Mark Golden


On his book Greek Sport and Social Status

Cover Interview of May 05, 2009

In a nutshell

My book examines how Greek sport, the Olympics above all, has been used to attain and affirm social status from ancient times until today.  This involves more than simply coveting and claiming the rewards of victory.  Elite horsemen and athletes devalued or ignored the help they got from charioteers, jockeys and trainers.  Women used chariot successes to rival men or boast of besting other women.  Greek gladiators, slaves though they generally were, identified themselves as athletes.  And the modern Olympic movement takes every opportunity to stress its connections with the ancient games.

In all this, promoting prestige has been more important than truthfulness or accuracy.  As a result, our understanding of Greek sport—and of the modern movements which wish to be linked to it—is often wrong.  One instance: we tend to oppose the idealized Greeks to the brutal Romans.  Yet gladiatorial combat has as much right to be considered sport as the ancient Olympics.