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 YearFestivalTribute
776 BCOlympic Gamesheld in honor of Zeus
582 BCPythian Gamesheld in honor of Apollo
582 BCIsthmian Gamesheld in honor of Poseidon
573 BCNemean Gamesheld 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 1Year 2Year 3Year 4
Olympic GamesIsthmian GamesPythian GamesIsthmian Games
Nemean GamesNemean Games

Events

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:

Stadiona sprint the length of the stadion track, around 200 meters
Diaulosa two stadia sprint, around 400 meters
Hippiosa four stadia race, around 800 meters
Dolichosan endurance race of 18-24 laps on the stadion – about 3 miles
Hoplitodromosan encumbered race in which athletes had to wear pieces of hoplite armor
Pentathlona fivefold event consisting of the discus toss, javelin throw, long jump, stadion sprint, and wrestling.
PaléGreek wrestling
PygmachiaGreek boxing
 Pankrationa brutal combat sport with few rules
 Harmatodroiachariot 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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