Ancient Greek Games - Daily Life in Ancient Greece for Kids
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Ancient Greek Games

The Greeks took games of all kinds very seriously, but especially physical athletic competition. The Greeks believed that their gods particularly loved to see strong, fit, graceful human bodies, especially boys' and men's bodies. So one way to get on the good side of the gods was to exercise, to eat right, to oil your skin, to create a beautiful body that the gods would love. Because of the Greek tendency to turn everything into an agon, a competition, this also meant that there were a lot of athletic competitions in Greece. The most famous of these is the Olympic Games, but there were other games held in other places as well, like the Isthmian Games at Corinth.

Discobolos
Discus Thrower (classical period)

Young men (from richer families who didn't have to work) in most Greek cities spent a lot of their time training for these competitions, and the best of them were chosen to compete against the best young men from other cities. Then they would all meet, at the Olympic Games or the Isthmian Games or elsewhere, and compete for prizes and for the favor of the gods. Of course these games also served as good training for the army, because all these men would be soldiers as well. The events were the same kind as in the Olympics today: running, jumping, throwing a javelin, and throwing a discus. Only men could compete.

Hockey

Greek boys also played games which were not part of the Olympic games, like field hockey. Greek boys usually played games without their clothes on (and so girls were not allowed to watch).
Juggling Girl
We do also see Greek girls throwing balls, though the Greeks were much less interested in physical activity for girls. The girl in this picture is juggling three balls. Nothing about the picture indicates that she is an entertainer or an acrobat. She is dressed like an ordinary girl. (Girls from Sparta were said to exercise naked, but Athenian girls like this one wore clothes).
Exekias vase
Greeks also played less active games like dice and marbles, and knucklebones, and checkers. This is a famous vase from the Vatican museum showing Achilles and Ajax playing checkers.

Even in these games, though, the competition was very important, and there was a feeling that losing at games meant that the gods didn't like you.

For more about Greek games, check out these books from Amazon.com or at your local library:

The Ancient Greek Olympics, by Richard Woff (2000). For kids, from Oxford University Press.

Hour Of The Olympics (Magic Tree House 16) by Mary Pope Osborne (1998). A good beginning reading series. You can also get a research book about the Olympics to go with this storybook.

Sport and Society in Ancient Greece, by Mark Golden (P. A. Cartledge and Peter Garnsey are series editors)(1998). Mark Golden's an entertaining writer, and this book is a good general introduction, although not specifically for kids.

Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook With Translations, by Waldo E. Sweet (1987) 0195041275. Find out what ancient Greek and Roman writers had to say about sports and games, in their own words.


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Copyright 2012-2014 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated 2014. Powered by Dewahost.

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