In Ancient Greece, the five events of the Pentathlon—held at the ancient Olympic games—were not the same five events as we’ve seen in our modern Pentathlon. However, the one thing that never seems to disappear is… running. Humans love to run, and they love to compete against each other when running. Some things never change!
The running race in Ancient Greece was known as the stadion. In fact, between the years of 776 and 724 BC, it was the only event at the Olympics, and the winner’s name was the title by which the event would be known for the next four years—hence, Classical scholars today know the winners of many of these races!
In fact, the winner of the first stadion event was a man named Coroebus of Elis.
The stadion took its name from the building in which the race was held (sound familiar? the Latin term, stadium, became the English word we use today), and the Pentathlon stadion race was approximately 180-meters long—making the event more of a sprinting challenge rather than an endurance event.
Just as is done today, officials would wait at the starting blocks to ensure that no competitor started early, and a trumpet would sound to begin the race. Officials at the end of the track determined the victor, and in the event of a tie, the race would be run a second time.
Unlike modern track runners, the competitors in the Pentathlon stadion likely started from a standing position with their arms outstretched. Runners completed the event in the nude, running barefoot on a track of packed earth or sand.
By the 5th century, the track became a little more sophisticated, as the starting line would be marked on the ground by stones (called a balbis), which eventually would be adjusted to include grooves where a runner could place his toes in the starting position.
…and they’re off!