Measure for Measure…

Today, I think we should take a break from gallivanting around Greece on our digital journey, and have a break to play an easy game of arithmetic.

Let us say that an ancient Greek athlete ran in all four of the major athletic events of his time:

In April of, say 476 BCE, he competed in the Isthmia, near Corinth. In the same year, in August, he took part in the Olympic games. The next year, he ran in the Nemea, and in 474 he took part in the Pythian games, in Delphi. All in all he ran four races within a space of 3 years. Knowing that each race is one stadium long, that each stadium measures 600 feet, and that 3 feet make 1 meter, how many metres did our runner run?

runners Greek amphora

Runners; painted on a Panathenaic amphora, a special vessel, given as a prize of the games held in Athens. Painted by the artists Euphiletos circa 530 BCE. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


You don’t even need a pad or calculator for this: four races, by 600 feet, makes 24 feet. Divided by three, makes a neat number: our athlete ran a total of 800 meters. Right?

Well, not exactly.

Our runner ran a total of  740.63 metres.

How did I reach such an odd number?

The fact is that Greeks lived in independed city states, each of these had its own government, foreign policy, weights and measures.

So, in Olympia, the foot was 0.3204 m, which produced a stadium of 192.28 metres.

In Corinth, the foot measured 0.32m, so the Isthmia stadium was 192 metres.

In Delphi, feet were 0.2972m, which meant that athletes in the Pythia ran 178.35m.

Nemeans had the shortest foot, at  0,2966666666666667, resulting in a stadium of a mere 178 metres.

As a result, athletes competed at different distances in each venue. Standarised Olympic-size stadiums, timing and record keeping were inconceivable to Greeks. 

To them, the most important thing was the competition among peers. Reaching the finishing line first, leaving everyone else behind, was the only thing that mattered.

After all, everyone knows that there was no tri-level podium in ancient Greece. There was only one winner: the first one.



Πηγή εικόνας: Encyclopædia Britannica


3 comments on “Measure for Measure…

  1. Great post (as are all of your posts!). It’s so nice to “travel” with you around Greece and learn, too! Thanks!

  2. Pingback: A peaceful battlefield: the stadium of Olympia | Aristotle, Greek tourist guide

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