The ancient Greeks seemed to think that the best way of approaching physical perfection was by educating the whole person—mind, soul, and body. For many, this meant participating in athletics. They believed a strong mind and body could only come from physical exercise.
To participate in this sport for their Olympic Games (the idea for which had been taken from the games of Elis), there were different events: long-distance running, boxing, wrestling, pankration—an event unique to them—and chariot racing. The most famous event at these games was a foot race called a stade which was just over 200 meters long. A stade was marked by black lines that were called ‘kotinos’ which was used to indicate the starting and finishing line. The participants would run in the nude.
Reasons For Competing Nude.
According to historians, there were three main reasons why they competed nude. First and foremost, because of the heat of the summer, they wanted to keep their bodies as cool as possible. Second, they believed any clothing would distract a competitor from his goal—winning. Thirdly, it was thought that if all athletes were dressed alike, then no one could be accused of having an unfair advantage over another competitor since all had the same chance to win, just like in any good democracy. These are some of the other reasons they did it in the nude:
a) To bear the pain.
Bearing pain was considered a way to test your manhood. The Greeks believed that great men were brave. They used to say that “great men have great sorrows.” In the case of athletics, the competitors were to show their masculinity by enduring pain and not crying out.
b) To show off their bodies
The male participants would run in a stadium with other athletes. The medals given for the competitions would be worn only by those who won them—to expose oneself was considered manly, which served as a way to show off one’s body to potential mates.
c) To build up endurance.
In ancient Greece, it was believed that a hardy constitution could only be obtained and preserved by vigorous exercise, both mind, and body.
d) To control one’s passions and temper.
Belling your emotions was also something that came with being a man. Thus, athletes were asked not just to control their tempers when competing but to punish themselves for wrongdoings during the games.
d) Get in touch with the body’s natural ability.
Sports were considered to be a way of communicating with the gods. Because of this, it was believed that the gods chose athletes who had trained hard and worked up a sweat.
For these reasons, athletes chose to compete nude instead of in clothes. This is also why they pranced about on the field before the event. They called this ‘gossiping’ or ‘ephedra’, which meant ‘to declare their goods,’ as in goods for sale.
e) To keep a distance in front of the other competitors. (This was to eliminate other competitors from the competition.)
The nude runners wanted to ensure no other person would stand in their way.
The naked race was held in Olympia on one day only in February, Elis, and it was one of the most popular events of the games. It came to be known as ‘The Olympian’s Race for Nudes.’
Only freeborn Greek men were allowed to take part in the Olympics. There were no women or enslaved people in the Olympic competitions; perhaps their participation would have detracted from an otherwise serious sport. Slaves, who could fight as gladiators with no restriction on their wounds (unless they were contagious), seem to have been exempt from the nude requirement, but whether some competitors sometimes wore loincloths for decency is unclear.
For the ancient Greeks, a disciplined mind and body were important for physical strength and intellectual development. Greek culture valued both their intellect and their physical virtue. So, in ancient Greece, the naked athlete was seen as a man of great character, with a strong will, who had trained hard to achieve his goal of being an Olympic Champion.