Olympic prizes 07-15-2004 21:52

The glory of participation and achievement

"When the Persian military officer Tigranes "heard that the prize was not money but a crown (of olive), he could not hold his peace, but cried, 'Good heavens, Moardonius, what kind of men are these that you have pitted us against? It is not for money they contend but for glory of achievement!"

Herodotus, Histories, 8.26.3

It was indeed this glory of achievement that characterised the ancient Olympic Games. Olympic victors shared in the divine splendor and fame of the first mythical heroes. Victory was considered to be the highest honor a mortal could attain.

Such was the level of acclaim given to victors that three-time winners at the ancient Games often had statues of themselves erected. The most renowned poets of the time such as Pindar, Bacchylides and Simonides, were commissioned to celebrate these victories with odes, known as Epinicians. Winners also received various prestigious gifts such as exemption from taxation, while special coins were struck to commemorate equestrian victories.

The award ceremony

The Olympic winner received his first awards immediately after the competition. Following the announcement of the winner's name by the herald, a Hellanodikis (Greek judge) would place a palm tree branch on his hands, while the spectators cheered and threw flowers to him. Red ribbons were tied on his head and hands as a mark of victory.

The official award ceremony would take place on the last day of the Games at the elevated vestibule of the Temple of Zeus. In a loud voice, the herald would announce the name of the Olympic winner, his father's name, and his homeland. Then, the Helanodikis placed the sacred olive tree wreath, called kotinos, on the winner's head. According to Phlegon, a Greek author of the 2nd century AD, the wreath of olive leaves was first instituted in 752 BC, on the advice of the Oracle at Delphi.

All spectators were welcome at the award ceremony to participate in the festive and emotional celebration.


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