – the chariot race.

Though women were not allowed to enter the Olympic sanctuary during the Games, they were allowed to compete as the owners and trainers of horses in the chariot races.

It was in the year 396 B.C. that Princess Kyniska of Sparta exploded onto the scene and made Olympic history.

Goddess Artemis

Goddess Artemis

The very first time I read about Kyniska (also spelled Cynisca), I knew I had to write this book. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind. I was inspired by her story, though very little detail has come down to us about this fascinating woman who rocked the world of men.

You see, in 396 B.C. Kyniska was the first woman to compete in and win in the marquee tethrippon event at Olympia, the four-horse chariot race.

At this Olympiad, which came on the tail of several years of brutal civil war among the Greeks, and at a time when many Greek city-states reviled Sparta, Kyniska came forward like a force of nature.

But who was this amazing woman?

Kyniska of Sparta was the daughter of King Archidamus II of Sparta (476-427 B.C.), the Eurypontid King of Sparta. She was also the half-sister of King Agis, and sister to King Agesilaus II (444-360 B.C.) who waged war on both the Persians and his fellow Greeks.

Archidamus left sons when he died, of whom Agis was the elder and inherited the throne instead of Agesilaus. Archidamus had also a daughter, whose name was Cynisca; she was exceedingly ambitious to succeed at the Olympic games, and was the first woman to breed horses and the first to win an Olympic victory. After Cynisca other women, especially women of Lacedaemon, have won Olympic victories, but none of them was more distinguished for their victories than she.

(Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.8)

Artist impression of Kyniska driving chariot

Artist impression of Kyniska driving chariot

It is believed that Kyniska was born sometime around 440 B.C. in Sparta and, unlike other Greek women beyond Sparta, she grew up training herself physically and mentally as was expected of strong, Spartan women.

In Sparta, it was believed the woman should be fit and healthy as well, and they trained naked at sports, riding and hunting, just like the men. In Sparta’s eyes, how else could they give birth to perfect Spartan warriors?

Young Spartans Exercising (Edgar Degas)

Young Spartans Exercising (Edgar Degas)

But Kyniska was destined for other things that giving birth to new Spartan warriors.

She was an expert equestrian, a sort of ancient horse-whisperer learned in the breeding and training of horses. As the wealthy daughter of a king, the rearing of horses would have been accessible to her.

After years of raising and training horses, Kyniska finally entered a team in the great four-horse chariot race of the 396 B.C. Olympics.

Sadly, the ancient sources mention Kyniska only in passing, and even then, with the exception of Pausanias, it is in relation to her brother, King Agesilaus II.

Xenophon, the great leader of the 10,000, and author of the ancient work On Horsemanship, mentions Kyniska in his work on his very good friend Agesilaus:

Surely, too, he [King Agesilaus] did what was seemly and dignified when he adorned his own estate with works and possessions worthy of a man, keeping many hounds and war horses, but persuaded his sister Cynisca to breed chariot horses, and showed by her victory that such a stud marks the owner as a person of wealth, but not necessarily of merit. How clearly his true nobility comes out in his opinion that a victory in the chariot race over private citizens would add not a whit to his renown; but if he held the first place in the affection of the people, gained the most friends and best all over the world, outstripped all others in serving his fatherland and his comrades and in punishing his adversaries, then he would be victor in the noblest and most splendid contests, and would gain high renown both in life and after death.

(Xenophon, Agesilaus 9)

We need to remember that in this man’s world, the men wrote the history, and as a friend of Agesilaus’, Xenophon would have sought to please the king in his writing.

It was said that Agesilaus told Kyniska to compete in the Olympics simply to win and then discredit the sport of chariot racing by showing that even a woman could win it. Given Agesilaus’ character, this seems more likely than a willingness to display his sister’s abilities, or to raise the status of women in general.

At this time in history, in Ancient Greece, even a Spartan woman was just a woman. Men ruled this world, and women had their place.

But that is why Kyniska’s story is so compelling!

ancient greek chariot.

Sure, it’s easy from our modern vantage point to romanticize Kyniska and her achievements, but let us remember that, even though she did not drive the chariot, she would have met resistance every step of the way.

In Sparta, the use of horses for war was not common, and chariot racing as a sport was frowned upon. Kyniska must have been quite determined to go to the Olympic Games if she raised and trained her chariot team.

If King Agesilaus was seeking to discredit the sport of chariot racing by having his sister compete, his attempts were in vain. At that time, chariot racing was the marquee event of the Olympiad, and it only grew in popularity over the years until it reached its peak as a sport centuries later in the hippodromes of Rome and Constantinople.

Roman Chariot Race in the Circus Maxiums

Roman Chariot Race in the Circus Maxiums

When Kyniska of Sparta arrived outside the sanctuary of Olympia in 396 B.C. to have her team compete in the Olympic Games, one can imagine the rich men of every other city-state, perhaps even her own, scoffing at the thought of such a thing, of a woman owning, breeding, and training horses.

But it seems the gods were with Kyniska of Sparta on that fateful summer day in 396. Her team drove to victory in the Olympic tethrippon, and surely, the shockwaves of such a triumph must have been felt across the Greek world, a world in which an Olympic victory could bring a mortal as close as possible to immortality.

Old print of Kyniska

Old print of Kyniska

As was the right of every Olympic victor, Kyniska was permitted to erect a victory bronze for herself in the Altis of Olympia, along with the images of the champions of ages past.

According to Pausanias, her statues included one of herself, and a bronze equestrian group. As fortune would have it, the statue base survived to give us this inscription:

Kings of Sparta are my father and brothers,

Kyniska, victorious with a chariot of swift-footed horses,

have erected this statue. I declare myself the only woman

in all Hellas to have won this crown.

Apelleas son of Kallikles made it.

From these few words, it seems obvious that Kyniska was proud, and well-aware of the enormity of her victory. She had previously been a winner in the foot race of the Heraian Games, and now she was an Olympic champion, the only woman ever to have won the sacred olive crown.

I have chills writing about this, to think that that was the moment in which the door to athletic competition had been opened for women, and in such a masculine world. It is humbling, and mind-blowing, and it reminds me of why I wanted to write Heart of Fire.

Girl in olive crown.

As if to solidify her immortality, Kyniska returned to Olympia in 392 B.C. to claim a second victory in the tethrippon.

After this Spartan princess, other women, not only of Sparta, entered and won in the chariot races of Olympia and other games, one of them Euryleonis, in 368 B.C., who makes an appearance in the story of Heart of Fire. The victors were not only women of Sparta, like Kyniska and Euryleonis, but women of other city-states, including Belistiche, Zeuxo, Encrateia, Hermione, Timareta, Theodota of Elis, and Cassia.

Inscribed base for the victory statue commemorating Kyniska's victory at the Olympic Games. It is now located in a small room at the Museum of the Olympic Games in ancient Olympia, Greece. It was amazing to see this piece of stone that represented such an earth-shattering change in Olympic history!

Inscribed base for the bronze victory statue commemorating Kyniska’s victory at the Olympic Games. It is now located in a small room at the Museum of the Olympic Games in ancient Olympia, Greece. It was amazing to see this piece of stone that represented such an earth-shattering change in Olympic history!

Kyniska had thrown open the gates of Olympic competition, in one event at least, and though other women also proved victorious, her hard-won victories remained the most distinguished.

Surely the shades of Pelops and Hippodameia would have been watching intently. Certainly, her feat was amazing, for even in Sparta, a shrine was erected to her. Pausanias describes it:

At Plane-tree Grove there is also a hero-shrine of Cynisca, daughter of Archidamus king of the Spartans. She was the first woman to breed horses, and the first to win a chariot race at Olympia.

(Pausanias, Description of Greece 3.15.1)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post about Kyniska of Sparta, the heroine of Heart of Fire. I have certainly enjoyed writing about her, and even though the sources about her a few and far between, her legacy exploded onto the pages of my story.

olive crown

In the next part of The World of Heart of Fire, we will look at what exactly it meant to be an Olympic champion in Ancient Greece, and explore the immortality that was within grasp of a precious few.

Thank you for reading!

Heart of Fire is now available in e-book and paperback from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks/iTunes, and Create Space.

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The World of Heart of Fire – Part III – Athletics and War in Ancient Greece

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Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win… At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare… Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting. (from George Orwell’s The Sporting Spirit, Tribune, December 1945)

This is from an oft-quoted work by George Orwell after a particularly violent football match in 1945 between England and Russia.

With our modern sensibilities toward sportsmanship and fair play, many of us would agree with George Orwell’s sense of disgust at the violence that had permeated sport. Click here to read the full piece. That said, today, with the pervasiveness of violence in the media, including sports coverage, I think our modern sensitivities toward sport have taken a few steps backward.

However, when it comes to the ancient Olympics, the quote above rings true.

In this third part of The World of Heart of Fire, we are going to look briefly at the relationship between athletics and war in Ancient Greece, and how the political atmosphere at the time made for some brutal competition on, and off the battlefield.

Artist re-creation of ancient wrestling

Artist re-creation of ancient wrestling

If you read the full piece by Orwell, you will see that he mentions a decline in the importance of athletics from the Roman period onward.

In the Greek world, however, athletic training was central to a young man’s education, and in Sparta, to a woman’s as well.

Before we delve deeper into the relationship between athletics and war, we should take a brief look at the athletic institutions that were crucial to a young man’s education – the Gymnasium, and the Palaestra.

In Ancient Greece, one of the key markers of a civilized city was the presence of a gymnasium. Now, this is not the sort of gym where today, young kids play dodge ball, or where people go to pump some iron and then head home. There was much more to the ancient gymnasium than that.

A gymnasium was a public institution for young men over eighteen years of age, a place where they went, not only to train for the public games or sporting events, but where they also trained for life.

Artist impression of a gymnasium

Artist impression of a gymnasium

In addition to sports training, there were also lectures on philosophy, art, music, and literature. Gymnasia were really schools for a society’s future leading citizens, especially in a democracy.

According to Pausanias, it was Theseus who first regulated gymnasia in Athens. Later, the great lawmaker, Solon, created a set of laws to govern gymnasia.

A gymnasium was a large facility that included a palaestra, baths, a stadium for competition, and porticoes where lectures were given by philosophers and discussions could be had, especially in inclement weather.

The great gymnasium of Olympia is one of the most famous, and the remains can be seen to this day.

Remains of Olympia Gymnasium

Remains of Olympia Gymnasium

At Athens, there were three famous gymnasia – The Academy (founded by Plato), the Lyceum (founded by Aristotle), and the Cynosarges (founded by Antisthenes) where the cynic school was said to have begun.

These are some pretty big names, and their involvement and founding of these institutions only speaks to the importance of gymnasia in Greek society.

The other important institution is the palaestra.

This was a wrestling school. It could also be considered a martial arts school, for it was a place where not only wrestling was taught, but also boxing and pankration.

A gymnasium always included a palaestra, but a palaestra could be a stand-alone entity, as well as privately owned.

Olympia is one of the best examples of a palaestra.

Olympia Palaestra

Olympia Palaestra

This was like an athletic club, a place where men could train for combat and competition, but also socialize and bathe.

A palaestra was typically a rectangular or square building with a colonnade surrounding a sandy area where fighting took place called a skamma. There were adjoining rooms off of the main courtyard that could be used for socializing, games, and bathing, as well as storage rooms where oil and dust were stored.

While lectures could take place at a palaestra, they were mainly focussed on the physical strengthening, skill, and improvement of young men.

The importance and prestige of belonging to a palaestra cannot be overstated when it comes to Ancient Greek society. So much so, that there was a term for those who were poor, those who were without a palaestraapalaistroi.

Re-enactors dressed as hoplites

Re-enactors dressed as hoplites

It is important that we not kid ourselves here. Athletics and war were very closely related in Ancient Greece, and any man who was expected to wield a hoplon and doru in the shield wall of a phalanx was likely someone who trained at either the gymnasium or palaestra.

Sport and athletic competition was indeed ‘war without the shooting’ as Orwell so aptly put it.

In Greek society, words like arete (‘manly excellence’), andreia (‘manliness’), eumorphia (‘in good shape’), promachoi (‘fighters in the front line’), and philonikia (‘love of winning’) were deeply ingrained in a young man’s psyche, in his training to be an effective citizen for his city-state.

These are ideas that I have tried to weave into the story of Heart of Fire, for they are so very important to understanding this world that, let’s face it, despite the similarities, is so very different from our own.

Plato's Academy

Plato’s Academy

But now we must look at the politics of the time in which Heart of Fire takes place, for at this time, when the entire Greek world was drowning in fire and blood, all of the training young Greek men would have received at the gymnasium or palaestra would be turned to combat on the fields of Ares.

To my mind, the Peloponnesian War is a supremely depressing episode in Greek history. After the glories of the Persian Wars, when the Greeks united to stand against a common foe, it is heart-breaking to see how they tossed the glory of their fathers to the winds.

Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis, and Plataea were no more…

The Pass at Thermopylae

The Pass at Thermopylae

Despite the efforts of some philosophers such as Isocrates of Athens (436-338 B.C.) to persuade the city-states to unite and focus on Persia once more, the Greeks turned on each other.

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) was mainly a conflict between the two major city-states of the day, Athens and Sparta, and their respective allies.

This war saw the ‘death’ of Athens and, some might say, Democracy. It saw Sparta ally itself with the Persians against her fellow Greeks, and it saw Greece’s Golden Age turn to dust.

Mourning Athena

Mourning Athena

After ten years of heavy losses on both sides of the conflict, Athens and Sparta brokered a peace called the Peace of Nicias (421 B.C.), named after the Athenian general who led talks. This peace declared a peace treaty between Athens and Sparta for fifty years, with temples all over Greece being open to all again, granting autonomy to Delphi, and the return of territories and POWs.

Sadly, this peace broke down almost at once. In 418, Sparta was victorious over Athens, Argos, and other pro-democrats at Mantinea. Then, in 417 B.C., Sparta attacked Argos at Hysiae.

In 415 B.C. Athens attacked the Spartan ally of Melos and committed major atrocities there before planning their ill-fated Sicilian Expedition against the Spartan ally of Syracuse. What followed was a massive Athenian defeat with the loss of nearly a generation of Athenian youth, and the instalment of the men known as the 30 Tyrants (404-403 B.C.)

The 30 Tyrants were a pro-Spartan oligarchy installed in Athens after the latter’s defeat in the Peloponnesian War in 404 B.C. They were in power for thirteen months, a time in which the thirty instituted a reign of terror in which nearly five percent of Athens’ population was killed and their property taken.

Democracy went into exile, and the democrats in exile grew stronger and more determined the more brutal the 30 Tyrants became.

The Greek world was bitter, battered, and bruised.

Map of movements during the Peloponnesian War

Map of movements during the Peloponnesian War

This was a time of retribution, and with the defeat of the 30 Tyrants by the pro-Democratic forces led by the Athenian general, Thrasybulos, Athens seemed to forget her ideals and former glories in some ways, threatening to kill all those who sought to destroy their Democracy.

This is the period just prior to when Heart of Fire begins, a period that saw to the public trial and death of one of Ancient Greece’s most famous and influential people – Socrates.

This is also the time when, after the battles had slowed, and warriors now found themselves idle, 10,000 Greek mercenaries joined the losing side in the Persian civil war and found themselves marching back to Greece while harried by Persian forces who wanted nothing more than to slaughter them.

This last event is recounted in the Anabasis of the exiled Athenian warrior, Xenophon. It is known as the March of the 10,000.

Xenophon, son of Gryllus

Xenophon, son of Gryllus

What did all this blood, battle and hardship have to do with athletics?

Everything.

In Ancient Greece, the lessons young men learned in the gymnasium, or on the sand of the palaestra, were implemented on the battlefield.

Athletics training really was ‘war without the shooting’, and athletic events such as sprinting, jumping, wrestling, boxing, javelin, and running in full armour, served non only to make men better citizens, but also better, more effective warriors for their city-state.

And with the state of the Greek world at the time Heart of Fire takes place in 396 B.C., there were a lot of men fresh from the battlefield who had come to compete in the Olympic Games after the Peloponnesian War.

The Sacred Truce was instituted once more, but one can imagine the tension at Olympia during those games, after all that had happened in the last forty years.

The Games of 396 B.C. were about more than proving oneself in the eyes of the gods and honouring the city-state. They were about winning at all costs.

Greek hoplites in battle

Greek hoplites in battle

Sadly, after those Games, yet another war broke out, known as the Corinthian War (395-387 B.C.) in which Sparta and her oligarchical allies waged war on the Democratic cities of Athens, Thebes, Corinth and Argos.

The cycle of sport and war seemed to continue.

I’m very happy to announce that Heart of Fire – A Novel of the Ancient Olympics is now out in e-book and paperback from Amazon, Create Space, Apple iTunes/iBooks, and Kobo.

As ever, thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll join us next week for Part IV of The World of Heart of Fire.

Heart of Fire

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