The ancient stadium revealed

The ambitious task of documenting the stadia of the ancient world and of analyzing the diverse roles and significance of athletic games is undertaken in the compendious book «Ancient Stadia: Stadia and Games from Olympia to Antioch,» recently published by Itanos in English. Designed by Maria Stefossi, who was also responsible for the book’s concept, this publication more closely approximates an album than a specialized treatise on the subject. The book contains 280 color, large-format photographs that show the stadia in their present state, ancient vase paintings and sculptures related to the ancient games. Interspersed among them are brief chapters on a number of subjects broadly related to the spirit of athleticism, among them sport as a vital part of education, the ways that athleticism was tied to religion, the myths from which the various games were born, and the types of games themselves. The research and text is by archaeologist George G. Kavvadias. The book examines some 50 stadia in the geographical area of Greece proper and 150 others that were built in those areas of the Mediterranean that were under Greek influence. The stadia of Pergamum, Ephesus, Priene, Didyma and Miletus, all in the Asia Minor region, are each examined and illustrated in detail. Maps indicate the remarkable geographical range within which stadia were found. Most of the ancient stadia in what is now Greece were located in the Peloponnese, leading the book’s author to claim this part of southern Greece as the birthplace of organized sporting events. The stadium of Olympia is probably the most famous example, the venue of the Olympic Games, and one of the first to show how those athletic sites gradually became independent from the worship sites for which they were initially built and how the religious significance of the games abated. Special attention also goes to the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, the stadium which hosted the revived Olympic Games in modern times in 1896 and 1906. The history of the stadium is traced from the inauguration of the Panathenaic Games in 566 BC by the tyrant Peisistratus, to the first stadium that was built in Athens by Lycurgus in the fourth century BC through to the ambitious building program undertaken by Herodes Atticus in which Lycurgus’ stadium was refurbished in marble. One of the best-preserved ancient stadia, the Panathenaic Stadium is testament to the importance of athletic contests in antiquity. It is this importance that «Ancient Stadia» by Itanos conveys by bringing together, for the first time, all the important monuments to the spirit of athleticism that the Greek ancient world created.

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