Ancient Olympic Games

Ancient Olympic Games - Ancient Olympic Events (Discus)

Ancient Olympic Events (Discus)



Unlike other sports, the discus did not begin as a military exercise nor as an agricultural activity. The first descriptions of this athletic event are found in Homer's Iliad, in the funerary games that were organized by Achilles in honor of Patroclus. In that event, Polypoites was pronounced winner and was given as a prize the solo, the unprocessed iron mass he used in the competition. In the Odyssey, during the games of the Phaeaceans in honor of Odysseus, the hero from Ithaca won the discus competition. In Greek mythology, discus throwing was associated with various unintentional deaths, as for example the death of Hyacinthus who was accidentally killed by his friend Apollo when the blow of Zephyrus threw the god's discus off course.

The discus-thrower gear

Archaeological findings indicate that the discus was originally made of stone, and later of iron, lead but mostly of bronze. The discus, consisted of two convex curves that had a large circumference and the same holds true today. It ranged from 17 to 32 cm in diameter, and weighed from 1.3 to 6.6 kilograms. However, larger discs have also been found that probably served as votive objects, like the one offered by Publius in Olympia, or that often had engraved decorations bearing athletic representations, like the "Berlin" discus.

Pausanias mentioned that in order for the discus-throwers to compete under the same conditions, three equal-sized discuses were kept in the Sikyonian Treasure, in Olympia.

Silver tridrachm from Kos with a representation of a discus thrower and his prize, a tripod, ca. 480-450 BC.
Athens, Numismatic Museum 1903/4, ΚΘ' 1, Hellenic Ministry of Culture/Archaeological Receipts Fund.
Oikonomidou, M., Elliniki techni. Archaia nomismata, Ekdotiki Athinon, Athens 1996, p. 117, image 91Ε.
©Hellenic Ministry of Culture

Discus - throwing rules

The throwing of the discus was done in the following manner. First, the athlete rubbed his hands and the discus with sand so that they would be dry. Then he stood with his left leg forward, putting his weight on his right foot. Given he was a right-handed athlete, he held the discus in his hand and swung it up and down a few times. When the discus rose above his shoulder, he also supported it with his left hand. Each time the discus swung down and backwards, he slightly turned his body to the right. Bending his knees, he then transferred his weight from his right foot to his left foot and threw the discus forward with a vigorous swift swing. It is not known whether the discus-throwers run or rotated in order to gain speed like modern discus-throwers do. Small wooden sticks or nails marked the point where the discus landed whereas poles were used in order to measure the length of each throw.


The discus-thrower

The natural movements of the discus-thrower have not changed significantly since antiquity. As a matter of fact, this technique was very similar to the present day technique of free style throw. The athlete, in order to make a good throw, should hold the discus high with one hand and support it with the other. Then, he brought it downwards and to the front or sideways and to the front. This movement utilised the muscles of the shoulders, the chest and the sides of his upper body.

Bronze discus dedicated to Olympian Zeus by Poplius Asclepiades, winner at pentathlon. After 241 BC.
Olympia, Archaeological Museum. 7th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. Hellenic Ministry of Culture/Archaeological Receipts Fund.
Spathari, E., To Olympiako pneuma, ADAM publications, Athens 1992, p. 112.
©Hellenic Ministry of Culture

Discus throwing demanded rhythm, precision and strength. Contrary to the mythological references, there was no information regarding accidents during the games, since the spectators sat on embankments.

Well-known discus-throwers were Phaylus from Croton, who is said to have thrown his discus at 28,10 meters, and Phlegyas who could send his discus from one bank of Alpheus to the other, at the river's widest point.



 Throwing the discus was one of the five events of the pentathlon. Originally the discus was made of stone, later of bronze, lead or iron. Excavated examples have a diameter of 17 to 35 cm and a weight of 1,3 to 6,6 kg. On average they weighed 2,5 kg, this is 0,5 kg above the minimum weight of a modern discus. The differences in weight are easy to explain. Each location had his own standard of weight. Moreover, the discusses for boys were lighter than those for adults. Three official discusses were kept for use in the Olympic games in the treasury of the Sikyonians. 

The method of throwing can be observed on pictures, representing different phases of the throw. The right handed thrower brought his left foot forward and shifted his weight mainly to his right foot. With his right hand he swung the discus a few times back and forth. He slightly turned his body with the movement of the swing. After the last preliminary swing, he moved his weight on to his left foot and with a powerful swing he threw away the discus. Unlike modern athletes, Greek discus-throwers probably did not turn several times around their own axis. For that reason they probably threw less far.


P070s discuswerpen

The Discobolos (Discus Thrower). Bronze work by Konstantinos Dimitriadis, 1924. It is set up on the entrance of the Panathenaic Stadium since 1927.
Spathari, E., To Olympiako pneuma, ADAM publications, Athens 1992, p. 355.
©ADAM publications

Discus thrower

 The 'Diskoboulos' or 'Discus thrower' is a famous bronze statue of the fifth-century sculptor Myron. The statue itself it not preserved, but known through several Roman copies.

Before the fifth century BC, athletes were always depicted resting. This innovating statue, however, suggests movement. The athlete has swung his discus backwards and now has a minimal pause in the action, before he throws the discus away with a powerful swing. As opposed to the exertion of the body, the expression of the face is very peaceful.

The marble statue on the picture is a Roman copy. The head of the copy is turned in the wrong direction. It should be turned towards the discus.


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