The tenth Modern Lykaion Games were held on Sunday August 9, 2009 in a beautiful mountain meadow high on the slopes of Mt. Lykaion in Arcadia at 1182 m (4000 feet) above sea level.
The ancient hippodrome and stadium of the ancient Lykaion Games is the site of the modern athletic festival that is hosted by the Syllogos of the village of Ano Karyes. The modern athletic festival is a recreation of the ancient athletic festival in honor of Zeus that was well known in antiquity from the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods (ca. 700 – 100 B.C.).
The ancient games were held every four years and were likely to have been, in a number of senses, competition for the ancient Olympic Games (also in honor of Zeus) held at Olympia, some 22 miles to the northwest. The modern athletic festival at Mt. Lykaion, begun in 1973, is now a part of a nine-day regional and cultural festival in the area of Western Arcadia, Northern Messenia and Eastern Elis, that includes various cultural events including drama, theater, literature, film and music. The festival moves from village to town for nine days and nine nights. The final day is devoted to the athletic contests.
Sunday August 9 began at dawn at the southern peak of Mt. Lykaion, 1382 m. above sea level. Nine modern priestesses assembled at the Temenos of Zeus, to the accompaniment of rhythmic percussion, and brought with them a flame that was subsequently carried by means of several runners to the site of the athletic events on the hippodrome and stadium, some 200 m. below. A large group of spectators were on hand to watch the early morning ceremony. I was there as I had been in 2005 at the ninth Modern Lykaion Games.
The runners brought the flame down to the hippodrome and stadium, the torch was used to light a large flame in a cauldron and the games began.
By this time there were hundreds of competitors at the modern track with well over 1,000 spectators lining the track and including village presidents, mayors and governors. Most of the hippodrome had been converted into the largest parking facility in Arcadia. Our excavations had ended several weeks previous to the Modern Lykaion Games but many of the trenches were visible for the spectators and interested visitors. This included the trenches at the ash altar of Zeus on the southern peak of the mountain. In addition to this our archaeological work as well as our proposal for the Parrhasian Heritage Park was highlighted in the brochure that was produced for the games.
The track meet is sanctioned by the regional track and field authorities of the Peloponnesos and there are events for boys and girls, men and women and there are also Master’s events. The ancient hippodrome and stadium has been converted into a modern track by means of modern fill being brought in to cover the ancient surfaces. We know this because we have dug through this modern fill in four of our trenches. The games are unusual in the sense that there are no registration fees, no entry fees, no parking fees, and also according to ancient tradition there are no times or distances measured. There are banners at the site of the track that say very literally “The Lykaion Games are crown games and not money games.” The top three finishers in each event win crowns of leaves and a small bronze tripod (likely the prize in the ancient Lykaion Games.) During the course of the events there was a selection of ancient music presented.
The modern track is an oval, approximately 200 m. and the track and field events replicate some of those that are known to have been held in the ancient Lykaion Games, modified for the size of the track and the age of the competitors. We know about the events of the ancient games from a pair of victor inscriptions that have been found at the site. So for instance there is a STADION race of1/3 of a STADION (64 m.) for young children and ½ of a STADION (96 m.) for adolescents and the full STADION (192 m.) for older age groups; The DIAULOS (384 m.) for all age groups; the DOLICHOS (1344 m.) for all ages and also the long jump; weight throw; shot put.
There is also the “Old Warriors” category for the Masters, those who are over 40 years of age. I fall into this category and I ran in the 1344 m. DOLICHOS. There were somewhere between 30-40 entries in the race and I would like to think that I finished somewhere in the middle of the pack. This was the second time that I had run in this event, having participated first in 2005.
The Modern Lykaion Games are sponsored by the Syllogos and Village of Ano Karyes, Arcadia. Christos Koumoundouros is the President of the Syllogos and it is he who, together with 22 residents of this tiny village and others, put together the organization of this remarkable track meet.
David Gilman Romano, Ph.D.
Field Director and Co-Director, Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project
For more information on the Ancient Lykaion Games see http://lykaionexcavation.org