The Panhellenic Games and Panhellenism

The Panhellenic Games and Panhellenism
There is one other movement that is associated, if only indirectly, with tyranny. We have seen that at the end of the Sacred War a Pythian festival was instituted to be held every four years. A little later a more elaborate form was given to a local ceremony at Nemea in the territory of Cleonae and a festival to Nemean Zeus, also to be held every two years, was instituted. It was supervised by Cleonae until the middle of the fifth century when Argos, which had been the directing force from the outset, took control herself. Corinth’s response was to institute an Isthmian festival, also at intervals of two years, in honour of Poseidon. And so the Olympic festival, held every four years, was joined by three new two-yearly festivals open to all Greeks. The prizes were modestat Olympia a crown of wild olive, at Nemea and the Isthmus wild celery, and at Delphi bay leaves, but victors at these games were the pride of their cities.

These four Panhellenic festivals helped to maintain a feeling of fellowship among all the Greeks, and we may suspect that the promotion of this feeling was the deliberate policy of the rulers who raised these games to Panhellenic dignity. But it must not be overlooked that the festivals were themselves only a manifestation of a tendency towards unity which had begun in the eighth century. We have already seen how this tendency was promoted by colonisation and confirmed by the introduction of a common name for the Greek race. About the middle of the seventh century, we meet the name ‘Panhellenes’ in a poem of Archilochus, and the phrase ‘Panhellenes and Achaeans’ occurs in a passage, which may be still earlier, in the Homeric Catalogue of the Ships. The Panhellenic idea, the conception of a common Hellenic race with common interests, was encouraged by the poetical records of the heroic age. The Trojan War was remembered as a common enterprise, in which northern and southern Greece had joined; and the ancient poets had called the whole host ‘Achaeans’ or ‘Argives’ indifferently. The Homeric poems were a bond among all men of Greek speech, and the memory of Troy was an ingredient in a sentiment which, though we cannot call it national, was distinctly a sentiment of community. The feeling of community was also displayed in the recognition of the Pythian Apollo as the chief and supreme oracle of Greece. The growth of the prestige of the Delphic god might almost have been used as a touchstone for measuring the growth of the feeling of community. As a meeting-place for pilgrims and envoys from all quarters of the Greek world, Delphi served to keep distant cities in touch with one another, and to spread newspurposes which were effected in a less degree by the Panhellenic festivals. The tendencies to unity were also shown by the leagues, chiefly of a religious kind, which were formed among neighbouring states. The maritime league of Calauria is an instance; the

northern Amphictiony of Anthela is another; and we shall presently have a glimpse of the Ionic federation of Delos. In the second half of the sixth century we find the cities of south Italy bound together in some form of loose confederacy, which was indicated in the ‘ character of their coinage. We shall soon see Sparta uniting a large part of the Peloponnese in a confederacy under her presidency.

These tendencies to unity never resulted in a political union of all Hellas. The Greek race never became a Greek nation; for the Panhellenic idea was weaker than the love of local independence. But an ideal unity was realised  in those beliefs and institutions which we have just been considering. They fostered in the hearts of the Greeks a lively feeling of fellowship and a deep pride in Hellas, even though there was no political tie. And it is to be noted that the Delphic oracle made no Nature of efforts to promote political unity, though it Delphic unintentionally promoted unity of another mf/uence kind. Greek states did not ask Apollo to originate or direct their policy; they only sought his authority for what they had already determined or at least considered.


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