Sport and war in democratic Athens
This article considers the neglected problem of elite sport in classical Athens. Athenian democracy may have opened up politics to every citizen but it had no impact on sporting participation. This ancient state’s sportsmen continued to be drawn from the elite. Therefore, 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 of money. They also shielded sportsmen from the public criticism that was otherwise normally directed towards the elite and its conspicuous activities. The work of social scientists suggests that the explanation of this paradox lies in the close relationship that non-elite Athenians perceived between sporting contests and their own waging of war. The disturbing conclusion of this talk is that it was Athenian democracy’s opening up of war to non-elite citizens that legitimized elite sport.
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