The Participation of
Ancient Macedonians in the Olympiads
the Greek Cultural Heritage
Minister of Macedonia-Thrace
of “Makedoniki Estia”
A summary of the
Macedonian participation in the Olympics
and in the Hellenic and
Hellenistic cultural development.
in English by Nina Gatzoulis – Secretary of the Pan-Macedonian
with its precipitous and abrupt mountains, forming natural barriers and
making communication with the rest of Greece difficult, could not
participate very actively in the political, cultural and social life of
the other Greeks. For this reason the Greeks in the south, did not very
well mix with the Greeks in the north, i.e. with those in Macedonia. Up
until King Philip II’s era, there were no significant contacts and
conflicts between Macedonian Greeks and the rest of the Greek City-States
in the south. The endeavor of King Alexander I to protect the Greek
City-States from the eminent Persian danger, obtained him the title of
“Philhellene” by the southern Greeks. “Philhellene” at that time
had the connotation of “Philopatris” (he who loves his fatherland) and
was bestowed to those Greeks, who were not just concerned with their
own City-State’s welfare, but they displayed Pan-Hellenic anxieties. It
should be remembered that, in spite geographic accessibility problems, which restrained
intermingling of Macedonians and the rest of the Greeks in the south:
Macedonians had the same language, as all other
Macedonians had the same religion, as all other
Macedonians used the same architecture, as all
Macedonians served the same arts, as all other
Macedonians used the same names, as all other
Macedonians had the same traditions, as all other
Macedonians had the same myths, as all other
Macedonians had the same heroes, as all other
Macedonians had the same rituals, as all other
Macedonians had the same customs, as all other
Macedonians were Greeks.
through their agrarian and bucolic lives, their mountainous terrain, their
continuous struggles to keep at bay barbarians from raiding the Greek
peninsula and their intermittent internal struggles for succession to the
Throne of Macedonia, ended up being rather isolated from the rest of the
Greeks. They held on to their traditions, but their cultural development
was not very significant. The cultural distance between the southern Greek
City-States and Macedonia was quite substantial, because Athens did not
have to play the protecting role of keeping the northern raiders off the
Greek land. Macedonians bore
that responsibility. Dr. Apostolos Daskalakis in his book The Greeks of
Ancient Macedonia states: “If the Macedonians had not become the
shield, protecting the lands beyond Mount Olympus by the continuous
barbarian attacks, the Greek element would not be preserved uninterrupted
for so many centuries. Had the Greek City-States in the south not remained
for centuries undisturbed by invaders, Hellenism could had never reached
the elevated thought about freedom, arts, philosophy and sciences, which
were universally inherited by humanity.
without doubt culturally more advanced academic and artistic world of
southern Greece, did not stay indifferent to this new venue towards the
land of Macedonian. Thus a
multitude of men of letters, arts and sciences found fertile ground
amongst Macedonians. By the 4th century BCE this assimilation was
complete. The enormous economic prosperity of the Macedonian State and
able leadership of its Kings, became contributing factors towards
collective changes, with innovative creations in all aspects of artistic
endeavors; especially in metallurgy, painting and architecture. Such Arts
became the archetype later on for the Romans, as it is evident even today
in the city of Pompey, Italy.
wide move of the center of Hellenism from the southern to the northern
part of the Greek peninsula, began with the emergence of the Macedonian
King Philip II. His conquests and at the same time the decline of the
Greek City-States in the south, caused a sensation of envy and
dissatisfaction to the other Greeks, especially to the citizens of Athens,
which formed the hub of public opinion at the time, against the, in some
ways, “uncultivated” Greeks of Macedonia. All the insults about
“barbarian” Macedonians did not originate by philosophers, poets or
other authors, but by political Athenian orators.
Athenian politician-orator Demosthenes, King Philip’s main opponent,
speaking to the Athenians, said: “…aren’t all our powerful
locations placed in the hands of this man? Will we not suffer the most
awful humiliation? Are we not already at war with him? Isn’t he our
enemy? Isn’t he in possession of our lands? Isn’t he a barbarian?
Doesn’t he deserve all this name-calling?” Demosthenes, in his
speech, spoke with human anger against an opponent. When he called King Philip “barbarian”, he did not mean
that Philip was “not Greek”. This was taken for granted, since in his
Olympic II oration, Demosthenes praises the State of Macedonia. At the
same time Demosthenes could not call anyone a “barbarian”, given that
his own origin was “barbarian”. Aeschinus, in his oration against
Ktisiphon, calls Demosthenes “libelous”, because he is “barbarian”
by his Scythe mother and only a “Greek” by language.
King Alexander I, lover of Arts and friend of poet Pindar, participated in
the 80th Olympiad of 460 BCE.
He competed in the “Stadion” field event and was placed close
second to the first runner. His participation marked not only the
beginning of the involvement of Macedonians in the Olympics, but it also
constituted the foundation of future Macedonian interaction with the other
Greeks and, furthermore, had very far reaching effects on the future of
who participated in the Olympics at Olympia, were as follows:
King Alexander I, in the 80th Olympics, in 460 BCE. He
run the “Stadion” and was placed very close second.
King Arhelaos Perdikas, competed in the 93rd Olympics,
in 408 BCE and won at Delphi the race of the four-horse chariot.
King Philip II was an Olympic champion three times. In the 106th
Olympics, in 356 BCE, he won the race, riding his horse. In the 107th
Olympics, in 352 BCE, he won the four-horse chariot race. In the 108th
Olympics, in 348 BCE, he was the winner of the two colt chariot.
Cliton run the Stadion in the 113rd
Olympics, in 328 BCE.
Damasias from Amphipolis won in the Stadion in the 115th
Olympics, in 320 BCE.
Lampos from Philippi, was proclaimed a winner in the four-horse
chariot race in the 119th Olympics, in 304 BCE.
Antigonos won in the Stadion race, in the 122nd
Olympics, in 292 BCE and in the 123rd Olympics in 288 BCE.
Seleucos won in the field-sports competition in the 128th
Olympics in 268 BCE.
During the 128th Olympics, in 268 BCE and
in the 129th Olympics, in 264 BCE, a woman from
Macedonia won the competition. Pausanias mentions that: “…it is said
that the race of the two-colt chariot was won by a woman, named Velestihi
from the seashores of Macedonia”.
mentions the Philippeion in Olympia: “In the grove there is the
Records Building and an edifice called Phippeion…Philip built it after
the battle at Chaeroneia…there are statues of Philip, of
Alexander and Amyntas…there are pieces that were made of ivory and gold
carved by Leoharus, just like the statues of Olympia and Euridice”.
Also Pausanias points out that various statues were made by
order as oblations and he mentions that: “representing the
Macedonians, the inhabitants of Dion, a city by the
Macedonian Pieria mountain range, had a statue made, which portrays
Apollo holding a deer”.
the Vergina excavation a tripod was found, which is kept at the Museum of
Thessaloniki, and carries the inscription: “I come from the Argos
athletic competitions, the Heraia”. According to Archeology
Professor Andronikos, the tripod belonged to the Macedonian King Alexander
I and it was a family heirloom.
Arhelaos I (413-399 BC) established in Dion magnificent athletic
competitions every two years “the Olympian Dion”, which lasted nine
days, as it corresponded to the nine Pierian Muses, originating from the
Macedonian mountain range Pieria. During
these events ancient tragedies were presented. Arhelaos I organized the
Macedonian Army, structured a transportation system and transferred the
Capital from Aiges to Pella. In his court lived the tragic poet Agathon,
the epic poet Horilos, the dithyramb writer Timotheos, the tragic poet
Melanipidis and the doctor and son of Hippocrates Thessalos. Tragedian
Euripides composed his tragedies Arhelaos and Bachae right
in Arhelaos’s court. Euripides
died and was buried in Macedonia.
ancient Theaters were discovered in Macedonia; one is at Dion, dating back
to the 5th century BCE; the second is at Vergina (Aegai) – 4th
century BCE and the third at Philippi. Ancient plays used to be performed
in these Theaters. At the Dion Theater, Euripides’ Bachae and Arhelaos
were introduced for the first time. Some experts believe that Iphigeneia
in Aulis was presented there. The theme of the play Arhelaos is
associated with the migration of the Argive Timenidis, Prince of Macedonia
and founder of the Royal House of Aegai.
These tragedies, played in these Theaters, were written in the
Greek language, since they were intended for Greek audience, the
the sacred place of Macedonians, is one of the largest (about 4 acres) and
most archeologically significant districts of Greece, featuring
multifarious bath areas, taking up about 1 acre, with tiled floors, marble
bathtubs, complete plumbing system (led and clay pipes) and lavish
colonnaded tiled halls. A fact that has been overlooked is that Dion
was also the center of intellectual competitions and therefore the birth
place of the cultural Olympics.
“Hellenistic Era” is an enormous issue and it could be appropriately
illuminated, only if Universities create chairs and research it fully. We
could also become more knowledgeable of the influence King Alexander the
Great had on Islam, which according to Dr. Constantine Romanos, is the
missing link in the History of Civilization. All ancient authors refer to
the impact of the Hellenistic cultural and intellectual thinking that was
passed on by the Macedonians to the peoples of the Far East.
mentions that: “All of Asia, civilized by Alexander the Great, was
reading Homer and Euripides’ as well as Sophocles’ tragedies”. It
is not by coincidence that the Koran refers to Alexander the Great as
Prophet. Jews have adopted
his name. Buddhists
worshipped him as equal to God. Saint Vasileios the Great and Saint
Nectarios promote Alexander and his deeds.
Diodoros points out: “…the enemies were compelled by the
victor to thrive”.