Hellanodikai: The Chief Judges of the Olympics

Hellanodikai: The Chief Judges of the Olympics

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"There, the method of premliminary training and the kind of exercises are decided by others, and it is not the trainer, but the Hellanodikes who, entirely on his own initiative and without being bound in any way, organizes everything, in accord with the particular circumstances pertaining from time to time. And the Hellanodikes has the whip at his disposal, not only for the athlete, but also for the trainer, and he uses it in case of any contravention of his orders; and all have to conform with the orders of the Hellanodikai, since those who violate them may be immediately excluded from the games."1
Philostratos, ca. 3rd century AD


"A Jury of Appeal and a Ground Jury (Judges) shall be appointed for each sport. The choice of them is left to the international federations. One delegate of each international federation must be present in order to check the entries. The members of these juries and the officials must all be amateurs. Where a jury has not been formed by th etime it should have started to function, the Organizing Committee will advise and decide how to form one. The Juries of Appeal for the sports not governed by an international federation shall be formed by the Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and must be composed of five members of different nationalities, who shall elect their own president."2

Judges did not come from all over the Greek world, but were drawn from Elis, the local region which included Olympia. Even though the judges were all Eleans, local Elean Greeks were still allowed to compete in the Olympics. The Elean people had such a reputation for fairness that an Elean cheating at the games was a shock to other Greeks.

Like the athletes, the hellanodikes also underwent a long period of preparation for the ancient games. The judges were instructed for a period of ten months by Elean magistrates. Historians disagree about the number of the judges, but apparently not more than one or two judges officiated at the early Olympic games, where but one event was contested. When the athletic program was expanded to take in many events and last for five or more days, the number was increased, although there seems to be no record of more than ten judges at a single celebration.

One source states "At the ninety-fifth festival nine umpires were appointed. To three of them were entrusted the chariot-races, another three were to supervise the pentathlum, the rest superintended the remaining contests.

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At the second festival after this the tenth umpire was added. At the hundred and third festival, the Eleans having twelve tribes, one umpire was chosen from each...Thereupon were chosen umpires equal in number to the tribes. At the hundred and eighth festival they returned again to the number of ten umpires, which has continued unchanged down to the present day.7


"If you have trained as much as is necessary for the Olympic games, and have not done anything base or mean, go and compete iwth courage..."3
Philostratos, AD 230

Athlete Supervision
In order to promote the Games and assure a perfect final spectacle, they had to supervise the athletes during the training in Elis for the month prior to the Games. The judges had to select those with satisfactory training and single out others of poor performance. Their judgement was covering not only the area of physical performance, but was extending over the athletes' overall character and morality.

"The judges sternly supervised the athletes for nearly a month, wacking them with rods to emphasize their instruction. Shortly before the games began, the judges selected the best athletes and took them to Olympia. 'If you have exercised yourself in a manner worthy of the Olympic Games,' the judges announced, 'if you have been guily of no slothful or ignoble act, go on with courage. You who have not so practiced, go wither you will."4

Age Classification
In addition, one of the main tasks of the Hellanodikai was to judge the age of the athletes who would participate in the games and allocate the athletes into different age groups. Upon arrival of the athletes, the Elean Hellanodikai classified them into age groups. Those who judged the ages of the boys also swore that they would judge fairly and would not take bribes. They also would guard in secrecy everything about the examinee.

Awards and Punishment
It was the responsibility of the judges to award the prizes to the victors, or to punish and impose fines on those who did not obey the rules. Their authority was great, and the only appeal from their decisions was to the Elean senate. Dressed in their purple robes and occupying the special seats in the stadium, they were a most imposing sight. The hellanodikai, assisted by the alytarches (special police officers) issued penalties to those who did not obey the rules. Penalties included fines, exclusion from the Games, and corporal punishment.


The Olympic Charter5
1. The Olympic Games are celebrated every four years. They assemble the amateurs of all nations on an equal footing and under conditions as perfect as possible.

2. An Olympiad need not be celebrated but neither the order nor the intervals may be alerted. The International Olympiads are counted as beginning from the 1st Olympiad of the modern era celebrated at Athens in 1896.

3. The International Olympic Committee has the sole right to choose the place for the celebration of each Olympiad.

4. The Olympic Games must include the following events: Athletics, Gymnastics, Combative Sports, Swimming, Equestrian Sports, Pentathalon and Art Competitions.

5. There is a distinct cycle of Oympic Winter Games which are celebrated in the same year as the other Games. Starting from the VIIIth Olympiad they take the title of First Olympic Winter Games but the term Olympiad will not be used to describe them.

6. The International Olympic Committee chooses the place for the celebration of the Olympic Winter Games giving the first refusal to the country holding the current Olympic Games on condition that it can give sufficient guarantees to organize the full program of the Winter Games.

7. Generally speaking, only those who are natives of a country or naturalized subjects of that country are qualified to compete in the Olympic Games under the colors of that country.

The Olympic Oath5
At the opening ceremony of each celebration of the Olympic Games, a representative of the country in which the games are being held pronounces the following oath, all other athletes, their right arms raised, joining in:

We swear that we will take part in the Olympic Games in loyal competition, repecting the regulations which govern them and desirous of participating in them in the true spirit of sportsmanship for the honor of our country and the glory of sport.

In addition to the spoken oath, all participants in the Oympic Games are required to sign this oath, used for the first time at the Winter Games and the games of the XIVth Olympiad in 1948:

I, the undersigned, declare on my honor, that I am an amateur according to the rules of the International Federation governing my sport, that I have participated in sport solely for the pleasure and for the physical, mental or social benefits I derive therefrom: that sport to me is nothing more than a recreation without material gain of any kind, direct or indirect, and that I am eligible in all respects for participation in the Olympic Games.


1. http://sunsite.utk.edu/special/olympics/classical/hellanodoki.html

2. Bill Henry, History of the Olympic Games
(New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1948)327

3. http://sunsite.utk.edu/special/olympics/classical/training_rules.html

4. Richard Shaap, An Illustrated History of the Olympics
(New York: Alfret Knoph, 1963)28.

5. Bill Henry, History of the Olympic Games
(New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1948)316

6. http://olympics.tufts.edu/faq8.html

7. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/text?lookup=paus.+5.9.5&word=umpires

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