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Attic black figure white ground lekythos with Olympiads

Receiving kudos: What was the point of victory in the ancient Olympics?

Tuesday 20 July, 6.30pm
As the world prepares for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo, join Associate Professor David M. Pritchard for a talk contrasting the rewards bestowed on successful modern athletes with those of the ancient games.

In this talk, Associate Professor David M. Pritchard explores recent scholarship around Olympic victory. A victorious Olympic competitor was given free public dining and free front-row seats at its own games by his home polis (city-state). These honours were rare; usually given only to victorious generals and other significant benefactors. Classicist Leslie Kurke argued that the granting of such honours to Olympic victors was part of the so-called economy of kudos, which, she believed, was a magical power that an athlete gained forever through his victory. For Kurke, a city honoured a victor generously because of his willingness to use his kudos in support of that city.

In recent years other scholars have refuted this theory arguing kudos was not a power that a victor gained forever. It was instead fleeting aid given by a deity to the victorious athlete during his agōn (contest). 

This lecture seeks to explain how the honouring of Olympic victors can be viewed in terms of his political value to his city. The success of one of its citizens at the games was seen as a way for a city of no importance to gain rare international prominence and for a city that was a regional power an opportunity to prove its superiority over rivals. As a result, a victorious Olympic competitor was deemed worthy of its highest honours by his polis because he had raised the city’s standing without the need for war. 


David M. Pritchard is Associate Professor of Greek History and Discipline-Convenor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Queensland. He gained his PhD in Ancient History from Macquarie University in 2000 and has since obtained 13 fellowships from universities around the globe. He is author or editor of five books and 60 articles and book chapters, including Athenian Democracy at War(Cambridge 2020). He is a regular presenter on radio and writer for newspapers, having authored op-eds for many internationally renowned publications.

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Featured image: Attic black figure white ground lekythos, c. 490 BC, Athens Painter, Athens, NM51.12