Table of Contents



Vol. XI, No. 2, 2004


Faculty of Physical Education & Sport Science, Department of Sport Coaching,

National & Kapodistrian University of Athens

Correspondence should be addressed to: Nicolaos Bergeles, Faculty of Physical Education & Sport Science, Department of Sport Coaching, National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece


Key words: Lycaean, athletic games, ancient Arcadia.


In ancient Arcadia, the Lycaean Games were the most important events dedicated to gods Zeus and Pan. They were founded by the mythical King Lycaon, who was contemporary with Cecrops, King of Athens. The rituals, the gymnic games and the chariot races took place at Mount Lycaeus(1383 m). According to the Parian Marble, the games were established between 1398 and 1294 BC. Historical resources and archaeological findings give testimony that the conduct of worship was in effect already in the archaic years, whereas the games were being held since the classical years. They took place once every four years and the events were similar to those of the games in Olympia.


The Lycaean games were the dominating social and cultural event of ancient Arcadia “…and the Lycaean took place in Arcadia” [35]. According to mythology, the founder of the games was Lycaon, who founded the city Lycosura, gave Zeus the name “Lycaeus”[ 1] and established a festival with games – one of the most ancient in Greece and in Arcadia in particular. “Lycaon the son of Pelasgus devised the following plans, which were cleverer than those of his father. He founded the city Lycosura at Mount Lycaeus, gave to Zeus the surname Lycaeus and founded the Lycaean games” [39].

The mythic Lycaon was a leader figure who established three important institutions in Arcadia. The first was the city built by the Arcadians after they had abandoned their caves. Building houses and organizing municipal life involved cooperation of all the inhabitants. The second institution was religion which became an expression of respect for nature in the “face” of the new god. The athletic and musical games were the third institution which expressed man’s struggle to become ever better. A new civilization with a social character developed in the city under the god’s aegis, satisfied many social needs of its people (exemplified by numerous Zeus’ surnames), and established musical and athletic festivals as the cornerstone of peace and as reinforcement of the nation’s identity. There was some exaggeration in the inhabitants’ high regard for the city of Lycosura, which obviously resulted from the Lycosurans’ need to emphasize the antiquity of their civilization to enjoy respect of others. “Of all the cities that the earth has ever shown, whether on mainland or on islands, Lycosura is the oldest, and was the first that the sun beheld; from it the rest of mankind have learned how to make their cities” [42].

The Lycaean Games as a Panarcadian festival constituted a cohesive factor in the Arcadian nation. The national ferment of the Arcadians was so powerful that Xenias Parrhasius[ 2] during a rest period in Cyrus’ military operations in Asia Minor, organized a festival and games: “…to the populous city of Peltae, …while Xenias, the Arcadian, celebrated the Lycaea with sacrifice, and instituted games” [73].


The festival was held on the “sacred” peak of Mount Lycaeus (1383 m), which dominates a region with scattered cities, along the river Alpheios, on the plateau of Megalopolis. “On the left of the sanctuary of the Mistress is Mount Lycaeus. Some Arcadians call it Olympus, and others Sacred Peak” [43].

Pausanias argues that Rhea gave birth to Zeus in the Cretean region of Mount Lycaeus. “On it, they say, Zeus was reared. There is a place on Mount Lycaeus called Cretea, on the left of the grove of Apollo surnamed Parrhasian. The Arcadians claim that the Crete, where the Cretan story has it Zeus was reared, was this place and not the island” [43].

The name “Olympus” was obviously given to the mountain, since apart from Zeus, many other gods were worshipped in the region, e.g. Apollo Parrhasios [44] and Epikourios[ 3] [47], Demeter [48], Artemis Soteira (Savior), Hermes, Dionysus, Eurynomi and Celestial Venus [45], in whose honor a sanctuary was built in Megalopolis [7]. In the city of Lycosura, the Mistress, daughter of Poseidon and Demeter, was also worshipped[ 4], and in her honor a sanctuary and a statue were erected[ 5] [49]. Worshipping these gods has been confirmed by archaeological findings [26, 27], and many other gods are also cited by Pausanias [50]. The pantheon of Mount Lycaeus also included the Eleusinian Demeter, in whose honor the first beauty contests were held in the city of Vassilida [6].

The primary Arcadian god worshipped at Mount Lycaeon was Pan, who personified nature, justified people’s musical and dancing needs, and invented melody by playing his pipe. He was also named Nomian (Of Justice) [44, 19].Pan worship in the area has been confirmed by respective archaeological findings [26].

Lycaon reigned in Arcadia from the city of Lycosura and had fifty sons who founded cities named after them. His youngest son Oenotrus migrated to southern Italy and founded Oenotria [41]. Another important hero who also reigned in Lycosura was Arcas, after whom Arcadia was named[ 6]. He then distributed his fortune to his three sons in equal parts [46].


The festival comprised of the ritual and the athletic parts. It is very likely that the rituals preceded the sporting events. The fact that the foundation of the city of Lycosura, the import of Zeus worship and the establishment of the games took place under the kingship of Lycaon suggests that the games must have been held at least a few decades apart [39].


The ritual part of the festival included sacrifice and offerings to the honored gods. Mythology and archeological findings lead to a conclusion that Zeus was the sovereign god [68], “Again, among the Parrhasian people he was marvellous to look at, at the festival of Lycaean Zeus,…” [56]. Fugeres [14] claims that the festival was originally dedicated to Pan and this opinion is also expressed by Herodotus who ranks him among the eight ancient gods before the emergence of the twelve gods of Olympus [16]. Zeus worship is confirmed by 7th-century bronze statuettes and by the key, referred to by Thucydides, presented to the king of Sparta, Pleistoanaktus [70] in the residence of Zeus’ sanctuary. However, statuettes of Pan were also found near the peak of Mount Lycaeon. Moreover, coins from the 6th century BC had a Zeus image on one side and a Pan image on the other[ 7]; whereas some 5th-century coins featured representations of Zeus and one of the goddesses, as well as the inscription “arcadikon” [58]. A shift in adoration from one god to another, or from a hero to a god was well known in the major festivals of Greece, for instance, in Olympia, where imported Zeus replaced the hero Pelops. The Lycaean Games, at least in the late 4th century BC, were being alternately dedicated to Zeus and Pan [24]. A double religious investment with one universal and one local god perhaps attracted athletes from all over Greece and simultaneously strengthened the Arcadians’ national consciousness.

According to Hesiod [17] and Thucydides [70], on the mountain there was a sacred alsos, an altar and a temenos of Zeus (Fig. 1). Pausanias describes the location of the altar of Zeus precisely on the mountain top: “On the highest point of the mountain is a mound of earth, forming an altar of Zeus Lycaeus, and from it most of the Peloponnesus can be seen” [44, 60]. The altar had been erected on an embankment, 1.50 m high, [26] where bones of different sacrifice animals were found, as well as burned stones, small earthen vessels and utensils [26]. Humans were prohibited to enter the sanctuary of the temenos, “On it is a precinct of Lycaean Zeus, into which people are not allowed to enter”[ 8] [44].

Figure 1. Photo showing the location of the Zeus altar on the summit of Mt. Lycaeus, the temenos and the column bases of the two golden eagles

Strabon [68] also points out to the existence of the sacred area, as well as Plato who describes human sacrifices [57]. The sanctuary was situated to the east of the mountain top, at the height below 20 m and was surrounded by stonemasonry 120 m long and 55 m wide [26]. At the entrance, east of the sacred area, there were two kiones 8.51 m apart [62], constituting the column bases for two golden eagles, the symbols of Zeus [44]. This fact has been confirmed by archeological excavations [23, 26].

To the north-east of the summit there were an alsos and a sanctuary of Pan, “There is on Mount Lycaeus a sanctuary of Pan, and a grove of trees around it” [44]. Anacharsis the Younger reports that he witnessed inside the alsos ceremonies consisting of whipping the statue of the god by hunters who were not successful in their hunting. He also describes coins with the god’s image on them [8]. The location of the sanctuary of Pan, which according to Pausanias was close to the stadium and the hippodrome, has not been confirmed by excavations. However, two sanctuaries of Pan were discovered: one on the slopes of Mount Lycaeon in a village called Berekla, and the other in the Nomian mountains[ 9] [26, 28].Furthermore, the name of the musical god is engraved in two of five inscriptions on two marble columns found in the xenon alongside to the hippodrome. The other three inscriptions contain the name of Zeus’priest [24], which may be evidence that the games, at least by the end of 4th century, were also dedicated to Pan.

If one takes into consideration the fact that Lycaon gave Zeus the name “Lycaeus” and that he simultaneously founded the Lycaean Games, it may indicate that the cult of Zeus had been well established since the games’ foundation, which according to the Parian Marble were being held between 1398-1294 BC. Unfortunately, the establishment of the cult of Pan cannot be chronologically determined. Herodotus claims that Pan was senior to Zeus [16], whereas Fugeres [14] and Kourouniotes argue that the festival was initially dedicated only to Pan. If we, however, also assume that a goat-footed god cannot be younger than a god made after man’s exact image, then Zeus should be the youngest god in Lycaeon.


The athletic games constituted the main part of the festival. However, according to Pausanias, who reports that race games were held in honor of the dead Azan, there is some confusion as to the founder of the games and their character. “…athletic contests were held for the first time; horse-races were certainly held, but I cannot speak positively about other contests” [46]. Kourouniotes speculates on this possibility [24]. The question arises whether the games were different from those founded by Lycaon, which were most likely held for the first time during that period and constituted quite unique events among other funeral or epitaph games. Or was it possible that the already founded Lycaean games were then dedicated to Azan, as his death may have coincided with the period of the games? If the games were founded on the occasion of Azan’s death, then Pausanias made contradictory statements and the Parian Marble could have been refuted. Moreover, the argument that Lycaon established the cult of Zeus’ as “Lycaeus”, and that the equestrian games were established as funeral games in honor of Azan, refutes Pausanias’ words that the “games were founded.” The Azan myth simply confirms the fact that the games were originally dedicated to heroes, e.g. the Nemean Games to Opheltis, the Isthmian Games to Melikertis, or the games organized by Achilles in honor of the killed Patroclus [18]. It is likely that some different games than Lycean funeral games were actually held there.


Pausanias writes about the area where the games took place: “There is on Mount Lykaion a sanctuary of Pan, and a grove of trees around it, with a race-course in front of which is a running-track. Of old they used to hold here the Lycaean games” [44].

Indeed, the stadium and the hippodrome were situated about 500 m to the north-east of the mountain peak, at the altitude below 200 m [62] from the summit. Kourouniotes observes that, “It is difficult to believe that at such an altitude and location, which is difficult to access even today, gymnic games were being held as well as race-games [27].” People and chariots reached the mountain by way of a constructed road, tracks of which are still visible today from the ruts made by the chariots’ wheels on the slope of the Tsorokos hill. The competitive area was surrounded by hills and called “down valley”. This area was generally situated south-to-north with an 8-9 degree deviation south-east to north-west (Fig. 2), and was 320 m long [27] and 120 m wide[ 10] [27]. In order to form a flat and even surface, the ancient Arcadians built a huge embanked wall in the northern part of the eastern long side, 140 m in length, in the northern extremity and in the northern part of the western side of the area, which was 3-4 m high [27, 62]. Today, the surface of the area is uneven because of interference of local farmers and the collapse of the surrounding walls, whose stones rolled into adjacent valleys[ 11] [27]. The hippodrome took up the whole natural space forming the competitive area. It constitutes one of those rare cases of ancient hippodromes, characterized by clarity in their dimensions. “The only remaining and visible hippodrome in the ancient Greek world” [62].

Kourouniotes suggests that the starting lines of the events may have existed on the southern side of the hippodrome. Alongside the hippodrome, at a distance of about 265 m from the southern side, there were two bases made of titan stone, 0.70 cm in diameter and 0.35 cm in height, positioned 60 m away from each other. One base was 28 m away from the eastern side and the other 30 m from the hippodrome’s western side. It is speculated that they served as the bases for the “nyssai”, which determined the course and the turn of the chariots or horses. In antiquity, however, there was only one “nyssa” in the hippodromes, which poses a question as to their actual use [27]. The finding of conoidal kiones in the northern and southern extremity of the eastern fortification wall made Romano suggest that there were kiones used for the turn in the northern and southern parts of the hippodrome [27, 62]. The location and the dimensions of the stadium where the gymnic races were held are not clear either. There is some likelihood that the stadium was situated in a flat area to the north-east of the hippodrome[ 12] [9]. The discovery of longitudinal bars with furrows similar to those of the stadium in Olympia and other stadiums, which served as the starting area for the athletes, permits to speculate that the stadium was located inside the hippodrome area.

Those bars, positioned east to west, were found approximately in the center of the area, between the southern side of the hippodrome and the supposed “nyssai”, close to the western side [27, 62]. Based on this evidence, the stadium was approximately 180 m long and 20 m wide, and its southern side was at a distance of about 40 m from the hippodrome’s southern narrow side, so that the horses and the chariots could have raced perimetrically around the stadium and the starting bars [62]. “The possibility that the stadium was situated inside the borders of the hippodrome is, to my knowledge, unique in the Greek world” [62] (Fig. 2). The spectators watched the games seated on the hillocks adjacent to the hippodrome, while stone tiers were located alongside the southern side of the hippodrome. Behind them there was a stoa 70 x 11 m and stone rooms. There was also a xenon 38 x 20 m from the 4th century BC, a fountain with a two-level base (7 x 3.75 m), a small tank 6.25 x 1.80 m, as well as a small semi-circular building 6.80 x 5.80 m (Fig. 2). Finally, there were inscribed stands for the Lycaean victors [24]. The summit and the games area were connected by a pageant street [64].

Figure 2. Photo of the games area taken from the summit of Mt. Lycaeus. The approximate location and orientation of the hippodrome (exterior parallelogram) and the stadium (interior parallelogram) are shown

When Megalopolis was founded in 369 BC, the games were held in their initial location for political reasons and in order to satisfy the needs of Parrhasian people[ 13]. Later on, when the villages of Mount Lykaion started to depopulate and the maintenance of the roads and buildings became difficult, the games were temporarily suspended [24], and in the 2nd century AD they were moved to Megalopolis [14]. Pausanias had visited Mount Lykaion in the second half of the 2nd century AD and he certified that, “Of old they used to hold here the Lycaean games. Here there are also bases of statues, with now no statues on them...” [44]. When the Lycaean Games were transferred from the mountain, they were carried out by the inhabitants of Megalopolis [30], but it has not been clarified whether they were continued in the big city (Megalopolis) [24].


The modern Arcadians have traditionally claimed that the Lycaean Games were the oldest festival in Greece, even older than the Olympian Games[ 14]. Aristotle classifies the Lycaea in the fourth place after the Eleusinia, the Panathenaia and the Sthenia of Argos, and the Olympian Games in the seventh place [4]. The Parian Marble bears inscriptions that the Lycaea were established after the gymnic games of Eleusina [14] between 1398 and 1294 BC [13]. Pausanias, on the basis of the rulers’ succession, states that the Lycaea were older than the Panathenaia, but he does not make any comparison to the Olympian Games, as they were originally divine games [40].

The Panathenaia were established by Theseus, who renamed the games “Athenaia” on the occasion of the union of ten municipalities of Attica [69, 59, 67, 39, 65], which according to the Parian Marble was dated back to 1259 BC [36]. Pausanias considers Lycaon to be contemporary with Cecrops [88], the king of Athens, whereas, according to the Parian Marble, Lycaon is contemporary with Pandion, son of Cecrops, “…and the Lycaeans in Arcadia were being held, and the armistices of Lycaon were given to the Greeks, in the year [X] [D]…, under the kingship of Pandion of Cecrops in Athens” [13]. That is to say that Pandion was one generation younger than Cecrops of Erechtheus. According to Apollodorus, among the rulers of Athens there were two Cecrops [3]. The first Cecropswas the son of the Earth and four generations older than Erichthonius who established the Athenaia. The second Cecropswas the son of Erechtheus and reigned about six generations after the first one (Tab. 1).

Table 1. Chronological table of succession of rulers of Arcadia and Attica

If it is assumed that Lycaon was contemporary with Cecrops, the son of the Earth, and that Erichthonius was the founder of the Athenaian festival, then the Lycaean Games are older than the Athenaian (Panathenaian) Games by one generation [59]. If this comparison is made on the basis of the foundation of the Panathinaia, and if it is that Lycaon was contemporary with Cecrops, son of the Earth, it means then that the Lycaean games are older than the Panathinaian by nine generations. The difference in time is the same as the one between Theseus and Cecrops, son of the Earth and the first king of Athens.

A more popular hypothesis is that Lycaon was contemporary with Cecrops, son of Erechtheus [39], as it is closer to the Parian Marble, according to which Lycaon was contemporary with Pandion, son of Cecrops. This hypothesis differs by one generation from Pausanias’ version. If Pausanias was referring to the second Cecrops, the son of Erechtheus, and made the comparison on the basis of the name of the Athenian festival “Athenaia”, and if the real founder of the Athenaia was Ericthonius [66], then the Athenaia festival is older than the Lycaea by three generations. On this basis, the time of the foundation of the Lycaea agrees with the Parian Marble chronology (1398-1294 BC). However, when a comparison is made between the Lycaean and the Panathenaian games, it can be observed that the ancient Lycaea is older than the Panathenaia by three royal generations, that is to say, as long ago as the times of Cecrops (Erechtheus’ son) contemporary with Lycaon, and different from Theseus, the founder of the Panathenaian games. But, based on the Parian Marble which shows Lycaon to be contemporary with Pandion, the ancient Lycaea are estimated to be older than the Panathinaia by two generations. This conclusion is closer to Pausanias’ position.

As the reference point Derehani [11] regarded the chronology of the Argonauts’ expedition (13th century BC) and the fact that Agaeus was younger than Lycaon by approximately seven royal generations[ 15] and contemporary with Theseus, since he participated in the expedition as well. Given that Cecrops and Lycaon were seven generations older than Agaeus and Theseus, their reigns are dated approximately to 1550 BC. Therefore, it can be concluded that the Lycaean Games were founded at that time. Derehani refers to Cecrops, the son of the Earth, because only this way can the seven generations be summed up from Theseus’ and Agaeus’ era with Lycaon and Cecrops.

If the games were held on the occasion of Azan’s death, during Cleitor’s kingship (four generations after Lycaon), [46]and Lycaon was contemporary with Cecrops, the son of the Earth, then the games should be placed in the mid-15th century BC. However, in this way the times of Theseus and Agaeus do not coincide with the aforementioned period of the Argonautica expedition. The games could coincide, if Lycaon was contemporary with Cecrops of Erechtheus, but reasoning this way the Lycaean Games would have been older than the Panathenaian Games.

In comparison with other Panhellenic festivals and in particular with the Olympia festival, providing its founder was Hercules [54, 52, 59],their beginnings coincide with the Dorians’ descent, approximately after 1104 BC [29]. Plutarch mentions that Theseus founded the Isthmian Games, modeling them after the Olympic Games founded by Hercules. This opinion moves then the foundation date of the Olympic Games, as both heroes participated in the Argonauts’ expedition. Apollodorus [1] also points to the establishment of the Olympic Games by Hercules, whereas Diodorus the Sicilian states that it was Hercules together with some other Argonauts who founded the games in Olympia[ 16] [12]. If we assume that the games were founded by Pelops (Agamemnon’s grandfather) and that Troy fell in 1190 BC [20], then this universal festival should have been founded around 1250 BC. It can finally be asserted the Lycaean Games are older than the Olympic Games in mythology, whereas historically the Olympic Games are older since they were founded in 776[ 17]. Similarly, when comparing the Lycaean Games with other Panhellenic games such as the Nemean Games (1250 BC) [37] or the Isthmian Games, established by Sisyphus, King of Corinth [2] or according to Athenian tradition by Theseus, they are dated back to 1259 or 1258 BC [34]. Historically, the Isthmian Games were established as a Panhellenic festival in 589 BC and were held every two years [72]. Finally, the Pythian Games, considered by Julian the Second to be the most important Panhellenic festival [22], are described in the Python myth and historically dated to 582 BC, when they received their Panhellenic rank [32].


Archaeological findings confirm the existence of the festival and the games, but its antiquity referred to by ancient writers, traditions and the Parian Marble has not been verified[ 18]. When we refer to the Lycaean Games, we mean the ritual and the athletic parts of the festival and any other evidence that could determine the age of the sacrifices and possibly the chronology of the games. Pausanias does not state whether the establishment of the Lycaean Games, naming Zeus “Lycaeus”, and the foundation of Lycosura occurred simultaneously, but he is quite clear in the fact that it was Lycaon who founded the games [39]. The two inscribed plates that Kourouniotes discovered in the xenon reveal the close relationship between the honored god and the games, since both bear the names of the priest and Lycaean victors. The priest’s name determines the date of the games.

The festival was defined as a feast that included the rituals, music and athletic games. Initially, some festivals had only an adoring character, and later music contests and athletic games were added successively. In the case of the Lycaean Games, although the worshipping preceded the athletic events and took place during Lycaon’s kingship, it would not have necessarily constituted a problem, because a chronological difference of some decades would be satisfactory. Small bronze tripods and a knife found at Mount Lycaeon and attributed to the archaic period are regarded as the oldest findings [26, 23]. One bronze statuette of Zeus appears to have been sculpted in the beginning of the Greek archaic art period (7th century BC) or some time earlier, another in the second half of the 6th century, and remaining ones in the 5th and 4th century BC. There are also an eagle effigy and a statuette of Hermes from the beginning of the 5th century BC [26]. Coins representing Zeus were dated back to the 6th century. In Berekla[ 19], a bronze statuette of Apollo from the 6th century BC was also found [28]. No findings from the 4th century BC were discovered on Mount Lycaeon [26]. However, the Mistress’ sanctuary and several findings in ancient Lycosura have been dated to between the 4th and the 2nd century BC [25].

The antiquity of the Lycaean games can be determined with some certainty by the by the odes of Pindar, who lived between 522 and 422 or 448 BC [61] and was writing odes for distinguished athletes of his day. On the occasion of an athlete’s recent victory, the poet used to refer to the athlete’s deeds of the past and his victories in other games, including the Lycaeans; for example, in the ode to the victor of the Nemean Games, Theaeus of Argos [51], or to the wrestling Olympian victor Epharmostus of Opus, at the 78th Olympiad in 468 BC, “Again, among the Parrhasian people he was marvellous to look at, at the festival of Lycaean Zeus, and when at Pellana he carried off as his prize a warm remedy against chilly winds” [56]; or in the ode to Diagoras of Rhodes, victor in the boxing-match at the 79th Olympiad in 464 BC; “…and the works of art in Arcadia and Thebes are familiar to him, and the duly ordered contests of the Boeotians,…” [55]. In this way, it is at least confirmed that the Lycaeans were held in the beginning of the 5th century BC, and it is historically proven that two centuries before the date of the inscribed plates found by Kourouniotes [24] the games were a fact.

The existence of Arcadian Olympic victors at the 52nd Olympiad (572 BC) [10] could indirectly reveal the antiquity of the Lycaean Games, because in order for someone to win in such important games he should have had a respective experience often acquired from local games. There are no names of Arcadians on the lists of the Olympic victors after the 148th Olympiad in 188 BC.


The exact time of the year that the games were held has not been determined; however, two possibilities can be taken into consideration. According to one of them the games were conducted in the middle of March [21], which finds a reference in Xenophon; “…to the populous city of Peltae, where he remained three days; while Xenias, the Arcadian, celebrated the Lycaea with sacrifice, and instituted games” [73]. Based on the fact that Cyrus’ army started from Sardis in the beginning of March [71], the author’s estimates are that he reached the Maender River in three stations[ 20] and from there in one-station time arrived at Colossae where he stayed for seven days. Then, after three stations, he arrived in the city of Celaenae, where he camped for thirty days. Finally, it took him two stations to reach Peltae, where he stayed three days. In total, in order to cover the distance from Sardis to Peltae he needed forty-six days, which means that if he had started in the beginning of March he should have arrived at Peltae by the end of April, when the games took place. However, this estimation differs partly from the one made by Immerwahr. Kourouniotes disagrees that the games were conducted in March, because during that month hard weather conditions prevail at Mount Lycaeus. He claims that the games were held between July and August when there were more favorable weather conditions [24]. This opinion is closer to the truth, because even today the weather conditions in March are unfavorable in that area. Since 1973, the revived Lycaean Games have usually taken place in the period between the end of July and the first half of August.


Immerwahr, based on a quotation from Pindar, argues that the winners in the ancient Lycaean Games received a bronze vessel as the prize: “And from Sicyon they returned with silver wine goblets, and from Pellana with soft wool cloaks around their shoulders. But it is impossible to give a full reckoning of their countless prizes of bronze – for it would require long leisure to number them – which Cleitor and Tegea and the upland cities of the Achaeans and Mount Lycaeon set by the racecourse of Zeus for men to win with the strength of their feet and hands.” [51]


As mentioned above, the games had initially a local Panarcadian character. Their growing prestige, however, became the reason why athletes from other cities were attracted so much to them. While Pindar praised the Olympic victors, he also referred to their participation in the Lycaeans, as in the case of Xenophon of Corinth, who won in 464 BC at the 79th Olympiad in the foot race and the pentathlon [53]. In another ode, Diagoras of Rhodes is praised and his participation in the Lycaean Games is cited [55]. Moreover, the inscribed plates from the three periods of the games show that the participation of Greeks from other areas in the games could have been quite extensive.


The two inscribed marble plates found by Kourouniotes in the location of the supposed xenon [24], contain a list of Lycaean victors from five different and consecutive time periods. The different inscriptions which correspond to respective periods reveal the names of the god’s priests, on which the chronology of the games can be based. It is interesting to note that when the games were dedicated to Zeus, only this god’s priest was mentioned who had been the primary and permanent priest at Mount Lycaeon. Based on that observation, Kourouniotes concluded that Zeus was the prevailing god in the historic times, replaced in earlier times by Pan [24]. The “urbanization” of the Parhassian people and commencement of Zeus worship did not result in the abolishment of Pan, representing nature and its pastoral properties, since only the goat-footed god was capable of fitting in Arcadia’s rough-formed mountains; “…if he is abolished, then nature is abolished as well”[ 21].

Kourouniotes believes that the inscriptions on the plates do not differ considerably and considers the first plate to be somewhat older than the second. From the first inscription on the first plate, containing the name of the Lycaean pankration victor Antinor of Militus[ 22] [63], also an Olympic victor at the 118th Olympiad in 308 BC, he concludes that the games to which the inscriptions refer took place by the end of the 4th century BC.

The games’ chronology becomes more precise from the study of the second plate revealing the participation of the Macedonian Lagus, son of Ptolemaius (Alexander’s descendant) and Thaidas [5]. This Lagus was the second general from Ptolemaius’ family in the army of Philippus II the Macedonian (the first one was his grandfather). The younger Lagus’ participation in the Lycaeans along with other Macedonians took place during Ptolemaius’ expedition to Greece in 309 BC, when he first visited Megalopolis under the command of his ally Cassandrus. It is estimated that these games, whose victors’ names are recorded in the first inscription on the second plate were conducted in 307 or 306 BC. The other victor at tethrippon, Epainetus, was Ptolemaius’ general.

With every precaution, it can be stated that the five inscriptions on the two plates covered five periods, “…the five inscriptions on the two plates record the victors of five consecutive periods…” [24]. If it is assumed that the games were held every four years [15], then the first inscription on the first shaft refers to the victors of the Lycean Games in 319 BC which were dedicated to Zeus. Accordingly, the victors referred to in the second inscription on the first plate correspond to the games in 315 BC, dedicated to Pan. The third inscription of the first plate probably corresponds to the games held in 311 BC (priest of Zeus), but unfortunately no words can be recognized. The first inscription on the second plate corresponds to the games held in 307 BC (priest of Pan), where a few names of Lycaeans victors are inscribed as well as a small number of races, mostly chariot-races and horse-races, and Lagus’ name. The second inscription on the second plate refers to the games from 403 BC (priest of Zeus).


The games were officiated by “hellanodikai”, according to the first inscription on the second plate. Kourouniotes [24] was able to identify the following games officials: the “grapheus”, the games’ secretary; and the “damiorgon” or “dimiourgos”, the ruler of the games. In Achaia, the “damiorgon” was the supreme ruler of the state (10 rulers) or the public servant [31]. Finally, the “estatas” is also cited, who examined the athletes’ objections.


The events of the Lycaeans were similar to those of the Olympic Games. This was quite natural as these were neighboring regions, the countries were allies, and any interactions between them were highly reasonable. At the same time the Arcadians were also responsible for the games’ administration. The events were divided into those of the hippodrome and the stadium, and according to the athletes’ age into the men’s and boys’ categories.

The equestrian events were divided into chariot and horse races. The following chariot events were held: a) “synoris” – races of chariots pulled by a pair of horses; b) “tethrippon” – four-horse chariots; c) “tethrippon” – chariots pulled by foals. The horse racing events included “keles” – a race of fully grown horses. The stadium events included running, wrestling and the pentathlon. The men’s running events included a) one-stadium race of 192.27 m; b) “diaulos” – a race over a distance of 2 stadia equal with 384.5 m; c) “dolichos” – a long-distance race of 7 to 24 stadia and; d) “oplitis” – a race in armour of 2 to 4 stadia. The boys’ category included only the “stadium” race of 192.27 m. In the wrestling events, men could compete in wrestling, boxing and pankration, whereas the boys could compete in wrestling and boxing. The pentathlon included running, wrestling, jumping, discus and javelin.

From the study of the inscriptions, it appears that the number of the events was different in the three periods. In 315 BC, the number of events was smaller (12) than in 319 BC, which saw 14 events; whereas two periods later (303 BC), the number of events was increased to 15. It is possible that the number of competitors determined the games’ program, even to such an extent that some events might have been excluded. Furthermore, the state of the grounds and the existing weather conditions did not always allow expected participation. The varied number of events could have also been a result of omissions or negligence on the part of the engraver. It is noteworthy that the pankration was not included in the program of the games in 319 BC.


The order of the events during the Lycaean Games of 319 BC shows significant differences as compared with the games held in 315 and 303 BC, particularly with respect to the four first and four last events, which were completely reversed. However, there were significant similarities between the games in 315 BC and 303 BC; the only difference in the program was attributed to the absence of two chariot events “tethrippon” and “tethrippon for foals”. It appears that since the 315 BC period, the games’ officials introduced changes for some reasons. The boys’ wrestling comes as the sixth event in all the three periods, and the boys’ boxing event also demonstrated invariability in the order of appearance (7th, 8th and 7th). Despite the modifications and differences observed between periods, there was a tendency to preserve the order in the games’ program based on the relations between events. In this way, in the 303 BC program the running events were the leading events interrupted only by the pentathlon before the “diaulos”, whereas the “oplitis” was held after the ring events (wrestling, boxing, pankration) and before the hippodrome events. However, in the 315 BC Lycaeans, the “oplitis” was placed closer to the running events, after the pentathlon. The running events were followed by the ring events, then by the “oplitis” (the only martial event), and the games concluded with the equestrian events. The pentathlon was characterized by a continuous change. The order of the events from the above periods is shown in Table 2. The study of the order has been made with every precaution, as it is based on the order revealed in the excavated marble shafts. The author’s conviction that the engraving follows the order of events is reinforced by the grouping of the events and particularly by the similarity in order of their appearance in the Olympic Games program [33], especially after the 77th Olympiad [24]. Furthermore, during the Lycaean Games mentioned in the first inscription, independently of the uniformity of the events, the boys’ events, except for the equestrian ones, preceded those of men’s. This order of appearance was commonly observed during ancient games [38]. Within each group of the running events the order is almost unchangeable: “dolichos”, “stadion” and “diaulos”. The same could be observed for the ring events: wrestling, boxing, pankration.

Table 2. The games program in three periods, according to the inscribed plates excavated by Kourouniotes (1905)


The Lycaean Games was a Panarcadian festival dedicated to Zeus and Pan. According to tradition and the Parian Marble it was a very ancient festival, but historical resources and archaeological findings reveal that the ritual was being observed since the archaic years, whereas the games themselves since the classical years. The rituals and games were organized at Mount Lycaeon. In the Roman times, the games were moved to Megalopolis, and they ceased to be held before the 2nd century BC. The program of the games was similar to that of the Olympic Games. Future historical and archaeological studies will more likely shed more light on the truth about the games, and the so convincing myths and traditions will be verified.

Acknowledgements: author would like to thank Maria E. Nikolaidou (University of Athens) for her valuable help in translation of the Greek manuscript into the English language and for her contribution to the paper’s references.


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[2] Apollodorus, The Library, 3, 4, 3.

[3]Apollodorus, The Library, 3, XIV, 5.

[4]Aristotle, (in:) Aristidis Schol., Library of the Greek Parliament, Athens Frommel, p. 105.

[5]Athenaios, Deipnosofistai, IC, 576e.

[6] Athenaios, Deipnosofistai, IC, 609, 90e-f.

[7] Athenaios, Deipnosofistai, ID, 659d.

[8] Barthelemy, J. J., Voyage du Jeune Anacharsis en Grèce, Dans le Milieu du Quatrième Siècle avant L' Ère Vulgaire, Paris 1788. p. 3, 6.253.

[9] Blouet, ΙΙ, 1831, fig. 33.

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[11] Derehani, E., Mount Lykaion and ancient Arcadians, Athens 1997, Club of Ano Karioton, Arcadia, pp. 178-180.

[12] Diodorus Siculus, Library,IV, 53, 4.

[13] Flach, J., Chronicon Parium, National Library of Greece, 1884, record 429 Ea, 8.

[14] Fougères, G. (1435), (in:) Daremberg and Saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquités grécques et romaines 1885, p. 1433, lemma Lykaia.

[15] Fougeres, G. (1435), (in:) K. Kourouniotes, Catalogue of Lycaean victors, “Archaeologike Ephemeris”, 1905, pp. 161-178.

[16]Herodotus, History, B, 46.

[17] Hesiod, (in:) K. Kourouniotes, Excavation of Lycaeon, “Archaeologike Ephemeris”, 1904, pp. 153-214.

[18] Homer, Iliad, 16.

[19] Homeric Hymns, XIX, To Pan.

[20] Hornblower, S., Spawforth,A., Oxford Classical Dictionary, Oxford University Press 1996.

[21] Immerwahr, W. (1891), Die Kulte und Mythen Arkadiens, (in:) K. Kourouniotes, Catalogue of Lycaean victors, “Archaeologike Ephemeris”, 1905, pp. 161-178.

[22] Julian, Letters, 196, 35.

[23] Kontopoulos, K., “Proceedings of the Archaeological Society of Athens”, 1898, 17.

[24] Kourouniotes, K., Catalogue of Lycaean victors, “Archaeologike Ephemeris”, 1905, pp. 161-178.

[25] Kourouniotes, K., Catalogue of Lycosura’s museum, Archaeological Society of Athens, Athens 1911, pp. 11-18.

[26] Kourouniotes, K., Excavation of Lycaeon, “Archaeologike Ephemeris”, 1904, pp. 153-214.

[27]Kourouniotes, K., Excavation of Lycaeon, “Proceedings of the Archaeological Society at Athens”, 1909, pp. 185-200.

[28] Kourouniotes, K., Excavation of the sanctuary of Nomian Pan, “Proceedings of the Archaeological Society of Athens”, 1902, pp. 72-75.

[29] Kretschmer, (in:) G. Babiniotis, Brief history of the Greek language, Athens 2002.

[30] Leonardos, V., Excavation at Megalopolis, “Archaeologike Ephemeris”, 1986, pp. 218-219.

[31] Liddell-Scott, H., Great Dictionary of the Greek Language, I. Sideris Publications, Athens 1948.

[32] Mouratidis, I., History of Physical Education, Christodoulidis Publications, Thessaloniki 1990, pp. 218-223.

[33] Palaiologou, K., The Olympic Games, Ekdotike Athenon, Athens 1982, pp. 128-133.

[34] Parian Marble, (in:) L. Vrettos, Dictionary of ceremonies, festivals and games of ancient Greeks, Konidari Publications, Athens 1999, lemma Nemean, pp. 495-500.

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[54] Pindar, Olympian 2, 5.

[55] Pindar, Olympian 7, ant. 5.

[56] Pindar, Olympian 9, ant. 4.

[57] Plato, Republic, 7, XVI, 565d-e.

[58] Plumer, “Zeitschr f Numism”, III, 290, in the Encyclopedia of Papyrus Larouche Britannica, p. 548.

[59] Plutarch, Theseus, 24.

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[65] Souidas, lemma Panathenaia.

[66] Souidas, lemma Theseus.

[67] Strabon, Geography, 8 and 23.

[68] Strabon, Geography7, 8, 1.

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[70] Thucydides, V, 16.

[71] Tzartzanos, A., (in:) Xenophon, Kyrou Anabasis, 1, 2, Papyrus Publications, Athens 1975, par.1-4, note 4.

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[ 1] Lycaeus means luminous

[ 2] The Parhassian were the people living east of Mount Lycaeus.

[ 3] The sanctuary, which still exists, was built by Ictinus in 430-410 BC.

[ 4] Persephone, as Homer calls her in Odyssey, K, 491.

[ 5] It is found in the Lycosura Museum.

[ 6] Arkas was the son of Zeus and Callisto, Lycaon’s daughter.

[ 7] In the British Museum.

[ 8] Its today location is near the church of St. Helias.

[ 9] The Nomian mountains belonging to the group of Mt Lycaeus are known as the Tetrazio today.

[ 10] Romano (2002) reports a width of 104 m. Pluvial waters have apparently distorted the ground’s surface making it difficult to precisely define the area’s dimensions.

[ 11] This was observed by the author in the area called “Ano Karies”, and in a testimony of N. Kostopoulos, president of the Arcadian club “Zeus Lycaeus”.

[ 12] This version was also supported by the curator of antiquities Stainhimer, according to N. Kostopoulos (personal interview).

[ 13] They were responsible for the games administration and contributed to the foundation of Megalopolis.

[ 14] Many contemporary inhabitants of Arcadia support this argument and have written a number of essays in a brochure titled The Lycaean: Revival very ancient athletic, music and spiritual games and festivals, published every four years on the occasion of the games’ revival, by the Patriotic Club of Ano Karioton “Zeus Lycaeus and the Community of Ano Karies”, Arcadia. (See: N. Kostopoulos, “Mount Lycaeon and the Arcadian spirit”, (1997), 8-9; D. Karaiskos, “The Lycaean games – father of the Olympic Games” (2001).

[ 15] Derehani (1997) estimates about 7 generations because some kings had been overthrown and violently replaced.

[ 16] In another quotation he reports that he established the games after cleaning up the stables of Augeas (see: Library, VI, 14, 1-2).

[ 17] The Parian Marble, “…during the Olympiad of Hephitus in the year three hundred and thirty eight” since the Dorians’ descent in 1114 BC, therefore 1114-338 BC = 776 BC.

[ 18] The games took place between 1350-1250 BC.

[ 19] A city located 2 km west of the summit of Mount Lycaeus.

[ 20] In Persia, one station was equivalent to a distance traveled in one day on foot.

[ 21] N. Kostopoulos, president of the club “Zeus Lycaeus”, who re-established the New Lycaean games.

[ 22] In his catalogues of Olympian victors, Julius Africanus refers to Antinor as Antinor of Militus or Antinor of Athens.