Sport And Spectacle In Ancient World

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Sport and Spectacle in Ancient World

Sport and Spectacle in Ancient World

After his Athletics in Ancient Athens (Kyle 2006) and Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome (London 1998) Donald Kyle has now produced his third major monograph. The book under review combines at least two eminent qualities: it offers a panoramic overview of what at present can be known with a reasonable degree of certainty about Greek and Roman sport, but at the same time it is based on detailed personal research into a great many aspects of the subject. Rare are those studies in which the author sees fit to bring the fruits of his own research and that of many other scholars to bear upon a general picture of the subject, presented in a crisp and elegant prose to be enjoyed both by the specialized scholar and the educated layman, undergraduate and graduate students included. Kyle covers a lot of ground.

After a brief introduction in which the definition of sport, the different categories of relevant evidence and the various historiographical approaches to the subject are dealt with, the author winds his way through the ancient world, combining a chronological, geographical and a thematic approach. After chapters on sport in the ancient Near East (Mesopotamia, Egypt; ch. 1), in the world of Hittites, Minoans and Mycenaeans (ch. 2), in Homer (ch. 3) and in archaic Greece (ch. 4), two thematic chapters on the Ancient Olympics (ch. 5-6) and other panhellenic sacred crown games follow (ch. 7). Chronology and geography govern the focus of ch. 8 on Classical Athens and ch. 9 on Classical Sparta. In ch. 10 and 11 the thematic approach comes to the fore again: 'Greek athletes' and the role of women in Greek athletics are discussed. In the final four chapters (12-15) sport in Macedonia and the Hellenistic world at large (ch. 12) and Roman spectacles (chariot racing; venationes; gladiators) under the Republic (ch. 13), during Augustus' reign (ch. 14) and in the Roman Empire in general (ch. 15) are dealt with. Th irty pages of notes testifying to the breadth and depth of K.'s scholarship, a select but nevertheless reasonably detailed bibliography and a very helpful thematic index conclude the book.

The title of the book “Sport and Spectacle” suggests in itself that K. believes in two different categories; throughout the book, however, the demarcation line gets blurred. True, on p. 180 K. writes about “true sport—of voluntary, individualistic unpredictable free competition”. At first sight this should be a reason to distinguish Roman gladiatorial games and venationes from Greek athletics. As Kyle writes in his conclusion, Greek competitors were citizens but most Roman performers were not; indeed most gladiators and venatores were slaves (cf. K. on p. 318: “few free citizens”) and were compelled to perform in the arena. For some scholars, like J.-P. Th uillier, this is a reason to exclude those arena-shows from the domain of sport. Kyle is aware of the problem and tries to smuggle the concept ...