Ancient Stadiums

Criticism of the book from the German professor W. Decker

If we wished to make a visual presentation of the ancient greek stadiums, especially those in Asia Minor, we should have to consult the unorthodox book written by R.L. STURZBECKER Photo Atlas, Athletic Cultural Archaeological Sites in the Greco-Roman World, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania 1985 , with many small black/white photos. Now there has been published a new book about ancient stadiums and sports events and celebrations, from Olympia to Antioch (both from geographical and historical point of view), with pictures and texts by M. Stefossi and G.G. Kavvadias, respectively.

The Hellenic Olympians Association, who, in the preface of the book, (p. 6) underlines how unique the marble stadium of Athens is worldwide, undertook a two-part project with pictures and full description of 22 ancient stadiums. Twelve of these stadiums are in Greece while the other 20 are in Greek cities of Asia Minor. More specifically these areas are:

Greece: Olympia, Delphi Nemea, Isthmia, Messine, Epidauros, Nikopolis, Sycion, Rhodes, Dodone, Delos and Athens.
Asia Minor: Pergamus, Ephesus, Priene, Didyme, Miletus, Kadyanda, Cibur, Tlos, Aricandus, Aphrodissias, Sardes, Laodicea, Ayzani, Selge, Silion, Perge, Aspendos, Laerte, Anazarphos, Antioch.

All these regions are on maps (p. [24-25, 29-55]). Apart from the stadium of Apollonia (Albania), Kos and the stone steps of the stadium there, as base of the Byzantine walls of Thessaloniki, every stadium of the ancient Greece that is worth seeing, has been presented in photos, most of which are in colour.

Among the stadiums in Greece, the one of Messine has suffered several changes during the excavations of P. Themelis while another one, at Nikopolis, the entrance of which, constructed from roman bricks and facing to the east, has been recently opened, allowing access to the inner part which was full of spiny bushes. It used to be inhabited by grazing goats.

A mostly impressive photo of the seats, at the stadium of Dodone, can be found on page 115. It would be normal to ask – when are the projects of S.I. Dakaris for the excavations under Mt. Tomaros going to be realised? Meanwhile, there were problems to be solved, concerning property and having existed for years.

Those who have recently known the Panhellenic stadiums, might be surprised by the number of the areas of Asia Minor, where well preserved sports premises still exist (most of which have been constructed at the roman time), while one might expect more photos of Ephesus and Priene; at Priene one can even see the original starting line . The stadiums of Kadyanda, Aricandus, Perge (p. 238 – 245) and, more specifically the one of Aphrodissias (p. 194 – 205) which is the most important of the Greek stadiums, have been photographed with so much love that these photos get an imperative character, urging those who see them to visit them, As far as Sardes are concerned, a picture of the cavity under the seats of the spectators might be required. The texts about the stadiums are short and contain the right information about the games in every area.

Mistakes; like the ones referred to on page 266 are rare; the circus of Maxentius, to the south of the gates of Rome, is referred to as a stadium. On pages 26 – 27 there is a list, in alphabetical order, of the cities and the most important games. As far as Rome is concerned, we might have added the Games of Nero, and the Isthmia concerning Sycion (after 146 b.C.)

At the beginning of the book there is a number of remarks on sports during prehistory and at the time of Homer (p. 13), some information about the winners (p. 16), the cultural character of the Games(p. 19), sports and education (p. 20), the spectators and athletic ceremonies (p. 22). At similar short chapters about sports discipline, i.e. the programme of the Games itself, one can find a number of photos under the pictures of the stadiums. As for the pentathlon, they expected the authorities to report three out of five victories, before deciding who the winner was.

The book has been published without any remarks. The current bibliography on pp [274-275] is a proof of the writer’s knowledge while the volume shows the present situation of the well-preserved stadiums, represented on coloured photos along with useful topographical maps.

The result is what deserved the journey of the photographer and the writer: those who will browse the book are bound to feel a desire to visit those stadiums, unlikely other books on sports of the ancient time.

Unfortunately, the enormous increase in prices which has been going on after the drachma was abolished, has affected the book market as well.

— Wolfgang Decker, Cologne