Panhellenic Games

Panhellenic Games

The Panhellenic games is a collective term for the four primary athletic festivals in ancient Greece. These four festivals are as follows, ordered by their earliest recorded dates:

First Year Festival Tribute
776 BC Olympic Games held in honor of Zeus
582 BC Pythian Games held in honor of Apollo
582 BC Isthmian Games held in honor of Poseidon
573 BC Nemean Games held in honor of Zeus

The Heraean Games and Panathenaic Games are not typically included in this group, likely because they weren’t as popular as the other four. In addition, there is almost no information regarding the Heraean Games festival, severely limiting its study and discussion. For more detailed information, see the respectively linked articles.

Spectators from all over over the Mediterranean region would gather to watch athletes compete in these competitions. For the greater part of the history of these festivals, only Greek men were allowed to compete. However, likely under pressure of Roman influence at the turn of the current era, non-Greek athletes were allowed to participate various Panhellenic games at some unspecified point. This invitation extended even beyond Roman citizens, as the Persian king Varazdat, Egyptian philosopher Horus, and likely several other foreigners were allowed to compete before the suppression of these games under the Roman emperor Theodosius I in 393 AD.

Olympiad Cycle

These four games were held at specific intervals during a four-year period called the Olympiad, a unit with which the Greeks often measured time (e.g., “two Olympiads” would mean “eight years”). The year of the Olympic Games marked the beginning of the Olympiad, with the other three festivals taking place in the following three years. The cycle would then repeat. The timing of the four festivals was as follows:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
Olympic Games Isthmian Games Pythian Games Isthmian Games
Nemean Games Nemean Games


The Panhellenic games incorporated a slew of athletic events (as well as some artistic competitions, such as music and poetry, at most of the festivals). The Isthmian Games seemed to focus primarily on combat sports, while the other three festivals incorporated a larger pool of events. The primary athletics events featured among the four festivals were as follows:

Stadion a sprint the length of the stadion track, around 200 meters
Diaulos a two stadia sprint, around 400 meters
Hippios a four stadia race, around 800 meters
Dolichos an endurance race of 18-24 laps on the stadion – about 3 miles
Hoplitodromos an encumbered race in which athletes had to wear pieces of hoplite armor
Pentathlon a fivefold event consisting of the discus toss, javelin throw, long jump, stadion sprint, and wrestling.
Palé Greek wrestling
Pygmachia Greek boxing
 Pankration a brutal combat sport with few rules
 Harmatodroia chariot racing

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Swaddling, J. (2015). The ancient Olympic games. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Polybius, Waterfield, R., & McGing, B. (2010). The histories. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Potter, J. (1837). Archæologia græca; or, the antiquities of Greece (J. Boyd, Ed.). T. Tegg, London.

P., & Frazer, J. G. (1913). Pausanias’s Description of Greece. London: Macmillan and, Limited.

A., & Frazer, J. G. (1921). Apollodorus: The library. London: W. Heinemann.

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