Competition in Ancient Greece

Competition in Ancient Greece


Marble statue of a discus thrower. Second century A.D. copy
of a fifth century B.C. Greek original. Said to have been found
in Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli. The Emperor Hadrian had quite a
thing for beautiful young athletes. His favorite youth, Antinous,
was immortalized in numerous statues. Antinous didn’t have
those awesome deltoids, though.

It’s autumn, and that means here in Madrid the summer art shows are wrapping up and the autumn exhibitions are upon us. Madrid has several fine galleries and world-class museums to choose from, and the line-up this year is looking pretty good. Stay tuned for some fun shows here on Black Gate.

In the meantime, one of the last of the summer shows to finish is Agon! Competition in Ancient Greece at the Caixa Forum, a private gallery owned by one of the big Spanish banks. The show brings together dozens of objects from the British Museum in London, some of which are usually on permanent display there and others that I’ve never seen before.


A discus offered to the gods. The inscription says it was thrown
by Exoidas, who won a contest in Kephalonia. He dedicated the
discus to the twin gods Kastor and Polydeukes, patrons of
athletes and athletic contests.

Agon loosely translates as “a public celebration of games or contest for the prize at games.” So as you might expect, much of the show is devoted to the Olympics and other regional games. There are sections on war too, as well as class and gender, stretching the concept of “competition” so far that it might be better to call this show Cool Old Greek Stuff We Rented from the British Museum.

Despite the rather loose theme, it’s still a fascinating collection, with a nice balance between spectacular works of art like marble statues of athletes, to humbler artifacts such as a set of knuckle bones. Caixa Forum is well worth visiting if you’re coming to Madrid. In any season they’re always hosting one or two good exhibitions. Last year they had an excellent show on medieval art.


Terracotta sculpture of two women playing knucklebones,
made in Capua, Italy, c. 330-300 B.C.

Agon! runs until October 15.

All photos copyright Sean McLachlan. More below!

Sean McLachlan is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and several other titles, including his post-apocalyptic series Toxic World that starts with the novel Radio Hope. His historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence, was published by Black Gate. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page.



Marble relief of comic and tragic masks. The comic mask is
wreathed with giant fennel, a plant dedicated to Dionysos.


Terracotta figurine of a cheese merchant from Corinth,
c. 390-370 B.C.
Goat’s cheese was a luxury item in
ancient Greece and generally only eaten by the wealthy.


Silver coin minted in Amphipolis c.294-292 B.C. It celebrates
the victory of Demetrius Poliocetes at Salamis. The Macedonian
ruler defeated Ptolemy I of Egypt at the naval battle of Salamis
in 306 B.C. One side shows Nike on the prow of a warship and
the other shows Poseidon about to hurl his trident.


Greek bronze armor. The helmet is Corinthian and dates to
c. 550-500 B.C. The chest and back armor date to 350-300 B.C.
The greaves (leg armor) date from around 500 B.C.
All were found separately.


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