Macedonians in Olympic games

 

AncientMacedonianHistory1 Macedonians in Olympic games

 (Herodotus 5.22)

 

XXII. Now that these descendants of Perdiccas are Greeks, AS THEY THEMSELVES SAY, I MYSELF CHANCE TO KNOW AND WILL PROVE IT in the later part of my history. Furthermore, the Hellenodicae who manage the contest at Olympia determined that it is so, [2] for when Alexander chose to contend and entered the lists for that purpose, the Greeks who were to run against him wanted to bar him from the race, saying that the contest should be for Greeks and not for foreigners. Alexander, however, proving himself to be an Argive, was judged to be a Greek. He accordingly competed in the furlong race and tied step for first place. This, then, is approximately what happened.

Firstly, we should examine who exactly were the “Hellanodikae” and their responsibilities.

Hellanodikai had unlimited responsibilities that could be seperated in two parts, administrative and judicial. As Administrative tool, Hellanodikai had also first of all, the responsibility of applying the rules in reference to the athletes, among them to check if an athlete met all the necessary participation requirements like Alexander’s Philhellene case.

“Distinctively dressed in puprple robes and allowed the priviledge of elevated seating (while others sat on the ground or stood), the Hellanodikai admitted or excluded competitors, assigned them to Age-classes,…”

[Sport in the Ancient World from A to Z] by Mark Golden

“the people who shared in the Greek ethnic identity were the people who perceived themselves to be Greeks, and whose self-perception was shared by those who had the dominant role in ‘controlling” the boundaries of Greekness, such as, in the fifth century, the Hellanodikai who controlled participation in the Olympic games

[Herodotus and his world, Essays from a conference in memory of George Forrest] By Robert Parker, Peter Derow

Knowing by now exactly their responsibilities we will try and analyze the above quote of Herodotus.

1. First thing coming in mind is why didnt Hellanodikae, the ones having the dominant role in ‘controlling” the boundaries of Greekness of an athlete, excluded Alexander in first place??]It is indicative that initialy ONLY the other athletes protested and NOT Hellanodikae. In reality, Hellanodikae – whose judgement was considered sacred – were the ones that should forbid in the first place, participation of Alexander I if they thought he was a Barbarian.

Evidently that was *not* the case!!! After the incident, Hellanodikae had to simply ‘investigate’ the claim of the other athletes – as its being done even in the modern athletics with judges – and Alexander proved to them he was a Greek and he was accepted by them as a bona fide competitor. So, the head of the games concluded that the lineage presented was reasonable and consistent with their Peloponnesian accounts.

2. To quote John Whitehorne: “In the race itself, Alexander came in equal first (Herodotus 5.22) making the entire issue even more suspect to the ground that the original protest by his rivals may well have a claim to be regarded as one of the earliest recorded examples of those “dirty tricks” which so beset modern sport.”

3. Did Athletes in ancient Olympics could employ “dirty tricks” in order to exclude an athlete’s participation in olympic games??

Answer: Yes! There are a few examples. In one of these, Themistocles urges the exclusion of the tyrant Hieron of Syracuse in Olympic games, accusing him that he neglected to help militarily against Persians. (Lysias also urged the exclusion of Dionysious a century later). Noone can ignore the fact Hieron had the best horses at that time in Greek world and his chariots were the absolute favourite to win again Olympic games as they did 4 years earlier.

4. It is also indicative the moment Alexander I the Philhellene, announced his Temenid origin to all bystanders. Among Bystanders were certainly Argives and other Peloponessians. On the sound of the names “Temenos” and “Hercules” used by Alexander to trace his descent, they would strongly protest if it was not true. Noone did but contrary we find evidence of the same Alexander taking part in the Argive Heraea together with other Argives. Hence those Argives and Peloponessians were aware of a number of Temenids having indeed migrated to Macedonia and the Argive origin of Macedonian kings is beyond any doubt.

5. Macedonia at the time being, was isolated from the rest of Greece. Greeks generally regarded it as a primitive backwater, inhabited except from Macedonians, also by semi-savage barbarians, mostly of Thracian stock. These Barbarians were remnants of indigenous populations who had been incorporated into Macedonian kingdom during and after Macedonian expansions. Macedonian political institutions were tribal to say the least and their customs, social values were primitive, to the degree that city-state Greeks thought about isolated Macedonia at all from the perspective of snobbish contempt and not in ethnological sense.
 
6. Herodotos who visited them (5th century) said both Macedonian kings and population were Greeks and particularly of Dorian stock.

 

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