‘Sport and Democracy in Classical Athens’, Antichthon 50, 50-69

David M. Pritchard, Antichthon, 50 (2016) 50-69


Sport and Democracy in Classical Athens*
This article addresses the neglected problem of elite sport in classicalAthens. Democracy may have opened up politics to every citizen, but it had no impact on sporting participation. Athenian sportsmen continued to be drawn from the elite. Thus it comes as a surprise that non-elite citizens judged sport to be a very good thing and created an unrivalled program of local sporting festivals on which they spent a staggering sum. They also shielded sportsmen from the public criticism that was otherwise normally directed towards the elite and its exclusive pastimes. The work of social scientists suggests that the explanation of this problem can be found in the close relationship that non-elite Athenians perceived between sporting contests and their own waging of war. The articles conclusion is that it was the democracys opening up of war to non-elite citizens that legitimised elite sport.

Corresponding author

This article was first delivered as the N. Moraïtis Annual Hellenic Lecture for 2014. I sincerely thank the University of Adelaide for the invitation to deliver this important public lecture. It was also read, in 2014, at the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton),the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Toronto, in 2015, at the University of California (Berkeley) and, in 2016, at LUniversité ToulouseJean Jaurès. For their helpful comments I am most grateful to those who heard it as well as Antichthons two referees. The article was revised for publication, when I was, in 2016, a research fellow at LInstitut détudes avancées de lUniversité de Strasbourg. All the Greek translations are my own.