Ancient Olympic Games

Ancient Olympic Games - Ancient Olympic Events (Messengers and Trumpeters Contests)

Ancient Olympic Games - Ancient Olympic Events (Messengers and Trumpeters Contests)


Messengers and Trumpeters Contests  

Apart from the athletes, messengers and trumpeters also participated in the Games in Olympia. They took part for the first time in the contests introduced in the 96th Olympics (396 BC) whereas the winners had special privileges during the games.

Since there were many capable messengers and trumpeters willing to compete for the privilege to announce the events or the winners of the events, or blow the trumpet at the hippodrome, the Greeks organized messenger and trumpeter contests. The winner gained the privilege to trumpet at the hippodrome and announce the athletes during the Olympics. Heralds and trumpeters

The Greek contests attracted large numbers of visitors. Addressing this crowd was the task of professionals. A trumpeter asked for attention with the sound of his instrument, which was much longer than a modern trumpet. A herald with a loud voice would then speak to the public, for example to announce the start of the competitions. The most important task of the heralds was proclaiming the name, the father and the hometown of the victors during the crowning ceremony.

Heralds and trumpeters


Originally, heralds and trumpeters had a purely organizational function, but gradually they also started competing among each other. At first these competitions were a strictly local matter, because all heralds and trumpeters were local men. When contests for heralds and trumpeters were introduced in the Olympics of 396 BC, both events were won by local men of Elis. By the end of the fourth century, however, also the other major games had added these contests to the programs and, just as in the athletic events, heralds and trumpeters from the whole Greek world traveled through Greece to participate in the different games.

Representation of a victorious athlete, accompanied by a trumpeter and a herald. Fragment of a Panathenaic amphora. Second half of the 4th century BC.
Athens, Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos. 3rd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. Hellenic Ministry of Culture/Archaeological Receipts Fund.
Valavanis, P., Athla, athlites kai epathla, Erevnites publications, Athens 1996, p. 60.
©Hellenic Ministry of Culture
P0079It is not clear how the victor of these contests was chosen, but is was certainly not a contest about beauty. Not the herald with the most agreeable voice, but the man who could shout both louder and clearer than the others would win. Heralds and trumpeters could have a much longer career than athletes, because the sound of one’s voice was less dependent on age. One even became a tenfold periodos-victor.
Music and musical competitions at the games

P0198Music was a feature at all Greek games. The festivals attracted large crowds of spectators and were, therefore, an ideal occasion for musicians, writers and other artists to present their talents to the world. The cooperation of some musicians was necessary for a smooth conduct of the games: trumpeters and heralds addressed the spectators. Moreover, music accompanied the pentathlon, in particular the long jump, because the Greeks thought that music improved the coordination of the movements.

At some games, contests in music and similar arts formed a separate part of the program, on a par with athletic contests. These were called 'musical contests' after the muses, goddesses of arts such as music, literature and drama.

P0126Best known for musical contests were the Pythian games, honouring Apollo, the god of the arts. In the classical period, there were three musical contests at Delphi: playing the kithara, the combination of kithara and singing, and playing the aulos. The singing accompanied by an aulos was abolished soon after its institution. 

P0177The kithara was a kind of lyre, with vertical strings of equal length. The aulos was a wind instrument with a mouthpiece in reed, like a clarinet or an oboe. Usually, the musician played two auloi at the same time. The kithara and the auloi could both accompany singers, solo-artists as well as choirs.

In the Hellenistic period, other events were added: writing poetry and prose and competitions for tragic and comic actors. At the Capitolia in Rome, there were contests in declamation, prose and poetry for both Greek and Latin. At the Olympic games, one could find none of these events. The contests for heralds and trumpeters (men needed at any games, musical or not) were the only Olympic musical events.



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