classical sport (Scope note)

The term encompasses the athletic contests, exercise and spectacles which took place in the Greek and Roman world. Before such events became part of major games festivals and entertainment, they were often part of funeral rituals, with the contests originally held to decide who should inherit the possessions of the deceased. A variety of events, many of which are not exclusive to the Classical World, were involved. In addition to the five major games festivals held at Olympia, Delphi, Nemea, Corinth and the Isthmus, there were hundreds of minor sports festivals. All tended to have the same core events: running, the pentathlon (running, discus, javelin, long jump, wrestling), combat events (boxing, wrestling, the pankration) and equestrian events (chariot and bare-back racing), with a variety of additions. From the surviving depictions we cannot know whether a particular festival is being represented, but because the core events were common to nearly all the games we can use them as generic representations of these sports. For example, no depictions survive that we can directly associate with the ancient Olympics but athletic and equestrian scenes on vases, the bulk of which were produced in Athens, can nonetheless be used to illustrate the type of events that were staged at the Olympics. By Roman times sports contests, especially gladiatorial combat and chariot racing, were increasingly employed as entertainment. See ‘amphitheatre/arena’, ‘palaistra/gymnasium’, ‘stadium’. If a sport is depicted in the context of classical sport, but the Subject term for it is not included as a Narrow Term here (e.g. athletics), the additional Subject term 'classical sport' is added.