27 July 2012

First Minoan Olympic Race

"I hereby proclaim the opening of the Minoan Olympic Games at Knossos."

Or words to that effect, as spoken by King Minos ca 1500 B.C.E.

The 'Runner's Ring' from Kato Syme, Crete (Late Minoan I) shows a nude man running in double-float (both feet off the ground) above a stone pavement.  On the left is a priestess or goddess dressed in a flounced skirt; a priest wearing a ceremonial hide skirt awaits the victor on the right.  The priest holds out what looks like a set of stylized bull's horns (?) which I imagine to be the runner's prize.

In the beginning, the ancient Olympics had only a single footrace, one stade in length, a sprint down the length of the stadium (approx. 192 meters long).  With the discovery of the Minoan Runner's Ring, it is conceivable that the glory won by these first Olympic victors had its origin in far earlier times.*

For the rest of his life the victor enjoys a honey-sweet calm, Pindar writes.  And adds wisely, so much as games can provide it. (Ol. I 97-100)

* An ancestral sport?  The term dromeus, 'runner,' was applied to Cretan adult males when they came of age, which implies that footracing played an important part in every citizen's social and education tradition at least in the archaic period (Willetts, Ancient Crete, 115-16, 118, 121-22).  A possible mythological forerunner of the Cretan 'runner' might be Talos, the giant man of bronze, who ran around the island three times daily (Apollon 4.1638ff)).

Ring dimensions: D. bezel 1.8 x 0.9 cm; D hoop 1.25; Wt 2.07 gr

Illustration credit (NB: I have photographically reversed the image in order to illustrate the direction of action as would be seen on the ring's impression).  The ring was excavated at the Minoan rural sanctuary of Kato Syme on the southern slopes of Mt Dikte in central Crete.  The excavators identify the ring as the personal dedication of a victor in a footrace:

Photograph via Ioannis Georganas's blog, Mediterranean Archaeology, 26 April 2006.


  1. Anonymous28/7/12 16:41

    Wat een leuke en interessante reactie. Speelde de schermsport ook niet een rol in de Minoïsche Olympics! Ik meende dat dit een hele "oude" of vroege sport is.
    Uw bewonderaar, MS.

  2. Anonymous30/7/12 15:30

    good post, added you to my RSS reader.

  3. Anonymous2/8/12 14:32

    Great post about the Olympics Judith. Thanks.

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