The Pentathlon: Jumpin’ Javelins!

By: The Scribe on Wednesday, July 24, 2013

javelinThe second event of the Pentathlon at the ancient Greek Olympics was the javelin throw—possibly the most relevant of the five events to the competitors’ military service requirements. All five of the events in the Pentathlon were considered useful skills for battle.

Because the javelin is a lighter piece of equipment than the spear, it was the one object in the Pentathlon that could literally be used as a weapon instead of a piece of athletic gear. Since the javelin is a throwing weapon, it transitioned well into an object of competition.

Javelin-throwing took place directly on the running track, allowing the athletes to take a short run forward before throwing the javelin as far as possible. The javelins used in the ancient Olympics were made of wood with a small bronze tip, and according to artwork of Olympic athletes of the time, they were approximately as tall as a man.

The main difference between a competition javelin and a battle javelin was the weight—because the aim of the competition was distance and not “how deeply can your javelin spear the enemy”, it was lightened and a leather thong was added for accuracy.

Pottery_JavelinUnlike modern javelin throwing which doesn’t have any sort of grip assist, the ancient Greeks would hold onto the leather thong—called an ankyle—that would be wrapped around the center of the javelin. When the athlete released the javelin for flight, the leather would unwind and spiral the javelin, helping to keep it on its intended path.

Another version of the event saw the javelin thrown toward a target from a seated position on horseback, but this wasn’t actually included in the games at Olympia. However, it was both a popular and important feature of the games for Hera at Argos (held the year after the Olympic games).


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