The (Ancient) Olympic Games with Dr Helena Meskanen - Context Travel

The (Ancient) Olympic Games with Dr Helena Meskanen


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Ancient Olympia is a sanctuary of the Greek god Zeus located on Wester Peloponnese. The archaeological site shows a multi-functional site, with temples and stadiums, as well as political monuments set up by the cities that sent their best athletes to the games. This conversation explores the origins of the ancient games and finishes with the nineteenth-century revival of the event.

Several ancient authors give differing accounts for the mythological origins of the Olympic games, celebrated at the sanctuary of Zeus. Traditionally dated to start in 776 BC, the historical games were celebrated every four years, with a range of different sports from running, wrestling to chariot races, and pentathlon. We will examine the athletic aspect of the games, but we will also dive deep into the political competition taking place at the same time. Setting up 'treasuries' at Olympia representing your own city-state, and victory monuments over battles won, the ancient Olympics were highly politicized events. The games were eventually banned in the 4th century AD, only to be 'revived' in the 19th century, although without the cultic context. We will finish with a discussion on the origins of the modern Olympics and how they got to where they are today. 

Led by an expert on Greek archaeology, Dr. Helena Meskanen, this interactive seminar will give a deep dive into the athletics and politics of the ancient games. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with a greater understanding of the original games, and the historical context of the modern ones. 

Dr. Helena Meskanen is an archaeologist specializing in ancient Greece, with research focusing on ancient Spartan religion. She has been leading tours of the British Museum for 3 years and feels passionate about the wide range of objects on display, and the stories they tell about the museum and the cultures that created them.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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