What Games Did the Ancient Greeks Play?

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Games in ancient Greece usually consisted of activities derived from or inspired by warrior skills, including sprinting, wrestling, running, equestrian events like chariot races and horseback riding, and hand-to-hand combat events like boxing and the pankration. Youths swam, ran and played with hoops and balls, while older Greeks played team games similar to modern hockey and rugby. Greeks of all ages enjoyed dancing games, which usually accompanied their festivals.

Only free males could compete for prizes of honor and wreaths in the Olympics. The rules of these games were very lax, allowing athletes in most events to play dirty. The pankration was similar to boxing, except there were no hand guards, and the only rules were no biting or gouging of facial features. Some events allowed boys to participate in a tournament separate from the men.

The women's version of the Olympics was called the Heraea. Similar games were played, but they were handicapped and lessened in intensity. Spartans, unlike citizens of many Greek city-states at the time, encouraged their women to participate in athletics and compete, often against males. Girls still played games in other city-states, though. In Homer's "Odyssey" and Xenophon's "Symposium," girls play ball games, drive chariots, swim and even wrestle.

Not satisfied with the Heraea, a Spartan woman, Kyniska, who inherited her father's estate, which was a highly unusual phenomenon outside of Sparta, raised horses to enter into the equestrian events at the Olympics. She did not drive a chariot or ride a horse, but her team won, making her the only woman to win an ancient Olympic event. She was not allowed at the awards ceremony but was allowed to offer her statue at Zeus' temple.