Power Games, Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Greek Olympics


240 pages, 90 colour illustrations

ISBN 978 0 7141 2272 4 PB £9.99



A gripping narrative set during the pivotal Greek Olympics of 416BC, Power Games: Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Greek Olympics reveals the political power struggles that lay behind the athletic contests of the ancient Games.


Power; the power of the gods; the power of Greek cities; the power of the human body: all these were celebrated at the ancient Greek Olympics. Every four years the strongest and fastest athletic champions would flock to Ancient Olympia hoping to win glory for their city-state. With them came the ruling elite, equally intent on displaying their city’s power and prestige by excelling at the games.


This absorbing narrative, told from a spectator’s viewpoint, revolves around the Games of 416 BC – a turning point in Greek politics when a cold war between Athens and other cities was about to erupt into bloody fighting.


Featuring fresh translations of ancient sources, alongside vivid eye witness accounts and lively anecdotes, Power Games follows the real-time experience of attendees at this crucial event, showcasing the rituals, official banquets, victory celebrations and political parleys that took place amidst five days of astounding athletic achievement.  


The competitors’ journeys to Olympia; the pomp and ceremony of swearing in; races and contests such as the brutal pankration; and the political aftermath of 416 BC are all explored in this intriguing tale of strength and weakness, honour and duplicity, victory and loss.


Publishing in time for the London 2012 Olympic Games, this dramatic story throws into focus the many differences between the ancient Games and their modern revival; revealing the vast gulf between antiquity and the present, and the many ways in which the Olympics have evolved.


The text is richly illustrated throughout with atmospheric scenes from Olympia and cultural icons from the British Museum.



Reviews and Comments include


  1. Superbly structured and elegantly written, the book is a vehicle for Stuttard’s intimate feel for the fabric of the ancient world, with its customs, quirks, neuroses, and prejudices. He has, in particular, a profound understanding of the myths and rituals of Ancient Greece, and the book is an imaginative and vivid reconstruction. Stuttard’s account of the Olympics in their classical heyday has it all, and is to be warmly recommended. (Current World Archaeology)


  1. ... a vibrant re-creation of the lead-up to the games, followed by an account of the events, celebrations and banquets on each day of the festival. Stuttard’s writing is immensely readable and engaging.  (BBC History Magazine)


  1. David Stuttard inaugura un genere che in qualche modo sfugge alle definizioni. Parlare di romanzo storico sarebbe riduttivo: non renderebbe ragione dell’approccio filologico estremamente accurato, delle ricostruzioni storiche delineate alla perfezione, di una narrativa che non scivola mai nell’immaginario (se mai ipotizza il verosimile, alla maniera di qualsivoglia manuale scientifico). La conoscenza filologica degli eventi narrati incontra una capacità evocativa unica, che va ben oltre le attese del lettore accademico. Questo binomio, che si traduce in uno stile ricco, evocativo, senza rinunciare alla semplicità didascalica, rende la monografia uno strumento polivalente, in grado di abbracciare un target di fruitori decisamente ampio. I frequenti exempla tratti dalle fonti – sistematicamente citate in translation – e un copioso apparato fotografico contribuiscono ad alimentare la narrativa impressionistica degli eventi. (Bryn Mawr Classical Review)


As the tension in the crowd rose almost to breaking point, the trumpet blared out.  They were off!  The thundering of hooves on the hard dry ground; the cries of charioteers to horses; the deafening roar of the spectators: here was the pure adrenalin of the Olympics. 


And now already, after two stades, the teams had reached the altar, the Taraxippos, where, it was said the horses could be often spooked, and they were making their first turn.  To a man, each charioteer reined in his inner trace-horse, giving those on the outside their head, as they themselves leant out from the turn.  This was the danger time, the time when accidents were virtually inevitable: split-second judgements wrongly made; distances miscalculated by a fatal inch; a wheel caught; a chariot crashed; a confusion of horses tangled terrified in reins, of drivers desperately trying to extricate themselves before the team behind crashed headlong into them. 


Six laps they had to race, the field becoming more sparse with each turn, until at last those which remained, through luck or skill, swung into the home strait.  Then, as the first of the chariots rounded the last bend, the trumpet began to bray, its harsh notes joining with the roar of the spectators in one last deafening crescendo.  And now the leading chariot, so flimsy to look at, so low to the ground, its four-spoked wheels a blur of movement, its charioteer crouched low, flicking at his four foam-speckled horses with his goad as they pounded the earth hard with their galloping hooves – now, the leading chariot had reached the finish.  The result was clear.  The winning owner: Alcibiades!

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